Georgia Tech Receives $15.7 Million Grant from the Marcus Foundation

Cell based therapies have the potential to be used to treat a myriad of diseases ranging from different types of cancer to autoimmune disorders. However, due to the high cost of manufacturing these cells, many patients do not have access to these potentially life-saving treatments. In comparison to other synthesized products, such as medicines and pharmaceuticals, cells are much more influenced by their environment. This means the same type of cell can develop different characteristics depending on its location and method of production. These differences affect its ability to effectively treat disease, which means the stringency of production will need to be carefully planned and monitored, resulting in high costs for cell therapy treatments. Along with that, the new Marcus Center for Therapeutic Cell Characterization and Manufacturing (MC3M) will seek to make cell therapies more available to patients by developing standardized manufacturing methods.

The launching of MC3M is made possible by the Marcus Foundation, which was established in Georgia by Bernard Marcus in 1989. Marcus was also a co-founder of Home Depot and helped to launch the Georgia Aquarium. In 2015, the Marcus Foundation gave Georgia Tech a $6.5 million grant for the tumor monorail project. This year, an amount more than twice that of the previous year, at an amazing $15.7 million, was granted to Tech to help launch MC3M. Combined with funding from the Georgia Research Alliance and other Georgia Tech sources, a total of $23 million is going towards MC3M.

MC3M will be one of the first facilities in the United States to research techniques for standardizing cell manufacturing techniques. This new facility will be headed by Dr. Roy Krishnendu, Robert A. Milton Chair, director of the Center for ImmunoEngineering, and a professor in the BME department. MC3M’s goal will be to develop a set of manufacturing techniques and standards for manufacturing cells, similar to those that are already present in the making of other pharmaceuticals. MC3M’s research will mainly focus on four aspects of production: consistency, quantity, quality, and cost. Cell similarity, consistency, and mass production will be important for cell based therapy effectiveness, affordability, and recognition as an available treatment.

Improving and increasing the commercial availability of cell based therapies will require collaboration and synergy. The MC3M will be working with other institutes here at Tech such as the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience, the Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology, and the Manufacturing Institute. The MC3M team will be comprised of researchers and faculty from various schools across campus, including the College of Engineering, College of Sciences, and the College of Computing. In addition to local support, MC3M will also work with other institutions in the United States, including universities such as Duke, Emory, the University of Miami, and other clinical research groups. Moreover, we are even working together with our long time football rival, the University of Georgia!

Cell based therapies can serve as an improved treatment for disease and disorders that are difficult to treat with other drugs. Notably, stem cells could be used to repair a damaged spinal cord, or replace damaged tissues resulting from a heart attack that may be beyond the scope of modern drug-based treatments. However, the advancement of cell therapy is slow due to the difficulty of producing cells for use in clinical trials, and even after the FDA approves the treatment, the high cost and meticulousness required for production prevents distribution to patients who may benefit from the treatment. The Marcus Center for Therapeutic Cell Characterization and Manufacturing hopes to change the role and current state of cell therapy in clinical medicine by establishing standards and methodologies associated with the mass production of high quality cells with their respective similarities, while concurrently refining the processes to be efficient and cost-effective.

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