5 Questions with Mike O’Mara, VP of Industrial Business Services, Miltenyi Biotec

“5 Questions With…” is a weekly BioBuzz series where we reach out to interesting people in the BioHealth Capital Region to share a little about themselves, their work, and maybe something completely unrelated. This edition features 5 Questions with Mike O’Mara, VP of Industrial Business Services, Miltenyi Biotec.

Mike O’Mara has more than 27 years of experience in biopharmaceutical contract manufacturing encompassing microbial, mammalian, and cell/Gene therapy manufacturing processes ranging from Preclinical/Phase I through Commercial.

Prior to Miltenyi Biotec, Mike worked at Cytovance Biologics as Sr VP of Manufacturing Operations, DynPort Vaccine Corporation as Senior Director of Manufacturing, and was TissueGene’s Vice President of Manufacturing. Mike worked for Lonza Biologics for 18 years in several operations and manufacturing positions. Mike has been part of numerous technology transfers, operational excellence initiatives, FDA and Regulatory agency audits, growing organizations, and manufacturing expansions/build-outs. 

At Miltenyi Biotec, Mike is currently finishing up work on a brand new 62,000 sqft Cell Therapy manufacturing facility located in San Jose, California, as well as finishing construction on a 150,0000 sqft lentiviral vector manufacturing facility located in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

 Mike holds a B.S in Microbiology from The University of Maryland.

1. How did you get into the biotech/pharma industry and what was the moment you knew it was the career path you wanted to follow? Tell us about it.

It was my junior year at the University of Maryland, and I was looking to do some volunteer/ part-time work in a lab on campus. I was looking through the school newspaper and saw an ad, “Lab Technician – microbiology, chemistry, chemical engineering students wanted, must be mechanically inclined.”

I went to the interview, and it was for the Bioprocess Scale-Up facility at the University of Maryland. I asked why do you have to be mechanically inclined, and it was because they didn’t have a maintenance department, so you had to do all the repairs yourself.  Since that lab did a lot of work for local Maryland biotech companies, it got me into the network of Maryland biotech. Six months before I graduated, I had job offers. That was my diving board into the biotech pool.

2. Tell us about your current role and company/org and what you’re most excited about there?

I’m currently the VP of Industrial Business Services at Miltenyi Biotec. I am responsible for their CDMO business unit, which consists of the Gaithersburg Facility (Lentiviral vector Manufacturing) and San Jose (Cell Processing) facility. Several exciting things are going on at Miltenyi Biotec. First, they are on the cutting edge in providing equipment and services to the Cell and Gene Therapy Industry. Recently they started their CDMO business unit and expanding both facilities to meet the demand.

In Gaithersburg, we are building out a 150,000 sqft facility, which will be ready in mid-2021. Miltenyi has been around for 30+ years and has predominantly been an equipment company but over the last 5 or so years has become a service provider. Miltenyi is rapidly growing, and there is a ton of very exciting things on the horizon.  I found out early in my career. I like working at companies that are growing and need to be built from the ground up.

3. What stands out to you about the Maryland biotech market after leaving for a few years and now recently relocating back here?

It has grown a lot in the 3-4 years that I was gone. New companies, new expansions, and overall growth. I am impressed with the amount of Gene and Cell Therapy companies that have come to the area.  Also, the people. I was amazed at the reaction I received when people started finding out I was returning to the area. I received a lot of messages from colleagues I haven’t spoken to in years welcoming me back. The biotech community here in Maryland is very driven yet extremely collaborative. You really feel that everyone is doing what they are doing for the greater good.

4. What’s your favorite leadership quote and how does that reflect in your own leadership style?

“Take care of your employees, and they will take care of your business. It’s as simple as that. Healthy, engaged employees are your top competitive advantage.” – Richard Branson

There is nothing more real than this statement. I have seen the impossible achieved by putting the right people together and giving them the right tools. Getting your employees engaged, searching for their input and feedback, and explaining the “why” the company is doing what they are doing makes them feel they have influence and control over their job.

That’s how you create a culture of accountability. People only want to be accountable for what they feel they can control. I like to walk the plant floor and talk with my employees, not check on what they are doing but to educate myself on what really is going on.

5. Besides work or being with your family, what hobby or activities bring you the greatest joy and why?

Motorcycles, Motorcycles, Motorcycles. Ever since I was a kid I always was interested in two-wheeled vehicles. First, bicycles (still have a mountain and road bike) then motorcycles. I have ridden my motorcycle to Ocean City and as far as South Carolina. I currently own a 2011 Harley Davidson Fat Boy and a 1976 Moto Guzzi I-Convert 1000. I want to get a 3rd bike, but I need a bigger garage.

Thank you to Mike O’Mara participating in the ‘5 Questions with BioBuzz’ series and stay tuned for more interviews with others from across the BioHealth Capital Region and beyond.

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