As head of ARM, the Washington, DC-based advocacy organization which represents the cell and gene therapy (CGT) industry, Hunt told the Meeting on the Mesa that while these technologies have the power to potentially change patients' lives, stakeholders such as regulators and patient advocacy groups have real concerns that must be addressed.
"The concerns of payers, policy makers, ethicists, and others are no longer theoretical -- it is here and it's real," Hunt said. "We're going to need to meet these important stakeholders not where we are but where they are, and really listen to their questions and concerns."
There are currently more than 2,000 clinical trials in the CGT field being conducted around the world, of which 200 trials are in phase III, according to Hunt. He also noted that 2022 has been a record year for new gene therapy approvals. However, Hunt cautioned that despite the tremendous activity and progress in the industry there are moral and ethical dimensions that must be considered.
"Engaging diverse stakeholders and focusing on a range of topics, including things like ethics, is central to our future success," Hunt said. "Many of our major stakeholders also hold deep reservations of what this scientific power means...and who will have access to this technology in the years to come."
Hunt, who succeeded Janet Lambert as CEO five weeks ago, said one of the reasons he joined ARM was based on a "juxtaposition" of optimism for CGT technologies and "legitimate concern" as well as the "urgency of engaging stakeholders to cultivate both their hopes and address their fears." He was most recently the chief culture and corporate affairs officer at Xilio Therapeutics, a biotechnology company developing tumor-selective immuno-oncology therapies for patients with cancer.
Hunt's plan as the new CEO is to "sharpen" ARM's focus as a patient-centric organization that speaks "directly and regularly" to those people that the CGT industry is trying to serve.
Hunt was introduced at Meeting on the Mesa by Emile Nuwaysir, PhD, CEO of in vivo genetic medicines company Ensoma and chairman of ARM. Nuwaysir noted that Hunt has more than 20 years of experience advocating for biotechnology companies and was chief corporate affairs officer at CRISPR gene-editing pioneer Editas Medicine, where he led the company's global policy and government affairs, bioethics, communications, market development, and human resources initiatives.
ARM's search committee selected Hunt "largely because of his deep philosophy of engagement" with stakeholders and "his patient-centric mentality" that Nuwaysir said is what the CGT industry currently needs. Nuwaysir added that the CGT sector must "remain humble in what we don't know and to address stakeholders' very real concerns" and to earn their trust.
Watch this short video clip of Hunt below to learn more.