Alberta Cell Therapy Manufacturing – Enabling the future of medicine

By Mara Simmonds, University of Alberta
Alberta Cell Therapy Manufacturing

Regenerative medicine and cell therapies are the future of medicine. They offer the potential to transform the treatment of disease such as cancer and diabetes and the ability to replace damaged tissues and organs, make cartilage for joint repair, and create new therapies to treat autoimmune diseases and organ transplant rejection. The University of Alberta’s Alberta Cell Therapy Manufacturing (ACTM) facility can help make this future a reality.

One of a kind in Western Canada

The ACTM facility is the only one of its kind in Western Canada, and one of a few such facilities in Canada. This state-of-the-art Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) cleanroom facility houses advanced equipment and supports rigorous manufacturing quality-control measures. ACTM’s six cleanrooms ensure an aseptic processing environment and support the simultaneous production of multiple vaccines, therapies, and cell-based products.

Keeping vaccine and cell therapy development and production in Alberta

Vaccines and therapies require GMP facilities to progress to clinical trials and later be used to treat patients. The ACTM facility also enables researchers to work more quickly, have more oversight, and keep vaccine and therapy production close to home for Albertans and Canadians—-eliminating the high costs of outsourcing to faraway labs. ACTM can also be used by the health, biotech and pharmaceutical industries, which in turn supports Alberta’s economic development and diversification. ACTM also has the potential to expand into fill/finish services, which is the final step of getting a product into vials for patients. Aseptic fill/finish is currently unavailable in Canada and must be outsourced to the US and elsewhere.

New vaccines, treatments and therapies

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the critical importance of:

  • research and the advanced facilities required to translate that research into new tools (vaccines, treatments and diagnostics) that can tackle major health issues such as COVID-19
  • access to, and control over, the development of these critical new tools

Once COVID-19 research funding was available, the University of Alberta was able to hit the ground running and launch multiple projects because of its significant scientific expertise and advanced research facilities such as ACTM. The university’s COVID projects include four potential vaccines and numerous potential therapies and treatments, one of those vaccines, led by Dr. John Lewis, is now being manufactured in ACTM for clinical trials.

“Canadian researchers, including those at the University of Alberta, have made incredible breakthroughs in genetic medicine to treat diseases such as cancer and emerging threats such as COVID-19,” says Dr. John Lewis, University of Alberta researcher and professor and CEO of Entos Pharmaceuticals.

“Moving promising vaccines from the lab to the clinic quickly is key to stopping this pandemic. Having ACTM right here enabled Entos Pharmaceuticals to quickly begin manufacturing its COVID-19 DNA vaccine doses for clinical trials. If ACTM also included fill/finish services, we could even manufacture the vaccine right here in Alberta, if the clinical trials are successful.”

In addition to COVID-19 vaccines, ACTM has many other projects underway, including:

  • a hepatitis C vaccine headed to clinical trials
    a cell therapy to treat cancer and another to treat septic shock. A future project will be insulin-producing cells to treat Type 1 diabetes.

ACTM’s scientific director, Dr. Greg Korbutt, believes the facility will also play a key role in developing new immunotherapies for cancer treatment.

“Cancer is just one disease that can be treated with emerging cell therapies,” says Korbutt. “The technology is very new and will only grow. ACTM is key to bringing new therapies like this, and new vaccines and other health technologies, to Albertans and Canadians—saving lives and greatly improving quality of life.”

This facility is a prime example of forward-thinking. Now constructed, it is supporting emerging medical science while also supporting today’s needs such as producing vaccines for clinical trials. Significant funding from the Government of Canada, the Government of Alberta, and the University of Alberta made ACTM possible.

To learn more, visit the Alberta Cell Therapy Manufacturing website.