A clean, controlled environment to develop new cell-based anti-cancer therapies


Physician lifting lid of machineMany of the immunotherapeutic approaches that have been developed or are being tested today involve the management of different types of immune cells that have been extracted from a patient or a related donor. These cells typically must be processed, treated or manipulated in some way and then re-injected into the patient at a later time. The term ‘cell therapy’ is used to collectively describe these kinds of treatments.

Naturally, these types of therapies are highly regulated by Health Canada and other agencies, to ensure that the cells are of the highest quality and do not pose any risks to patients. Special facilities are required, including a clean room, which is a controlled area that is carefully monitored for environmental pollutants such as dust, airborne microbes and aerosol particulates plus equipment and systems that allow for the careful labeling and preservation of the cells. Most cells are frozen and stored in liquid nitrogen containers.

The Philip S. Orsino Cell Therapy Facility is a state-of-the-art 3,000 square foot facility with 5 clean rooms. It was established in 2004 and is housed at Princess Margaret Hospital. The facility was the result of a joint funding effort between the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Innovation Trust, and the generosity of philanthropist Philip S. Orsino. The overall goal of the facility is to produce the billions of cells that are required to treat cancer patients, as well as patients with other degenerative diseases. Such centres are extremely expensive to build and maintain, and are usually found only in commercial settings. By having this facility at The Princess Margaret, researchers in the Toronto area who are developing new cell-based anti-cancer therapies can have their cells manufactured in a clean, controlled environment without having to pay millions of dollars.

Operating this facility on a 24 x 7 basis requires a diverse and highly-trained staff including senior scientists, laboratory technicians, regulatory affairs specialists, and equipment experts.

Bone Marrow Transplants

Transplant preparationToday the facility is responsible for the management of the cells involved in the 250+ bone marrow transplants (BMTs) performed at Princess Margaret Hospital each year. The very first bone marrow transplant in Canada was performed at The Princess Margaret by Dr. Hans Messner, and the hospital continues to lead the country and the world in this important procedure. Most of these BMTs are performed on leukemia or lymphoma patients whose bone marrow is producing cancerous, instead of healthy, blood cells or whose bone marrow has been destroyed due to high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation.

Two types of bone marrow transplant grafts are processed at the Orsino Facility: autologous (where the patient’s own bone marrow or stem cells are harvested prior to intense chemotherapy and re-infused afterwards) and allogeneic (where bone marrow or stem cells from a healthy, genetically similar donor are collected and infused into the patient following intensive chemotherapy).

Just recently, the Stem Cell Transplant Program at The Princess Margaret was granted FACT (Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy) accreditation. This is the gold standard for high-quality medical and laboratory practice in cellular therapies.


Clinical Trials

Because cell therapies are new procedures in cancer treatment, the other work of the facility is to support the many clinical trials that are underway to test new treatments.