A new facility to develop personalized cellular cancer therapies will be built by the University of Pennsylvania, funded in part with a $20 million investment from Novartis.

The Center for Advanced Cellular Therapeutics (CACT) on the Penn Medicine campus in Philadelphia will focus on research using Chimeric Antigen Receptor technology (CAR), which enables a patient's T cells to be reprogrammed outside of the body. When they are re-infused into the patient, these T cells have the ability to "hunt" and destroy the cancer cells, the university said.

This is a key milestone in the institution's alliance with Novartis, which was established in August 2012 with an exclusive global research and licensing agreement to further study and commercialize novel CAR therapies.

The 30,000 square foot CACT, planned for completion in 2016, will adjoin the university's existing cancer therapeutics floor in the Smilow Center for Translational Research, allowing it to be fully integrated with Penn Medicine's research and clinical operations.

Around 100 highly specialized professionals at the Center will work on tasks including vaccine development, assay development and correlative studies of blood and other biospecimens to examine how trial participants respond to the therapies they receive.

"We are fortunate to live in an era when fundamental discovery rapidly can become a therapeutic. Harnessing of the body's immune system to treat cancers, as so dramatically shown with CAR T cell therapies, is the culmination of years of dedicated research," commented Mark Fishman, president of the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research.