SelectScience Interview: Innovating Cell Biology Technology to Improve Human Health

We hear about the latest developments and hot topics in cell biology from the leader of cell biology at Thermo Fisher Scientific

12 Feb 2019

Dr. Amy Butler, Vice President and general manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific talks to SelectScience about innovations in cell biology technology 

Amy Butler, Ph.D., Neuroscience, Vice President and general manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific, talks to SelectScience about leading the company's cell biology business and how providing a complete system for cell growth and modification (cells, media and plastics, gene editing and delivery tools), is enabling scientists to harness the power of cells to improve human health.

What are the current hot topics in cell biology?

One area we spend a lot of time discussing is cell and gene therapy, and we are passionate about helping our customers overcome the challenges in this exciting field. For example, a major bottleneck in this space has been the demand for viruses used to engineer CAR-T cells and other cellular therapies far outpacing their supply. One of our exciting recent innovations, inspired by this challenge, is the Gibco LV-MAX Lentiviral Production System. This system was developed by synergistically optimizing each component (cells, media, enhancer and transfection reagent) to enable maximal viral titers.   

Another area we are excited about is the power of 3D models, including organoids and spheroids, to create powerful models for disease and development. We recognize that there is still a need for guidance in the field, as it is growing quickly, so we are focusing not only on bringing new technologies into market but also on enabling research advancement. Organoids were named the Nature method of the year in 2017, and with that comes increased interest in 3D models, so we will continue to focus on educating and innovating alongside our customers. 

What are your key successes and collaborations in this area? 

Working in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania, Novartis used Gibco CTS Dynabeads CD3/CD28 magnetic bead product in the development of Kymriah, the first FDA-approved CAR-T cell therapy. The magnetic beads isolate, activate and expand T cells that have been genetically engineered to find and attack cancerous cells. Once the cells are reprogrammed, they are injected back into the patient’s body as a “living therapy” to fight cancer. Kymriah is approved to treat children and young adults with refractory or relapsing acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a cancer of the blood or bone marrow that represents more than a quarter of all pediatric cancers. A Phase II multinational clinical trial for the therapy achieved an 83 percent overall remission rate within the first three months of infusion, with 75 percent of participants remaining cancer-free six months after remission. Most recently we announced a partnership with Juno Therapeutics to use Thermo Fisher CTS Dynabeads in CAR-T cell development.  

We have only begun to capture the full potential of leveraging cells as models for development and disease and for therapeutic applications

Dr. Amy Butler

Thermo Fisher Scientific

In the area of 3D cell culture models, in 2018 we worked with several big pharma customers who were studying low turnover compounds (drugs that have minimal or very slow hepatic metabolism). The traditional hepatocyte monolayer system has a short experimental window of about five days, which limits scientists’ ability to study metabolite formation from these molecules. The use of 3D hepatocyte spheroids stabilizes and extends hepatocyte function through greater than two weeks, prolonging enzyme activity for a more useful experimental duration. Unfortunately, the formation of spheroids from human hepatocytes has been inconsistent in many researchers’ hands. Our R&D team has focused extensively on streamlining these workflows through a combination of culture technology and optimized protocols. With our technical support and hands-on training, these researchers were able to achieve excellent spheroid formation using our qualified hepatocyte lots to evaluate their metabolism endpoints. This is just one example of how the use of more physiologically relevant in vitro culture platforms can help researchers make better decisions in the drug development process to improve efficacy and reduce toxicity.  

Why do you think that SelectScience reviews are so important? 

SelectScience offers an objective third party platform to allow unbiased reviews of products from users across the market. Customers can feel comfortable sharing their opinions on companies and products in this environment as it allows for more honest and open feedback. We value this feedback as well, as it helps drive product development and innovation.

What do you see for the future for the topic of cell biology? 

We have only begun to capture the full potential of leveraging cells as models for development and disease and for therapeutic applications. The need for more relevant cell models will also drive innovation in the field. New technologies, such as gene editing, are unlocking the real power of cells to have a material impact on human health.

Thermo Fisher Scientific will be sponsoring and attending the ISSCR International Symposium on Stem Cells & Organoids in Development & Disease in Amsterdam from February 20-22, learning more from researchers who are exploring this ground-breaking technique and its implications for the future of healthcare.

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