Three operators working in the cleanroom wearing cleanroom suits
Operators working inside CCRM’s Centre for Cell and Vector Production, a Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) facility

Ontario’s academic excellence and manufacturing best practices create the climate to produce greater numbers of experienced workers

Investing in biomanufacturing at the beginning of the pandemic was one of the ways Canada stepped up to ensure future pandemic preparedness.

However, because of the urgency to ramp up biomanufacturing production, it became clear there was a widening gap between increased manufacturing capacity and well trained, qualified people ready to do the work. What did exist, however, was the demand for Canadian-made biotherapeutics and a tremendous need for highly qualified personnel.

The Canadian Advanced Therapies Training Institute (CATTI)

The rapid growth of the cell and gene therapy industry inspired the idea for the Canadian Advanced Therapies Training Institute (CATTI). Pandemic readiness has intensified the effort.

The institute, which arms students and employees with the training and knowledge to work under good manufacturing practices (GMP) and become part of the biomanufacturing supply chain, is a response to the hundreds of jobs being created based on Canada’s investment in life sciences.

Two CCRM employees walking in a hallway wearing cleanroom suits
Inside CCRM’s Centre for Cell and Vector Production

CATTI’s robust GMP training program is the product of a partnership between CCRM—a leader in developing, manufacturing and commercializing regenerative medicine-based technologies and cell and gene therapies—and CellCAN—a network focused on the quality, safety and feasibility of cell and gene therapies in Canada through optimal manufacturing practices.

By training a new workforce, CATTI will help ramp up the clinical production of cell and gene therapies with sights on entering the marketplace where greater numbers of patients can benefit from them. It’s currently available in a digitized, virtual format of e-learning curriculum, but hands-on training spaces are being built in Hamilton and Montreal, and clean rooms already exist at CCRM’s GMP facility in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

With a training centre like this in place, Ontario’s workforce will be better prepared to take on available jobs in a burgeoning field which will, in turn, render Ontario the core of biomanufacturing capacity and innovation in the country.

Surrounded by excellence

Craig Hasilo, Chief Scientific Officer, CATTI
Craig Hasilo, Chief Scientific Officer, CATTI

Both CCRM and CellCAN are tied to what the institute’s Chief Scientific Officer, Craig Hasilo, calls “hubs of excellence” that provide the knowledge and mastery needed to bring this level of training to the biomanufacturing space. CATTI is working with universities and colleges like the University of Toronto, McMaster University, Western University and Mohawk College, all recognized for having strong STEM programs.

“We have worked closely with industry and academics, and understand their needs,” says Michael May, president and CEO of CCRM. “Combined, CCRM and CellCAN have 17 years of experience in the regenerative medicine field.”

“Canada punches way above its weight in terms of academic and trainee excellence,” says Hasilo. However, it can take anywhere from eight to 16 months to get a trainee to the right level of competency to work in a GMP facility. CATTI’s 20-hour learning path replaces up to four months of training they would need once on-site. “We look at CATTI as an evolution,” says Hasilo. “It’s the education system adapting to biomanufacturing needs.”

Ontario as life sciences innovation hub

Ontario has a rich history of life sciences innovation—for example, stem cells were first defined by researchers at the University of Toronto in the 1960s. A foundation like that, matched by government investment, makes Ontario the perfect location to push the field even further.

Michael May, president and CEO, CCRM
Michael May, president and CEO, CCRM

“There are 160 regenerative medicine researchers in the GTA alone,” says May. “Toronto’s biotechnology sector ranks fourth in North America and Ontario is a global leader in developing stem cell-based products and therapies.”

Aside from all the academic and manufacturing support available in the province, Ontario also offers what all great innovators need: space to do what they do best, and the infrastructure necessary to send their discoveries out to the world.

“Space is not a limitation here,” says Hasilo. “We have connections to Canadian, U.S. and international centres of excellence, international airports, and logistics in place to connect our towns and cities.” He also likes to point out that this kind of scaling has succeeded before with the automotive sector.

“We want to see this for our sector,” he says. “There’s no reason we couldn’t be on par with automotive and aerospace.”

Demonstrating global leadership

Because CATTI is backed by two established Canadian centres of excellence, it has “an international network that we can call upon for advice and connectivity,” says May. Already, CATTI’s training is qualified in the U.K. for the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult network.

Being trained by the best on regulations and best practices in the biomanufacturing field also ensures that what is produced in Canada is useful globally. “Many of the regulations are similar,” says Hasilo. “They emulate one another, so products manufactured under harmonized regulations may have global applications.”

And with an increased need for biotherapeutics like mRNA vaccines, safe and expedient biomanufacturing can quite literally save lives. “The world is seeing what Canada and Ontario are capable of,” says Hasilo. Once enough people are trained to staff Ontario’s ambitious new investments—Hasilo estimates over 2,000 new Canadian biomanufacturing jobs in the next few years—Ontario will be on the frontlines of biomedical preparedness.

“Ontario has biomanufacturing capacity now,” says May, “but CATTI will prepare us for what the future will bring.”

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