Event Recap: The 2023 @Philly Cell and Gene Therapy Annual Conference Shines a Bright Light on the Vibrant Biotech Ecosystem in Greater Philadelphia

Anchored with a major ivy league University that literally gave birth to the Cell, Gene, and RNA therapies, Greater Philadelphia has been for decades not only a world leader in research and education of life science and medicine, but also a place with an abundance of available high quality biotech infrastructure, ample service providers, and good quality of lives. Long been a vibrant hub of biotech and pharmaceutical industry, Greater Philadelphia almost has it all, though it still pales in comparation with Boston and New York in number of major VC investments.

Conference video highlight

In 2022, SAPA-GP, a large non-profit organization of biotech professionals in the Greater Philadelphia area, organized the inaugural @Philly Cell and Gene Therapy Annual Conference to showcase the area’s vibrant biotech ecosystem and global leadership in cell and gene therapies. Building on last year’s success, the 2023 @Philly Cell and Gene Therapy Annual Conference (https://atphilly.org/) aimed to become a premium platform to illustrate the cutting-edge sciences in the fields of cell, gene, and RNA therapies, and to connect biotech business leaders with investors, scientific innovators, as well as service providers.

Held on June 23-24th at the Sheraton Valley Forge Hotel near King of Prussia, northwest of Philadelphia, the 2023 @Philly Cell and Gene Therapy Annual Conference featured five prominent keynote speakers, including James Wilson, MD, PhD, Professor at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania; Peter Marks, MD, PhD, Director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the FDA; Federico Mingozzi, PhD, Chief Science & Technology Officer at Spark Therapeutics; Katherine High, MD, Visiting Professor at Rockefeller University in New York; and Sheila Mikhail, JD, MBA, Co-Founder and Former CEO of AskBio.

For two days, over seventy accomplished speakers delivered dozens of presentations, panel talks, and roundtable discussions on wide ranging topics covering discovery research, clinical development, regulatory, manufacture, investment, and business. The conference was sponsored by over twenty companies. Nearly six hundred life scientists, pharmaceutical professionals, and business executives attended the conference in person.

Dr. James M. Wilson, Director of the Gene Therapy Program at the University of Pennsylvania and a world-renowned trailblazer in gene therapy, delivered the conference’s opening keynote address to a standing-room only crowd of over three hundred attendees. While acknowledging the tremendous scientific achievements of gene therapies and their potential to offer cures for many genetic diseases, he warned that the interest in supporting the development of gene therapies, especially for rare diseases, is in decline due to high costs. The key to overcoming these challenges lies in more innovation. “My final words to all of you are: Let’s be disruptive.”

He was followed by a keynote address from Dr. Peter Marks, Director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the FDA, who supervises the development and approval of new cell and gene therapies in the U.S. He highlighted the speedy progress of the gene therapy field, now with 14 FDA approved gene therapies, the latest addition (Elevidys) was approved the day before the conference. Dr Marks alerted the audience that gene therapy is at a critical juncture at this time, citing various contributing factors, particularly the challenges associated with manufacturing. He shared several forward-thinking initiatives being considered by the FDA to accelerate drug development and approvals. Given the high cost of cell and gene therapies, he passionately advocated for global cooperation to make cell and gene therapies accessible not only to high-income countries but also to low and middle-income countries.

In partnership with the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, the conference expanded its unique @Philly forum, featuring three sessions of panel talks, with 14 esteemed panel members, dedicated to highlight Greater Philadelphia’s strengths in cell and gene therapy research, development, manufacturing, and entrepreneurship, with a particular focus on government policy, business environment, and investment. Attendees had the opportunity to explore the region’s competitive advantages and identify opportunities for growth, innovation, and sustainable development in the area.

“It’s great to be able to participate. I’m delighted it’s based in the Philadelphia area. I take great pride in what happens in gene and cell therapy in Philadelphia. But what’s impressed me was that the diversity of the crowd, the quality of the speakers, the conversation we had so far has been really deep and rich,” remarked Dr. James Wilson.

“It’s a really exciting time, the growth curve, and a lot of that innovation has come out of Philadelphia. I’m really impressed with the enthusiasm but first of all it’s a tremendously packed conference. Second, the enthusiasm of people who have come and the quality of the questions really thought provoking. I really enjoyed it,” added Dr. Peter Marks.

“This is my first time at SAPA-GP. The crowd is very enthusiastic, and the conversation is amazing. The things that I’m so excited about today is just such a broad and diverse array of people attending,” noted Kate Sullivan, Vice President of Business Investment and Regional Marketing at the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia.

The Greater Philadelphia region has a long history in taking the global leadership in the discovery and development of Cell and Gene therapies. Four FDA-approved therapies have originated here, including the first cell therapy (Kymriah®) and the first gene therapy (Luxturna®).

“Happy to see so many scientific innovators and business leaders coming together to forge new paths into the future,” remarked Dr Haichen Yang, the conference co-chair and immediate past president of SAPA-GP.

“SAPA-GP is thrilled to organize the @Philly CGT conference to showcase Greater Philly’s leadership in the field of CGT and support Philly’s thriving biotech ecosystem. The conference was filled with excitement over latest innovations and rapid growth of the region’s biotech industry,” commented Dr. Yang Yuan, the conference co-chair and current president of SAPA-GP.

With two successful conferences under the belt, SAPA-GP is gearing up to make the annual conference a must-attend event in the biotech scene of Greater Philadelphia. The 2024 @Philly Cell and Gene Therapy Annual Conference is scheduled to be held on June 14-15, 2024. For more information about the programs and opportunities at SAPA-GP, please visit https://sapagp.org/.



Founded in 2002, SAPA’s mission is to promote pharmaceutical sciences and biotechnology, facilitate scientific and business cooperation, and foster the career development of pharmaceutical professionals. With over 4,000 members, each year SAPA-GP hosts many programs in science, business, and career development. It exercises increasing influence in shaping favorable business environments in the Greater Philadelphia area.