Philly's medtech companies are working together to fight COVID-19 - Philly


Aug. 31, 2020 10:45 am

Philly’s medtech companies are working together to fight COVID-19

Spark Therapeutics' Kristen Kahle on the city's growth in this burgeoning industry and why it's notable that local medtech companies are collaborating in the face of the pandemic.
Kristin Kahle and Paige Gross during August’s Amplify Philly @ Home event.

Kristin Kahle and Paige Gross during August's Amplify Philly @ Home event.

(Screenshot via YouTube)

Local medtech companies are stepping up to fight COVID-19 and changing the way they work in the process.

That’s what Spark TherapeuticsKristin Kahle, Ph. D told reporter Paige Gross during an Amplify Philly @ Home fireside chat last week, when the two discussed the role Philadelphia’s medtech community is playing in helping find a cure for COVID-19 and how Kahle’s professional journey has led to her current position.

In her role as immunomonitoring lead at Spark, which last year was acquired by Roche in a $4.8 billion deal (Philly’s biggest-ever VC-backed exit), Kahle and her team study gene therapy for people with genetic disorders.

“Gene therapy has been so rewarding for me,” she said. “There is so much to learn there that I am quite happy to contribute to that. Gene therapy is the silver bullet to many diseases that don’t have cures.”

Kahle earned her Ph.D. from Jefferson University, where she studied HIV and fusion inhibitors. She later worked at biotech firms Invisible Sentinel and Integral Molecular before her current appointment at Spark.

Adapting to COVID-19 was a huge shift for Kahle and her team, but it was one that she said they have managed effectively so far.


“At Spark, when the pandemic hit, our first concern was safety of our employees and people in our trials,” she said. “We had to stop enrollment in clinical trials and that was a little bit like letting air out of the balloon. But it was the right decision to not potentially expose patients to the healthcare system and not potentially strain the healthcare system.”

In trying to adjust to a pandemic, Spark reexamined its objectives to see how employees could remain productive while prioritizing their health and safety. Kahle said Spark is now in a restart phase and its laboratories are at between 50 to 60% of their usual occupancy.

In addition to adapting internally, Kahle said that Spark and other medtech companies wanted to help the community fight the spread of COVID-19. One way of doing that was by Spark donating as much PPE as it could to hospitals and essential workers.

Kahle is optimistic about the work local medtech professionals are doing in fighting COVID-19 and shouted out her former employer Integral Molecular’s recent work as an example: The company mapped out the receptors that COVID-19 uses to get into human cells and was awarded $1 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to support its work.

Local medtech firms are also collaborating to find a cure for COVID-19, a move that Kahle said underscored the gravity of the pandemic.

“Depending on your company’s mission, it may go back to a competitor type of relationship [after COVID-19],” she said. “Companies are very protective of their intellectual property, but it takes something this devastating to people around the world to bring people together.”

Since first entering the medtech industry, Kahle has noticed significant growth and development at companies in Philadelphia that wasn’t happening when she began her career. She considers that growth along with resources like the city’s universities and institutions — such as the University City Science Center — to be positive indicators of Philly’s future success in medtech.

“I think Philly may be overlooked, but it really is a medtech ecosystem,” she said. “[Professionals] stay here because they love the city and companies want to be a part of that. I also think that there’s a lot of opportunities to build state-of-the-art facilities here. There are a ton of opportunities and talented scientists.”

Watch a recording of the fireside chat below, starting at the 1:26:53 mark:

Companies: Spark Therapeutics
People: Paige Gross
Projects: Amplify Philly

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