The new McKinsey center helps clients develop capabilities in cell and gene therapy technology

One from New JerseyThe fastest growing industries are the life sciences. Already home to some of the largest biopharmaceutical companies in the world, the state is now also home to our brand new Digital Capability Center. Dedicated to life sciences with a focus on cell and gene therapies, the center was developed in collaboration with the New Jersey Innovation Institute and is managed by BioCentriq.

McKinsey operates 12 such facilities globally. They are immersive learning environments where people can develop new skills by experimenting with digital technologies, explore new ways of working that will be critical to success, and plan to transform their operations both inside and outside their walls.

Cell and gene therapies are next generation treatments for numerous diseases. While traditional medicines often require repeated dosing, sometimes with negative side effects, these new therapies are tailored to the patient, offering potentially permanent benefits. Put simply, cell and gene therapies restore, alter or replace cells or genes in the body to prevent, treat, and sometimes cure diseases, some of which were previously incurable. They are often effective in a single dose.

Twenty-three gene therapies have been approved by the FDA with promising results for the treatment of diseases including blood cancers, haemophilia, congenital blindness, and spinal muscular atrophy, which is the leading genetic cause of death in children.

“Five years ago these treatments were really just ideas tested in very small clinical trials,” explains McKinsey partner Katie Kelleher, who together with partner Andrea Gennari and a team of experts founded the center. “They are now the fastest growing therapeutic area and the industry is starting to commercialize them. But they are very laborious, complex and expensive to produce and many companies are not ready to do so ”.

This is where the new Digital Capability Center can help. “As life sciences companies around the world are under pressure to hire talent and grow rapidly, while improving quality and reliability,” says Andrea, “we can help them qualify people for operational excellence and transform their use of technology to enable new high performance “.

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Using virtual reality technologies, operators can train people on new procedures without requiring the actual equipment or supervisors, who can focus on production.

Specifically, the new facility simulates the autologous production process of CAR-T, a therapy used to treat cancer. In it, cells are taken from a patient in a hospital, transported to a laboratory where they are purified and modified, and then injected back into the same patient.

“It’s a complicated, weeks-long process that requires highly skilled technicians,” explains Emily Simon, a McKinsey Solutions Manager. “For example, cells must be frozen in liquid nitrogen during transport to ensure stasis.” A series of lab demos show how digital technologies can improve effectiveness at different points in the process. A use case focuses on how to optimize yield through advanced analysis, which can increase production through more productive cell growth or increased cell viability in the laboratory.

“Hundreds of factors can affect performance,” says Emily. “From the attributes of the raw materials – the sera and buffers that contain the cells – to the health of the patient who produced the cells, to the factors of the process itself: temperature, pH, oxygen level”. Predictive modeling using advanced analytics can help a lab technician predict potential problems, identify root causes, and identify ideal conditions for the growth of new replacement cells.

When you see digital technologies come to life, you can truly grasp their full potential.

A recent participant of our Cell and Gene Therapy Digital Capacity Center

In another use case, augmented and virtual reality technologies help train lab technicians in core skills, such as changing cell culture media. They can also be used to provide a refresher course on complex processes by first practicing with a virtual version of the equipment; this allows equipment and operators to stay focused on actual production.

Programs range from half-day seminars for leaders that show “what the future might be” to four-day intensive courses in problem-solving and skills development for teams embarking on a complete transformation.

The center has already hosted several clients, creating moments of intuition and impact that perhaps can only be achieved in this cutting-edge and practical environment. “When you see digital technologies come to life,” noted one attendee recently, “you can really grasp their full potential.”

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