For most people working in oncology, the job has a sense of meaning. For one of the leading industry figures working in the growing field of cell therapy, Dr. Rosanna Ricafort at Bristol Myers Squibb, the job is also deeply personal.
“I’m not only a drug developer and a physician and a clinician, but I’m also a patient,” Dr. Ricafort, Vice President of Cell Therapy Clinical Development, told SurvivorNet.Read More
The complex process involves removing a sample of a patient’s blood, separating out the immune T cells, inserting an anti-cancer gene into those cells (which will help them to fight cancer), and then putting them back into the patient.
‘Scaling Up’ Access to Innovative Drugs
Currently, CAR T-cell therapy can be used to treat blood cancers: multiple myeloma and certain types of lymphoma and leukemia. A huge amount of research is currently going on to expand the use of this therapy but the problem Dr. Ricafort focuses on is ensuring eligible patients can get access to what has been approved thus far.
“We’ve got really exciting and transformational data with our cell therapies and we want to be able to reach as many patients as possible,” she told SurvivorNet.
She explained that when they think about scaling up and getting access for more patients, they start out with focusing on operations.
WATCH: Dr. Ricafort explains how doctors and drug developers can work to scale up access to innovative cancer treatments like CAR T-cell therapy.
“These … CAR T-cells that we generate from patient material … in many ways is a boutique therapy, and that’s very complex and the manufacturing process is complex,” she explained. “We are working to enhance our manufacturing process with things like automation.”
Dr. Ricafort explained that the next steps are “looking at new targets” for cell therapies, which will ideally mean cell therapy will become available for solid tumors (currently, it is only available for blood cancers), and working to get drug approvals faster.
“The third thing to think about when we are scaling is really the regulatory environment in which we operate and the partnerships we forge,” Dr. Ricafort said.
“This is a nascent field in cell therapy and so we are continuously learning … I think it will take collaboration across industry, the scientific community, and with the regulatory authorities to really understand how to best iterate our cellular therapies so that we can bring more innovation to patients faster.”