BioBuzz by Workforce Genetics

Kite Pharma Invests in Maryland’s Workforce Development Programming

Kite, a Gilead Company, opened its state-of-the-art cell therapy manufacturing facility in Frederick County, Maryland last Spring, and the company’s positive impact is already being felt across the state. 

By choosing to build in Maryland, Kite added another anchor life sciences organization to the BioHealth Capital Region (BHCR), elevating the profile of an already established global biocluster. Kite’s Frederick site has also created many good-paying jobs for the local and state economy as it ramps up hiring to support its new, recently FDA-approved commercial cell therapy manufacturing facility. Kite’s CAR T-cell therapy technology uses the power of a person’s own immune system to recognize, attack, and destroy certain types of cancer with a one-time, individualized treatment.

Kite’s choice to plant roots in Maryland has been a boon to the economy and the region’s life sciences ecosystem. Kite has committed to building strong partnerships with the local community across an array of key constituencies, including workforce development initiatives at local universities and life sciences support organizations. Kite’s goal is to augment existing workforce development programming and to help the region continue building a thriving life sciences workforce. 

This ongoing, long-term commitment is a win-win for Kite and the community; investing in workforce programs will support Kite’s plans to attract, retain and develop talent and the community and economy will benefit from the 400 plus jobs Kite will bring to the state by the end of 2022.

Maryland already has a solid workforce development infrastructure in place with programs like BioTrain and Bio-Trac at Montgomery College; Frederick Community College’s Biotech Bootcamp program; The Biomedical Careers Program (BCI) and the Maryland Technology Internship Program (MTIP) at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine; and Kite’s very own Early Talent Program

But there is always a need for more targeted and robust workforce programming to support a biocluster region that’s growing by leaps and bounds every year. As the BHCR adds more and more companies in cell and gene therapy, medtech, and traditional biopharma, the pool of talent to support this growth will need to add depth, breadth, and diversity as well.

“The demand for CAR T-cell therapy is growing and we will need new talent to support production so patients can receive their treatments rapidly and reliably. It’s so important to grow talent organically and for Kite to work with local biotech training programs at colleges, community colleges and other organizations where students can learn the theoretical and unique operational aspects of working at a facility like ours,” stated Trushar Agrawal, Senior Director, Head of Manufacturing at Kite’s Frederick facility. 

RELATED: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Kite a Key Facet of Frederick Manufacturing Site’s Work Culture

Kite’s new local workforce development partnerships aim to expand the talent pool and include Frederick Community College, Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, and the Workforce Taskforce. 

Frederick Community College’s Cell Therapy Apprenticeship Program

In addition to Kite’s participation in Frederick Community College’s (FCC) highly successful Biotech Bootcamp, the company has also partnered with FCC and the Maryland Department of Labor to create a Cell Therapy Apprenticeship Program

Kite’s cell therapy apprenticeship is a two-to-four-year long program that provides qualified students with the opportunity to jumpstart a biotech career while pursuing a college education. Apprentices receive a combination of paid on-the-job training while studying towards their associates degree, fully-funded by the program. Program participants receive a certificate of completion from the Department of Labor at the end of the program.

Kite provides apprentices with the opportunity to participate in the exciting area of cancer immunotherapy and gain experience in cell therapy manufacturing activities in a cGMP manufacturing environment. Apprentices also are assigned a mentor and a direct supervisor so that they receive the necessary guidance and instruction to enable a successful apprenticeship. 

Kite’s program participant and Cell Therapy Specialist Apprentice Sydney Walton has been working with FCC to build and execute the new program. She stated, “There’s been a lot of learning on both ends, but it’s just been an amazing experience.”

Hood College’s New Cell Therapy Track

Kite has created an innovative collaboration with Frederick, Maryland’s Hood College to build a new, state-of-the-art, 400-square-foot lab replete with cutting-edge tools planned for the near future. Kite and Hood are also partnering to integrate new cell therapy-focused classes into the college’s curricula.

The new lab is part of Hood’s Hodson Science and Technology Center and will be a central component of Kite and Hood’s collaboration to build a strong cell therapy workforce pipeline in Frederick County.  

The collaboration will start with Hood offering a new cell therapy course in 2023, co-taught by Kite team members. The partnership will expand from there. 

Maryland Tech Council’s Workforce Task Force

Kite is also a member of the BioHub Maryland Pathways’ Workforce Task Force, which is sponsored by the Maryland Life Sciences Advisory Board and the Maryland Tech Council. The program is designed to support life sciences workforce development in Maryland.

According to BioHub’s website, the Task Force includes “…experts from academia, industry, government and non-profit organizations…the task force aims to create sustainable workforce development solutions ‘for the industry, by the industry.’ The Task Force focuses on identifying talent supply and demand data, pinpointing workforce development gaps, and unplugging bottlenecks that are preventing growth.

Kite’s participation with the Workforce Task Force includes supporting the build-out of a local BioHub Training Center, which will be a valuable asset to creating the biotech talent the region needs to continue to thrive. In addition to the task force, Kite has committed to supporting the Maryland Tech Council’s Bio Innovation Conference and local policy education programs through a strategic partnership. 

Kite’s investment in the future of the global cell therapy workforce and collaboration with Maryland organizations, industry, and academia across the state clearly illustrates that this commitment has taken hold beyond Frederick County. 

“Hiring local talent benefits us and it’s a way for our Kite to proudly give back to the Maryland community that supports us,” Agrawal added.