From The Editor | March 24, 2020

Cell & Gene And COVID-19


By Erin Harris, Editor-In-Chief, Cell & Gene
Follow Me On Twitter @ErinHarris_1

COVID 19 Coronavirus

As the world rushes to combat the novel coronavirus behind the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, the cell and gene sector has been impacted. Research progress is a concern, as many universities nationwide have shuttered all non-essential research as well as enrollment pace on clinical trials and patient access. To date, there are more questions than answers. That said, the sector moves forward, as many companies including Novartis and MultiStem are continuing to bring their therapies to patients or are being considered as highly relevant potential therapy for COVID-19 respectively.

It was recently announced that AlloVir and Baylor College of Medicine have partnered to develop T-cell therapies against COVID-19. The alliance builds on existing work to create off-the-shelf cell therapies that identify and eliminate specific viruses. Indeed, AlloVir’s T-cell therapy could help immunocompromised patients. According to a recent release, neither AlloVir nor Baylor has sketched out a timeline for the COVID-19 program. Other companies, notably those such as Gilead Sciences that repurposed existing drugs, have more advanced assets, but T-cells in development at AlloVir could still fill a gap in the treatment landscape. Equally, AlloVir’s interest in coronaviruses other than SARS-CoV-2 means its therapies could still be relevant even if it misses the window in which treatments for the pandemic pathogen are in high demand.

Athersys’ MultiStem — a cell therapy in development — was recently designated highly relevant as a potential therapy for COVID-19 by BARDA. According to the company, this is the only therapy in development that targets acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), the pneumonia-like condition that leads to severe illness and death among COVID-19 patients, and  is the only one ARDS therapy that has also received fast track designation from the FDA. It has the potential make a significant improvement in patients’ lives and in the use of resources needed to treat COVID-19 and other respiratory conditions.

Another company combatting COVID-19 is Exothera, which is focused predominantly on process development, and shortly, the production of vector-based gene therapies. Around 25% of the corona vaccine candidates under development are based on an Adeno virus-based platforms, supporting the development of one of these falls into the expertise of Exothera’s specialists. Additionally, Exothera have BSL-1, BSL-2, and BSL-3 capabilities available, which could be an asset for any corona virus related initiatives.

Across the country, health systems are working around the clock to the recruit additional scientific expertise. Here in the Greater Philadelphia Area and across Pennsylvania, Life Sciences PA, the Hospital & Healthsystems Association of PA, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry have banded together in a call for supplies and scientific expertise to support hospitals across the commonwealth struggling with shortages of supplies and over-extended medical staffs. 

If organizations can provide assistance or resources — either supplies or personnel — they should send an email to the command center at To date, the sector has seen an out-pouring of support from companies across Pennsylvania engaged in vaccine development, diagnostics kits, therapeutics, medical devices, medical supplies such as PPE, and medical expertise where our physician scientists are volunteering time to support first responders and others in the overloaded healthcare system.