(SOURCE: Spark Therapeutics)

Spark Breaks Ground on Gene Therapy Innovation Center on Drexel Campus in Philadelphia, Paving the Way for Future Job Opportunities

By Mark Terry
March 1, 2023

Sixteen months since the original announcement, Spark Therapeutics broke ground this week on its Gene Therapy Innovation Center in University City on the Drexel University Campus in Philadelphia. Spark, now a Roche company, developed the first FDA-approved gene therapy, Luxturna. The FDA approved the drug in 2017 to treat patients with confirmed biallelic RPE65 mutation-associated retinal dystrophy.

Originally announced in December 2021, Spark is investing $575 million in the innovation center located at the intersection of 30th and Chestnut Streets. The construction will more than double Spark’s physical footprint in the Philadelphia area. The center will be 500,000 square feet and six stories. It is expected to offer increased in-house manufacturing capacity for Spark as well as for Roche and its subsidiary companies.

Although Spark declined to be interviewed for this article, the company supplied information and renderings of the facility, noting that it will “serve as Roche’s flagship center of excellence for gene therapy manufacturing globally. The new space will provide more in-house manufacturing capacity and will become a ‘lighthouse’ facility for Spark and Roche, allowing cross-functional teams and partners to come together and work side by side to realize the full potential of gene therapy with unprecedented collaboration.”

Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro said, “Philadelphia is going to be the gene therapy capital of the world.”

Shapiro added, “Pennsylvania is open for business. We want to do big things together, and today is a great example of that. This sends the message to the rest of the world that Philadelphia is the place to be.”

(SOURCE: Spark Therapeutics)

The Gene Therapy Innovation Center will house more than 500 staffers when it opens its doors in 2026. These staff will be a combination of new hires and transfers from other Spark sites, continuing to strengthen Philly’s life science workforce. Currently, Spark employs more than 800 people.

The innovation center will include a “green roof” to promote stormwater management by collecting groundwater to use in the building’s rain garden, a modular design that leverages natural daylight, and a metal shading system to create heating efficiencies. On Chestnut Street, the building’s façade will have interactive color-changing lighting and LED display.

Spark Therapeutics spun out of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) in 2013. The company also has SPK-8011, a gene therapy for Hemophilia A, in Phase III clinical studies, SPK-9001, a gene therapy for Hemophilia B it has partnered with Pfizer on in Phase III, and SPK-3006, in Phase I/II studies.

Late in January, Spark inked a strategic collaboration with Wales-based Neurochase to develop Neurochase’s proprietary delivery technology for rare CNS diseases. Neurochase’s technology used Convection Enhanced Delivery (CED) to improve targeted delivery of adeno-associated virus (AAV) gene therapies to parts of the brain.

The collaboration between Drexel University and Spark began at least a decade ago, when former Spark CEO Jeff Marrazzo had lunch with Drexel University President John Fry. At the time, Spark only had three employees, but Drexel was beginning to plan out its innovation center.

Fry told Philadelphia Business Journal, “I remember he wanted Spark to do for Philadelphia what Biogen did for Cambridge. …I think things worked out very well for Spark, Roche, Drexel, Philadelphia, and the commonwealth. This innovation center is a huge win for all of us.”