In this episode of the Ori Spotlight Podcast Jason C. Foster is joined by Matthew Durdy, CEO at the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult. They talk about how the CGT Catapult bridges research and industry in developing emergent technologies, their role in providing the expertise and talent needed to further the sector, and why digitization is the future of CGT therapies.
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You go back ten years there wasn’t much of an industry. It was really focused on the scientific endeavour showing that these things worked… People are now developing products for markets that are going to treat patients around the world. And that is a completely different mindset… But the decision makers have not got that message yet. They don’t fully understand it. I think that’s our fault as an industry. We can do a much better job of getting a full understanding of the potential and power that is yet to come from cell and gene therapies.”
The Cell and Gene Therapy (CGT) Catapult is one of nine Catapults helping different technology areas develop in the UK. For the CGT Catapult, they are the glue that sits between the emergent technologies from the research base and industry, promoting the UK as a global hub for CGT development.
“If you’re going to have an industry you need critical mass, and a large chunk of that growth is going to come from the UK. But why should it be exclusive to the UK? Let’s create an environment which is the best environment for people to develop their new products. Inevitably we’ve attracted in companies from all over the world, from Europe and the US, who’ve said if we’re going to go into this space, let’s do it in the UK.”– Matthew Durdy
The CGT Catapult seeks out current and future challenges in the sector to solve before handing them over to the industry. Matthew notes that the CGT sector is facing distinct challenges that differentiates it from other sectors like pharma.
“We tend to bucket them [the challenges] into three categories and I think this is what makes our sector distinct from, say, conventional pharmaceutical development. The three buckets are market development, manufacturing and process development, and clinical development. And there are challenges in all three.”– Matthew Durdy
Some of the manufacturing challenges that the sector is facing is the standard model of centralized manufacturing, and how newer models may benefit the complexity of these new drugs. But it’s a more nuanced conversation than just centralized vs decentralized manufacturing for all CGTs.
“I don’t think it’s just a near patient and centralized manufacturing question. I think there are three manufacturing levels that have emerged within the space. I think there is centralized manufacturing. I think there is near patient manufacturing. And I think there’s inpatient manufacturing. My own view is that all three will have a role in some way, shape or form, and it will be driven in this case by the clinical data… It’s a chicken and egg with near patient manufacturing because the technology is not quite there yet for the regulators to fully engage with it. But the regulation is not quite there yet for the technology to be fully developed in order to be trialled. And that’s one of the things where the Catapult comes into it.”– Matthew Durdy
From a Catapult perspective, digital is the future of cell and gene therapies. Right now, leaders in the industry are interested in the digital space but are still rooted in manual methods. The next generation will be digitally native, harnessing tools to remove paper from processes.
“It’s very easy for us to talk about a digital world, right? But to really embrace it, you need access to it. One of the things that we are trying to do with our large-scale manufacturing development and our process development side of things is to bring the digital world into a safe environment where people can come and experience it… But there’s another group that we haven’t brought into this conversation. The regulators. We need to bring them with us too, in terms of the skill sets that need to be present. Because validating a digital process is very different from validating a paper process.”– Matthew Durdy
Reflecting on the growth of the industry Matthew understands the increasing need for talent. The landscape has changed so that now, instead of recruiting from industry, the sector needs highly trained professionals to be brought it. This has shaped the activities of the Catapult to look further afield and earlier to bring in talent to the sector.
“We set up the world’s first apprenticeship program in the cell and gene therapy space, which is one of our favorite achievements. Because it’s opened up the world of cell and gene therapy, this fantastic 50-year career if you want to work that long, to school leavers and to other generations… We’ve also created online resources. One of them is an AI engine which takes people from other industries, allows them to put their history into a search engine, and be told where they might fit into our industry so that they can start focusing. Because we predicted a growth in the industry, and it happened earlier than we even predicted it. Now we’re predicting the industry in the UK and globally doubling again in terms of employment, and that needs a lot of talent.”– Matthew Durdy