Official launch of the Centre for the Technologies of Gene and Cell Therapy
The Centre for the Technologies of Gene and Cell Therapy (CTGCT), established by the National Institute of Chemistry, officially started its work in September. To mark the occasion, we hosted a kick-off meeting of representatives of the renowned European medical research institutions that will participate in the project as development and innovation partners. Representatives of the European Commission, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Innovation also attended the event.
The main goal of the CTGCT is to develop new, personalised treatments
One in three people will develop cancer in their lifetime, 5% of the world's population is affected by genetic diseases, and there are about 1 000 such people in Slovenia. There are still no effective cures for most rare diseases and cancers. However, new, advanced treatment technologies such as gene and cell therapies could cure these diseases in the future.
"Advanced treatment approaches are highly effective because they are targeted, tailored to individual patients or groups of patients and address the immediate cause of the disease, which can even lead to a permanent cure. The centre will develop technologies to prepare advanced medicines until clinical trials are conducted to treat diseases for which we do not yet have effective cures. We want to harness the scientific potential that already exists in Slovenia and improve the survival and quality of life of patients in the long term," says Assoc. Prof. Dr. Mojca Benčina, a researcher at the National Institute of Chemistry who will lead CTGCT.
Collaboration between scientists, doctors and patients is key to the CTGCT
Excellent research in synthetic biology, neurobiology, genetics and immunology at the National Institute of Chemistry is key to the development of advanced treatments. This development is supported by the collaboration of scientists and physicians at UKC Ljubljana, with patients and their stakeholders playing an important bridging role. The centre will thus be an important bridge between biomedical research for advanced therapies and their implementation in patients.
"The field of life sciences has been characterised over the last decade by the development of extremely powerful technologies that can be used to develop highly effective medicines and address the immediate causes of a growing number of diseases. The idea to establish such a centre came from the realisation that we can and must do something to facilitate the transfer of our scientific achievements, which are often world-leading, to doctors and patients. The excellent cooperation between researchers and doctors and patient associations is an excellent basis for the centre," comments Prof. Dr. Roman Jerala, Head of the Department of Synthetic Biology and Immunology at the National Institute of Chemistry, on the launch of the project.
Innovation with the help of renowned European medical research institutions
The CTGCT is supported in research and innovation by some of Europe's most renowned and successful research institutions: University College London (UCL), Utrecht University Medical Centre, Charité University Hospital Berlin and the Technical University of Dresden. The National Institute of Chemistry will bring to the centre its leading expertise in developing therapies for cancer and genetic diseases in the context of synthetic biology. The partner institutions mentioned above will advise on the organisation of the centre and the establishment of research facilities, provide the necessary expertise and technology, and support the transfer of therapies from the laboratory to the patient.
"UCL is committed to using our collective expertise to address global problems and increase our positive impact with our partners on the world around us. Partnerships are at the heart of UCL's ethos of excellence, inclusivity and global outreach, and as such we are delighted to be a partner in this European Teaming Grant with Slovenia," said Professor Geraint Rees, Vice-Provost for Research, Innovation and Global Engagement at UCL, at the launch of the CTGCT.
"Advanced therapies hold the promise to transform healthcare for patients with some of the most serious and debilitating conditions. UCL are world leading in the translation of these therapies and we are looking forward to sharing knowledge across the partnership in support of the next generation of scientists in Slovenia and across Europe," said Dr. Jane Kinghorn, Director of the Translational Research Office at UCL.
"The Centre for the Technologies of Gene and Cell Therapy (CTGCT) will not only increase access to important treatment options, such as CAR -T cell therapies, for cancer patients in Slovenia, but it will also serve as a significant driver of innovation in the field and facilitate exchange among participating European partners. We are thrilled to be a part of this initiative," commented Prof. Dr. Jurgen Kuball, Head of the Department of Hematology at the Cancer Centre of the University Medical Centre Utrecht, on the launch of the project.
“With the breakthroughs in cell and gene therapy over the last years, we are moving into an exciting era of curative therapies for diseases that had limited treatment options. An essential component is to make these therapies affordable and available to all those who can benefit. I am excited to help build a European network with the team in Slovenia that will help bring such therapies to patients in Slovenia and Europe and to expand a wonderful opportunity for health and industry.” says Prof. Dr. Ezio Enrico Bonifacio from the Centre for Regenerative Therapies at Dresden University of Technology.
»Charité, as one of the largest and most renowned university hospitals in Europe and beyond, is visibly positioned nationally and internationally in the field of cell and gene therapy (CGT) in its scientific, technological, translational and clinical focus areas. With the Berlin Center for Advanced Therapies (BeCAT), Charité has established an institution at the medical faculty that shapes and leads transdisciplinary networks on a national and international level with its competencies in preclinical development of CGT, with its expertise in GMP manufacturing and ATMP regulatory affairs.« says Prof. Dr. Petra Reinke, Director of the Berlin Centre for Advanced Therapies.
How the CTGCT will be organised and where it will work
The main goal of the project is to establish a Centre of Excellence for the Technologies of Gene and Cell Therapy (CTGCT). A new facility is planned for the CTGCT, which will be located on the premises of the National Institute of Chemistry in Ljubljana. The project will also provide funding for clean premises and equipment to prepare technologies for preclinical research and clinical trials. The CTGCT will be an independent infrastructure and research centre that aims to bring together researchers, clinicians and patients, linking research institutions at home and abroad and providing them with the centre's infrastructure and expertise to enable knowledge transfer to the clinic. The success of the Centre at home and abroad will depend entirely on the skills of its staff, who will bring the research to life. We expect to recruit more than 20 experts in the first six years. We are counting on experts from various scientific fields, on the expertise of project partners and on cooperation with companies that have already developed technical solutions for working in clean premises.
"The centre represents an important and unique infrastructure asset for Slovenia. With the establishment of the CTGCT, our country will have more qualified human resources and adequately equipped academic facilities for the preparation of technologies for the development of advanced therapies. The overall structure of the centre will promote and facilitate the transfer of knowledge to those who need it most, the patients. The development of advanced therapies for rare and very rare diseases is a lengthy process that is not attractive to large pharmaceutical companies precisely because of the small number of patients involved. Academic institutions of this kind, such as the CTGCT, will therefore be a suitable format for the development and production of such therapies. The establishment of the CTGCT will therefore primarily benefit patients with rare diseases, which is clearly a top priority. At the same time, it will put us in line with countries that already have such centres and make an important contribution to the development of science in general," says Prof. Dr. Gregor Anderluh, Director of the National Institute of Chemistry, about the establishment of the centre.
What is this European project and how much is it worth?
The CTGCT project is funded through the European call Widening - Teaming for Excellence. This is an important programme of the European Commission under the Horizon Europe programme for research and innovation. The European Commission has approved a grant of €15 million for the CTGCT project, of which €12 million will go to the Institute of Chemistry. The Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Innovation will provide a second round of investment funding for the project. This brings the total value of the project to €30 million. The UK's Research and Innovation Agency will also provide part of the funding for the centre and will co-fund the cost of work by UK experts from University University London to the tune of €1 million.
Prominent European partner institutions that will participate in the project:
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 101059842) and the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) under the UK government’s Horizon Europe funding guarantee (grant agreement No 10069462).
Video of the event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZRZvBgxVM8
More information: https://ctgct.si/
Contact for further information: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Mojca Benčina, mojca.bencina(at)ki.si