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Penn Medicine and CHOP Sign MOU to Facilitate CAR T Research in Costa Rica


Diversity, Equity, and Access to Advanced Cell and Gene Therapies

Bruce Levine, Ph.D.
Barbara and Edward Netter Professor in Cancer Gene Therapy
University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, PA, USA


Penn Medicine and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), who together pioneered the research and development of CAR T cell therapy, have announced plans with Costa Rica’s CCSS, or the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (Social Security Program), to facilitate CAR T research in Costa Rica. The effort is a step toward global equity in clinical research opportunities involving the use of CAR T cell therapies, which represent a leading-edge approach to cancer care not as widely available across the world as we all hope for.

Two Memoranda of Understanding (MOU), between CCSS and Penn, and CCSS and CHOP, were announced during a ceremony attended by First Lady Jill Biden on May 23 at the National Children’s Hospital in San Jose, Costa Rica. As a representative from Penn, with Dr. Glen Gaulton, I had the honor of witnessing the MOU signing by Carl June for Penn and Stephan Grupp for CHOP, along with U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica Cynthia Telles, PhD, who was previously a Clinical Professor in the UCLA Department of Psychiatry at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.


Representatives from Penn and CHOP stand with First Lady Jill Biden at the ceremony

Penn scientists led research, development, and clinical trials of the world’s first approved CAR T therapy in collaboration with Novartis and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and research has demonstrated remissions stretching beyond 10 years among patients who received the treatment after running out of conventional options. There are now six FDA-approved CAR T cell therapies in the United States, for six different cancers, including forms of both pediatric and adult leukemia and several other blood cancers.

We are honored to work with our colleagues in Costa Rica in hopes of building a path for patients in underserved areas to have the opportunity to benefit from clinical research programs offering this personalized therapy.

Under the terms of the two Memoranda of Understanding, the three groups will explore the potential for adult and pediatric patients to come to Penn or CHOP for efforts to collect their immune cells for manufacturing into CAR T cells at Penn. Then, it is intended that CAR T cells made successfully would be sent to Costa Rica for infusion as part of a clinical trial protocol conducted there. The three groups may also elect to explore educational and training opportunities, drawn from Penn and CHOP’s experience treating patients in the United States, as Costa Rican health care providers develop protocols to treat patients on clinical trials using this technology.

This work with Costa Rica may provide a template for further expanding the safe access and use of CAR T globally. Costa Rica has an outstanding universal health system with a strong commitment to accessible medical care, and an exceptionally close relationship with the United States.