AstraZeneca’s Joe Sanchez Shares Vision for Growing the BioHealth Capital Region 

When AstraZeneca (AZ)  announced in 2019 that it was officially retiring the MedImmune brand, questions naturally arose about whether the U.K. pharma giant would continue the legacy MedImmune support for the BioHealth Capital Region’s (BHCR) life science ecosystem. 

Since its founding in 1998, MedImmune had been an anchor life science company in the region, and starting around 2014, it was a key force behind the creation of BHCR brand, as well as the region’s collective push to be a top-three biotech cluster by 2023. 

AstraZeneca recognized the impact the MedImmune brand retirement would have on the ecosystem. Shortly after this announcement, AZ reconfirmed its commitment to the BHCR brand and the region at the 2019 BioHealth Capital Region Forum. This confirmation ensured that MedImmune’s BCHR legacy would live on through AZ’s ongoing efforts to support and engage the region’s life science community.

AZ’s appointment of Joe Sanchez, Ph.D., to Director, North America R&D Science Engagement, in late 2020 is the latest sign of the organization’s deep commitment to the BHCR. Sanchez will lead AZ’s efforts to cultivate both the BHCR and similar ecosystem partnerships in other key North America geographies. Sanchez, who joined AZ in 2015, will also spearhead AZ’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) regional programming and across the U.S. 

Sanchez brings deep experience across a wide range of sectors, including being one of the early employees at Paragon Bioservices (now part of Catalent), delivering consulting, professional development, and training, as well as teaching at the collegiate level. In 2015, Sanchez left his teaching position at Towson University to join the learning and development team at AZ’s Frederick Manufacturing Center (FMC) in Frederick, Maryland.

“I’ve certainly taken a crooked path to AZ, which is actually a big asset in my new role,” stated Sanchez.

“While I’ve been at AZ, I’ve always sensed there was a gap between the private sector, government, and the education system. Because I’ve experienced all these different sides, I was really passionate about bridging this gap. I wanted to be out in the community creating more opportunities for the next generation. I wanted to help create more opportunities, more transparency, and more communication. AZ sees tremendous value in these partnerships, coalitions, and connections; we want to be sitting at the right tables and to stay highly engaged in the community…AZ wants to see growth across the entire region,” he added.

Sanchez is responsible for identifying where AZ can make the most impact and deliver the most value to the ecosystem. He serves on multiple regional and national boards including the Governor’s Life Science Advisory Board, and the BioHealth Innovation Board. He also helps place AZ team members in board seats and on task forces that will drive both AZ’s objectives and regional growth.

AZ is also deeply committed to regional workforce development, and Sanchez’s remit includes directing the organization’s STEM programming, both in the BHCR and nationally. His priorities for STEM programming efforts focus on four key areas: (1) Creating a robust STEM pipeline; (2) increasing exposure to hands-on industry experience through internships and shadowing opportunities; (3) educating parents and educators on how to steer young people to STEM careers, through a partnership with Discovery Education and Learning Undefeated; and (4) providing more opportunities for AZ staff to volunteer and give back to the community via STEM programs. 

“We really need to find a way to bring more people inside and to demystify what it is that we do as an industry,” stated Sanchez.

AZ remains at the heart of the BHCR and Sanchez will be a highly visible, driving force behind greater ecosystem cooperation and stronger workforce development programming. Increasing regional engagement among industry, government, and academia, as well as delivering enhanced STEM programming across Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC, are key components to furthering the region’s biohealth cluster strategy and elevating the BHCR brand. 

“It is incredibly important for a well-recognized company that helps anchor the region to catalyze our cluster strategy. The strategy has been very successful so far. As a community, we’ve had more companies coming to the area; companies that are here are growing; and everyone wants to be part of this story…the region has the assets and capability. It’s now a matter of connectivity and partnering,” shared Sanchez.  

“AZ wants to continue leading where we can and where it makes sense, but we are also dedicated and committed to partnerships. We fully believe that if we all row in the same direction and leverage the strengths of others we’ll get where we want to go faster. No one company can do it all. As the region grows and adds more companies at different stages of success, everyone needs to be part of the conversation,” he added. “It’s my hope that we all want to share in this success story.”

Sanchez believes the most important outcome of the BHCR brand strategy so far has been attracting more companies to the region, which has created greater density and critical mass. While the density level is not yet to the level of Boston and San Francisco, Sanchez suggested, the region is closing the gap. He also pointed to the great ideas emerging from the region’s academic programs, incubators, and accelerators as drivers of BHCR growth. 

“We want to be seen in the same light as other successful hubs. Talent wants to go where there is plenty of opportunities. We’re getting there…but we need to do more to ensure security for the future self. This means opportunities for all family members, the ability to grow with your employer, and the reduction of the risk of taking a job in the region because there are other jobs nearby,” Sanchez said. 

“We can’t take any shortcuts. It’s great to celebrate our assets but they’re not going to pay attention unless more important concerns are resolved,” he added.

Sanchez and AZ are striving to resolve these outstanding challenges, but it will take the collective, coordinated effort of the entire region to get there.

“I’m the luckiest person in the world. I’ve been able to make my passion my job. I’m excited about bringing people together to really move the needle. This excites me more than anything,” Sanchez shared. 

“It’s all about ownership and accountability. We’re getting so close to being top three by 2023,” he added.