City cell summit raises hope for patients

Li Qian
First Zhangjiang International Summit on Cell Therapy hears how cutting-edge therapies are gaining ground and offering hope in treating previously incurable diseases.
Li Qian

Cutting-edge cell therapies are rapidly gaining ground, raising hope for patients with incurable diseases, according to the first Zhangjiang International Summit on Cell Therapy.

The two-day meeting opened at the newly established Zhangjiang Cell Industrial Park in the Pudong New Area on Thursday.

Researchers, scholars and executives from leading pharmaceutical firms from 16 countries and regions including China, the UK and the US shared their pioneering research related cell therapies and outlined possible approaches in the treatment of diabetes, cancers, eye diseases and heart failure.

Tian Zhigang, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, expressed optimism about NK cell therapy in the treatment of cancer.

NK cells, natural killer cells, are a type of white blood cell and a component of the immune system. Tests have shown they are first to act against disease, before the T cells that are perhaps today’s most commonly known white blood cells for their use in CAR-T therapy against cancer.

What we know about NK cell today is just the tip of iceberg, Tian said.

In early 2016, the US government initiated the Cancer Moonshot, aiming to replace radiotherapy and chemotherapy with cell therapy after surgery. “It sounded very futuristic in 2016. But it has rapidly progressed,” Tian said.

Yuji Shiba, a professor from Shinshu University in Japan, injected induced pluripotent stem cells, which have the potential to develop into any cell in the body, into monkeys with heart failure. The cells turned to cardiac cells and the monkeys survived.

“We hope this can be used to treat heart failure," he said. "Today, most patients will die within 10 years after they are diagnosed, and the last thing and also the only useful way to live is to have heart transplant. But the number of such surgeries have been declining over 20 years. So we need some new treatments.” 

Wang Mingwei, head of the School of Pharmacy at Fudan University, said the meeting focused on how to apply academic research in clinical trials and even medical products.

Shanghai Science and Technology Commission approved the establishment of the Zhangjiang Cell Industrial Park in June.

Currently, it has more than 70 companies, from cell therapy developers such as Novartis, equipment manufacturers such as GE, third-party medical testers such as BGI and hospitals such as the East Branch of Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center.

By the end of October, 11 out of 21 clinical trials related to cell therapy approved in China came from Zhangjiang Cell Industrial Park. Some 24 percent companies who applied for clinical trials related to cell therapy in China came from the park, with the proportion in Shanghai at 80 percent.

It plans to grow into a park with an industrial chain with global influence, producing an industrial value of over 50 billion yuan (US$7 billion) by 2030.

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