September 20, 2000
MEDIA CONTACT: Vanessa Wasta
PHONE: (410) 955-1287
A new research laboratory dedicated to the genetics and cell biology of cancer and other diseases opens this week on the Johns Hopkins medical campus in East Baltimore. A joint project of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Oncology Center, the Cell and Gene Therapy Laboratory is one of only a dozen such facilities in the United States designed to produce cellular and gene therapy drugs and vaccines for clinical trials in cancer, diabetes, and other diseases.
Located on the second floor of the Bunting-Blaustein Building for Cancer Research, the $1.2 million ultra-modern lab is expected to help facilitate on site development and manufacturing of drugs and other therapeutic products for use in clinical trials at Hopkins. “In order to move from test tube and animal studies to human clinical trials, you need enough product to test. Without this facility, we would have to contract with biotech companies, which takes time and is more expensive,” says Elizabeth Jaffee, M.D., associate professor of oncology and medical director of the new facility. Clinical trials using therapeutic products made in the new facility could begin as early as October.
What makes this laboratory different than others is its technically advanced and controlled environment where scientists have the capability, for example, to reprogram cells to correct a gene mutation that would otherwise lead to cancer, diabetes or other disease. In addition, scientists will be able to activate cells that act as a switch to turn on the immune system and fight disease.
“Anything that can be done to manipulate a cell can be done in this facility,” says Jaffee. “We can alter gene expression in tumor cells as well as normal cells, insert missing enzymes, transfer genes into vaccines or replace missing genes,” she says. These new and improved cells can then be introduced to patients in the form of vaccines, she said.
The Bunting-Blaustein Building, opened in January 2000, and houses more than 400 cancer scientists and research staff.