On July 14th, National Day in France, Professor Christian Chabannon, hematologist and head of the Cell Collection & Cell Processing Facility at Institut Paoli-Calmettes, the Comprehensive Cancer Centre in Marseille, had the tremendous privilege to be nominated by the French Prime Minister to receive the “Légion d’Honneur”, the highest French order of merit for military and civil merits. We, at the EBMT, understand the reasons why: he has been fostering innovative cellular and gene therapies in Europe, through a continuous crosstalk between basic science findings, transplant immunobiology observations and implementation of industry sponsored-trials designed to answer unmet medical needs. Needless to say that Christian is a great asset to the EBMT wearing many caps: Secretary of the Cellular Therapy and Immunobiology Working Party; JACIE inspector and founding member of the recently created EBMT Legal and Regulatory Affairs Committee. Christian was also the President of the Local Organising Committee for the 43rd EBMT Annual Meeting in Marseille.
In this open letter, Prof. Chabannon is writing about the fundamental medical and scientific collaborations in and beyond Europe; how the EBMT is playing an important role, at this exciting time, when we see innovative cellular therapies enter the field and the concomitant interest of the pharmaceutical industries and health authorities for these therapies.
“Since my youth, I have been fascinated with medicine and the desire to help sick people. Commitment to haematology, and rapidly oncohaematology came earlier during my training, when I realised that the field was pioneering diagnostic and therapeutic advances based on an in-depth and rapidly evolving understanding of biological mechanisms underlying the appearance of blood diseases. At the time of my residency, “bone marrow transplantation”, as then designated, was appearing as a promising innovative approach to cure otherwise deadly diseases. Hematopoietic cell transplantation has since then greatly diversified with the possibility to use related and unrelated “canonical” or alternative donors, to take advantage of different cell sources, to modulate pre-and post-transplant immune suppression, to provide better supportive care… Beyond medical and technological aspects, hematopoietic cell transplantation also appealed to me since it involved the most respectable engagement of donating ones’ cells for the benefit of a related or unrelated recipient. I realise how lucky I have been to interact with visionary and dedicated people all through my training and career at Lyon University hospitals, Grenoble University hospitals, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle, WA, USA and Institut Paoli-Calmettes, the comprehensive cancer centre in Marseille. Some of them were key individuals in helping me understand how critical it is to think of “biomedical sciences” rather than of “medicine” to fully incorporate and evaluate the potential of the many innovations that are susceptible to improve the outcome of our patients.
Another strong commitment throughout my professional activities is based on my willingness to develop efficient interactions and collaborations within the European community. To paraphrase one of my colleagues “democracy is a tree that bears strange fruits” such as Brexit or presidential elections in a not-so-distant continent. Such events, that may or may not rapidly fade away in the course of history, should not deter us of building strong and essential collaborations across our national communities and take advantage rather than reject our diversity, for the benefit again of our patient community. Diseases and their strings of distress and suffering know no borders, whether geographical or dogmatic. Gathering the resources to efficiently offer an equal access to innovative treatments may become out of reach for individual nations or small scientific communities.
Our field is witnessing tremendous changes with the arrival on the market of a new generation of industry-developed cellular and gene therapy medicinal products whose design largely stems from many aspects of HCT, and that add up to other conventional therapeutics. Such innovations will question many aspects of our activities, including our very organisation to deliver cell transplant as a service, our collective capacity to pay for these expensive treatments, and thus select the patients who are most likely to benefit while experiencing acceptable toxicities. I believe that EBMT, as a key international professional association in the field, represents one of the most appropriate scientific ecosystems to develop, share, experiment and evaluate such innovations. In addition and along with scientific activities, EBMT has developed a rich offer of educational tools that are essential to attract young and talented people to our field, and ensure transgenerational transmittance of knowledge and expertise. Finally, I cannot conclude without mentioning how EBMT has successfully pioneered the introduction of quality management in medical practices, at a time of general scepticism towards such initiatives that are nowadays unanimously recognised – including our industry partners sponsoring clinical research – as a token of quality in the delivery of healthcare”.