Welcome to “Cellicon Valley”, Philadelphia

A lot of buzz around Philadelphia lately has been about the tech industry, and the question is if a giant like Amazon would plant its roots in the area. While the debate rages onward, the medical scene in the area has been making breakthroughs using the forefronts of technology, enough so to be dubbed “Cellicon Valley”.

Based on Philadelphia’s deep and remarkable history as an epicenter of medical research, it is no wonder these medical milestones are happening here. Greater Philadelphia is home to nearly 500 medical institutions - including five children’s hospitals and four National Cancer Institute-designated cancer research centers. 

It is also a great teaching hub, home to seven medical schools, three schools of pharmacy, two dental schools, a school of podiatric medicine, a school of optometry, and a renowned school of veterinary medicine. The region is leading the way in innovative, collaborative research that are delivering medical breakthroughs.  

Within the last few months, the University of Pennsylvania in collaboration with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Novartis received U.S. regulatory approval of the world’s first genetically engineered immune therapy, a T-cell treatment for pediatric leukemia. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) referred to their endorsement of this new gene therapy as a “historic action,” which parallels to Philadelphia’s reputation as a home to major milestones in medical research and life sciences. 

Combine the Penn-developed T-cell treatment with breakthrough gene editing technology work on HIV, led by researchers at Temple University’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine, and Philadelphia’s reputation as “Cellicon Valley” comes to life. 

The team of Temple scientists recently reached a pinnacle moment when they demonstrated that HIV can be removed from infected cells in animals. Through gene editing technology, the Temple team removed the virus from animal cells, making them the first researchers to replicate the process in three different animal models – including in a “humanized” model. 

Not to be outdone, Philadelphia’s Spark Therapeutics are leaders in genetic disease research through their discovery and development of therapies for inherited retinal diseases and neurodegenerative diseases, among others. 

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb commented in a news release that we are “entering a new frontier in medical innovation with the ability to reprogram a patient’s own cells to attack a deadly cancer.”  That new frontier is being shaped in Philadelphia.  

The question for biotech and pharmaceutical leaders around the world is not if they should have operations in our 11-county community, but can they afford to not call Greater Philadelphia home.   

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