Dr. Bruce S. Thompson, the newly appointed senior scientific director of the Therapeutics Products Program at Fred Hutch, has only been on the job for a little over a month, but already he has outlined some lofty aspirations for his team.
“Our goal is to be a world-leading provider of clinical products that cure cancer,” said Thompson, a Ph.D. scientist with more than a decade of experience in cell and molecular biology, immunology and protein biochemistry.
The Therapeutics Products Program, or TPP for short, is responsible for manufacturing biological products used to treat patients on Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials. Thompson’s team of more than 60 scientists and manufacturing associates develops injectable biological drugs and cell therapies, such as infusions of the patient’s own cells that have been genetically modified to fight cancer or HIV.
“My role is to provide scientific guidance, support and direction to the group and ensure that we continue to manufacture safe and cGMP-compliant clinical supplies to enable our clinical teams to conduct their cutting-edge research,” Thompson said. The acronym “cGMP” refers to the Food and Drug Administration’s Current Good Manufacturing Practiceregulations for human pharmaceuticals to ensure that drugs meet quality standards, are safe and effective.
Without Thompson’s program, the Hutch wouldn’t be able to conduct its cutting-edge immunotherapy clinical trials, according to Marion Dorer, senior director of research initiatives for the Immunotherapy Integrated Research Center. “TPP is mission-critical for immunotherapy at the Hutch,” she said. “It is the reason we can do adoptive T-cell and radioimmunotherapy trials. TPP makes custom cell-therapy products for nearly all the adoptive T-cell patients treated in the Bezos Family Immunotherapy Clinic. It also produces monoclonal antibodies used in many trials. Without this capacity, we wouldn’t have an immunotherapy program,” she said.
The program also provides support to several cell-therapy companies that have been spun off from the Hutch, including Juno Therapeutics and Nohla Therapeutics.
Thompson and colleagues — with expertise ranging from biologics manufacturing, quality control and assurance, to project management and administration — act as a “sort of bridge,” he said, between Fred Hutch investigators and patients treated on their research protocols at the University of Washington, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Thompson joined the Hutch last month after spending nearly a decade as a research and development scientist and pharmaceutical sciences team leader at Pfizer Inc. in St. Louis, Missouri, where he oversaw the development of many different drugs, including vaccines, monoclonal antibodies and antibody-drug conjugates for targeted cancer therapy. "I spent the last two years [at Pfizer] developing highly specialized cellular therapies, which allowed me to build a significant amount of expertise in the area and greatly prepared me for my current role at the Hutch,” he said.
His decision to make the move from St. Louis to Seattle was grounded on the Hutch’s scientific stature, Thompson said.
“Fred Hutch has an amazing reputation in the field of clinical research and cutting-edge science, and more recently it has built world-renowned expertise in cell and gene therapy,” he said. “I am very excited about the opportunity to partner with the faculty and have the potential to impact many patients’ lives in a positive way.”
And now that he’s been here for a while, Thompson said he’s equally wowed by the Hutch culture — and the local climate.
“I’ve been very impressed by how friendly and open everyone has been here. Fred Hutch has a fantastic culture, and it’s clear from those I’ve met so far that everyone here cares deeply about the mission — and their fellow co-workers.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the weather but appreciate that I started at the right time, going into summer.”
Kristen Woodward, a former associate editor at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, had been in communications at Fred Hutch for more than 20 years. Before that, she was a managing editor at the University of Michigan Health System and a reporter/editor at The Holland Sentinel, a daily in western Michigan. She has received many national awards for health and science writing. She received her B.A. in journalism from Michigan State University.