Vision to See the Future
My old friend Charlie Gates was a visionary. So it was ironic that he suffered from macular degeneration, an eye condition that can lead to blindness. I remember visiting his office, where he proudly showed me a device that helped him read newspapers and other materials. He refused to let macular degeneration slow him down. Despite his eye condition, he had a far-sightedness that is having a lasting impact on medical research, manufacturing and treatment.
Before his death in 2005, Charlie shared with his family his enthusiasm for the potential in stem cell therapies he had learned about from Dr. William Hiatt, his physician at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. They included treatment for macular degeneration, but it was still years off. After his passing, Charlie’s children, Diane and John, honored him by providing funding to create the Charles C. Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Biology at CU Anschutz. Charlie’s notion that stem cell-based therapies could lead to significant scientific breakthroughs is proving correct.
The vision of the Gates family is being realized at the Gates Center, which took a giant step forward last month when it opened the Gates Biomanufacturing Facility (GBF). It not only will help provide cell-based therapies for patients with cancer, cardiovascular disease, HIV, influenza, skin diseases and others, but also furthers CU Anschutz as one of the world’s leading academic medical facilities and a major health care destination. Fittingly, one of the cell-based therapies being developed at the facility will help address the macular degeneration that afflicted Charlie.
The GBF will accelerate scientific discovery from research laboratories to human therapies. One of Charlie’s other focuses was incorporating strong business practices to streamline the journey from research bench to patient bedside. The GBF aims to achieve that, and it also highlights the value of collaboration among a variety of entities on the CU Anschutz campus, including the Gates Center, the CU School of Medicine, University of Colorado Health, Children’s Hospital Colorado and the Gates Frontier Fund. The GBF is working with scientists and clinicians from many disciplines, including ophthalmology, orthopedics, immunology, dermatology and others.
Charlie’s daughter, Diane Wallach, and son, John Gates, have carried on his legacy and provided significant funding through The Gates Frontier Fund, which is helping CU realize their father’s vision. Their ongoing support is the keystone of this public-private partnership. They believe in venture philanthropy – investing in, not donating to, personalized, cost-effective patient care. The CU Foundation has provided a $5 million match to further the Gates Center’s work.
The 14,000-square-foot GBF opened in April at the Biosciences Park Center, just north of CU Anschutz. Its location means scientists and clinicians can literally walk across the street, manufacture products, then walk them back to the University of Colorado Hospital and Children’s Hospital Colorado, where they can conduct on-site clinical trials. It greatly enhances our work along the continuum of basic research, manufacturing, clinical trials and patient care.
The location is also important because it allows for collaboration with private-sector companies, additional hospitals, startups and other academic institutions. It is the only facility of its kind within a 500-mile radius and one of only six designated Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) facilities in the country. GMP facilities conform to guidelines recommended by agencies that control authorization and licensing for the manufacture and sale of food, drug products and active pharmaceutical products. The center complies with all FDA manufacturing regulations.
The ripple effects will be substantial. The GBF will help us secure some of the top talent in the country, people such as Dennis Roop, the Gates Center director, who was attracted here in 2006 in part because of the commitment by the Gates Frontier Fund. It will be a magnet for researchers who are studying similar cell therapies. It will also foster efforts to create companies based on research and products at the facility.
Most important, it will help patients. There are exciting treatment possibilities on the near horizon. Within three years, a variety of developing therapies will use the GBF, including corneal regeneration, cell-based immunotherapies for treating cancer, esophageal repair after tumor removal and others. Within three to five years, scientists expect to develop trachea and wind pipe regeneration, cell-based therapies for cardiovascular diseases, cartilage and bone regeneration and cell-based therapies for inherited skin disorders.
The future is now for the GBF and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. And much of its progress is due to a visionary who needed a machine to help him read, but one who had no trouble seeing the future.
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