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Taking on Cancer

June 27, 2022

Philadelphia Business Journal senior health reporter John George hosted Taking on Cancer, a two-panel discussion that kicked off with perspectives from local research leaders at the helm of world-class research institutes and health care systems. It was followed by the innovative go-getters behind health care startups in the region. The intimate event took place in the high ceiling, music venue City Winery in Philadelphia’s Center City.

Leaders sat shoulder to shoulder to discuss the challenges and changes to cancer research and patient care. The first panel gave perspectives on what the future holds for the region and included Dr. Dario Altieri, Wistar Institute president & CEO, director of the Ellen and Ronald Caplan Caner Center, and the Robert and Penny Distinguished Professor; Dr. Generosa Grana, MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper director; Dr. Jonathan Chernoff, Fox Chase Cancer Center director; Dr. Andy Chapman, Jefferson Health’s Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center director; and Dr. Robert Vonderheide, University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center director.

Dr. Altieri represented the panel’s lone basic cancer research center and brought a high-level drug discovery perspective to what John George coined Philadelphia—an “epicenter for cancer research”. Dr. Altieri stated, “We’ve gotten better at public-private partnerships, and we’ve greatly improved the dynamics related to drug discovery and development. We’ve been exploring more and are doing a better job advancing promising new assets, so we are seeing a higher number of success stories.”

The other leaders, representing comprehensive cancer centers that treat patients and conduct research, felt the same – that the last 20 years of cancer research has been a sort of science revolution in our understanding of how genes act together and the hopes of altering or editing them, how to identify and predict cancer risk, and how to treat immune system pathways that were once thought undruggable with emerging drug candidates. In the process, Philadelphia has become central to cell and gene therapy and referenced as “Cellicon Valley”. The region now also supports a teeming cell and gene therapy ecosystem backed by a workforce that understands bioprocessing this “living drug”.

Together, the panel agreed that Philadelphia is poised to be a leading city in the battle against cancer—all due to the innovation of academic institutes coupled with innovative business investment and supporting infrastructure, and the ability to provide delocalized, multidisciplinary care to cancer patients.

As we continue shaping and building this life science ecosystem, Dr. Altieri remarked on the day-to-day challenges of cancer research and what’s to come. “At times, things may not seem to move fast enough, and our work seems incremental, taking only small steps forward. However even those count, as we move away from dogma and assumptions and from the mindset that there are undruggable targets. Discovery through innovation will become more adventurous.”