JEFF MARRAZZO, HEALTH CARE INNOVATOR
The March 2023 issue of Philadelphia magazine featured an eight-page article on Jeff Marrazzo, Beta Pi ’97, and his exploits in creating the first gene therapy company, Spark Therapeutics (Spark), owned by the hospital where the research and development began.
After graduating from Penn, brother Marrazzo worked, as a special assistant to Governor Ed Rendell, to implement Medicaid regulations and long-term health care policy. He subsequently earned a master’s degree in business and health care management at Wharton.
As a consultant for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), he was tasked by CHOP CEO Steve Altschuler to find new areas of revenue that would help CHOP at a time when existing revenue streams were drying up or cut completely. Altschuler’s idea was to have CHOP research, create, manufacture, and sell its own products, that were developed in their own laboratories, rather than license or sell their patents as was de rigueur at the time.
After an exhaustive review of operations at CHOP, brother Marrazzo identified gene therapy as most likely to produce the desired result. Philadelphia magazine explains, “Gene therapy is the process by which doctors replace harmful or defective human genes with healthy or supercharged ones in order to treat a disease”.
Katherine High (High) was the leading scientist at CHOP in the field of gene therapy. Following a meeting with High, Spark Therapeutics was established in 2013 with High, brother Marrazzo, and Altschuler as co-founders. CHOP provided $10 million to begin the enterprise with brother Marrazzo assuming the position of CEO. Spark had an initial public offering (IPO) in 2015, and developed the first FDA-approved gene therapy product, Luxturna, in 2017.
When Luxturna, a cure for some forms of blindness, was first available at a price of $425,000 per eye, health insurers were loath to approve the drug. Brother Marrazzo negotiated with health insurers and reached an agreement that health insurers would receive a sizable rebate if the treatment was unsuccessful. Fortunately, Luxturna achieves positive results in 93% of its cases.
Jeff spearheaded the sale of the company to international drug giant Roche for $4.8 billion in 2019. This was quite a financial windfall for CHOP. Roche continued to operate Spark as a separate entity. Brother Marrazzo stayed on as CEO of Spark until 2022. As CEO, he was successful in keeping Spark in Philadelphia. Spark is now located at 30th and Market Streets but is in the process of building the Gene Therapy Innovation Center, a 500,000 square foot facility at 30th and Chestnut Streets.
When he stepped down as CEO, Jeff said, “I am incredibly proud of what we’ve built at Spark: from my first meetings in 2011, when the company was merely an idea, to now as the gene therapy center of excellence at one of the largest healthcare companies in the world. I’ve had the remarkable privilege to be part of an incredible team and work on cutting-edge science that has the potential to change people’s lives”.
Since he left Spark, Jeff has dedicated his life to the arts. He has endeavored to educate others and make accessible the arts in Philadelphia. Toward this aim, he and his wife have formed the Marrazzo Family Foundation that tries to enhance the appreciation of art in schools.
In addition, he has accepted a position as Board Member for Chroma Medicine that does genetic research. He also maintains a position on the Board of Managers of Life Science Cares Philadelphia that fights poverty in Philadelphia and is on the Board of Directors of the Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement.
At Penn, Jeff was an active brother at Beta Pi and helped to reestablish Pi Kappa Alpha on Penn’s campus. Congratulations to brother Marrazzo for his extraordinary accomplishments in the field of health care and wish him the best in his efforts to bring art appreciation to his fellow Philadelphians.