Advancing cell therapy: Shaping our approach today to reach more patients tomorrow

December 06, 2023     
Lynelle Hoch, President, Cell Therapy Organization, Bristol Myers Squibb

Cancer remains one of the world’s most formidable health challenges, responsible for millions of new diagnoses and tragic losses of life each year. However, we are living amid an era of unprecedented breakthroughs and innovations in cancer research, and more people are living longer with cancer than ever before. Further, advances initially studied in cancer are beginning to show promise and improve outcomes for patients with other serious diseases.

One of the most promising scientific advancements in recent years has been cell therapy, a key focus area at Bristol Myers Squibb, which is continuing to revolutionize the way we approach care: not just in the treatment of blood cancers, but—now on the horizon—certain autoimmune disorders, neuroscience and solid tumors.

Though the field of cell therapy is relatively new, as an industry we have packed incredible progress into the last two decades; from the first effective CAR T cells developed by researchers in 2002 to six FDA-approved cell therapies for blood cancers now on the market, with the number of patients treated numbering well into the tens of thousands. As the only company with two approved CAR T cell therapies with two distinct targets, BMS has assumed an important leadership role within the industry.

We are now leveraging our decades of pioneering expertise to think big, with the goal of one day reaching hundreds of thousands of patients with this potentially life-changing or life-saving treatment option. We understand that progress is a collective journey, shaped by the tireless contributions of researchers, healthcare professionals and partners, and together, we are confident and excited to pioneer this exciting field of cell therapy.

Overall, BMS has invested more than $14 billion in our cell therapy franchise to bring our in-market treatments to more patients in need while continuing to advance our robust research and development programs across several fronts.

Read on for how this investment is allowing us to make our patient-focused vision for the future a reality.

How we are moving cell therapy forward

BMS’ roadmap to advancing cell therapies is taking shape, through innovation, partnership, and an unwavering commitment to unlocking the potential of cell therapy to put more patients on the path to a potential cure. Here are just a few of the tracks we’re working along:

  • Meeting operational challenges: Given the complexity of cell therapy, the industry has faced many challenges in meeting initial demand, though we’re proud of our continued progress on this front. We remain confident that autologous CAR T cell therapy will have lasting value as a personalized treatment, and we are laser-focused on seeking ways to enhance the speed and capacity of reliable supply, including through accelerating to next generation vector, methods and processes while also investing in additional drug product capacity to increase slot availability. In addition, we are putting a significant amount of investment and effort into automation to improve turnaround time and scalability.

    Underpinning these efforts, we are working tirelessly to create a robust global network of manufacturing facilities, advancing to next generation technologies, and attracting the best talent in the industry to support increasing demand and drive the future of cell therapy and optimizing performance through automation and process improvements.
  • Scientific acceleration: In parallel to advancing our CD19 and BCMA targeted CARs into earlier lines of certain blood cancer, we are investigating new targets and new dual targeting approaches to enhance efficacy, with a focus on both depth and duration of response.

    In addition to expanding the promise of CAR T to solid tumors, BMS is committed to expanding beyond oncology to autoimmune and neuroinflammatory conditions. For example, people with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) experience numerous flares throughout their lifetime, and as these flares persist and recur, the symptoms often intensify and may, in severe cases, lead to organ failure and even death. Currently as there is no cure for SLE, the treatments that help manage these symptoms can take a toll on the body and patients may become refractory to conventional treatments. 

    Another important example is multiple sclerosis (MS), where patients can experience fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms, leading to advanced/severe disease that can cause vision and bladder problems, cognitive changes, and physical disability.  At present, there is no cure for MS and the goal of current treatment strategies involve improving the QoL of individuals by managing symptoms, treating relapses, and modifying the disease course.

    Finally, we are exploring multiple manufacturing platforms that may make it possible to serve an even larger number of patients, including off-the-shelf platforms using donor-derived cells as well as stem cells known as iPSCs. 
  • Regulatory collaboration: Another area we’re focused on is close collaboration with global regulatory bodies to ensure they fully appreciate the value and complexities of this treatment, now and in the future, which can be challenging for any new technology. By partnering with regulators early on to increase public knowledge and understanding, we can help evolve and speed up review processes to ensure as many patients as possible can access each new product.

We are excited and honored by the opportunity to continue to advance this exciting field in collaboration with the broader ecosystem so we can work together to build the confidence and uptake of this truly transformative technology.

We are investing in the future of cell therapy because because we believe in its transformational potential, and we look forward to helping drive this field forward to make cell therapy accessible to even more patients.

Author: Lynelle Hoch

President, Cell Therapy Organization, Bristol Myers Squibb

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Bristol Myers Squibb is a global biopharmaceutical company whose mission is to discover, develop and deliver innovative medicines that help patients prevail over serious diseases. As global citizens, we work sustainably and responsibly to create a positive impact in the communities where we live and work.