Regional Collaborations Emerge to Address the Biomanufacturing Workforce Crisis

We have been covering the biomanufacturing workforce at length this year because it remains one of the most important topics for companies in today’s near full-employment job market.  

How can so many companies continue to expand and advance their programs when experienced biomanufacturing talent is in such short supply?

In Philadelphia alone, cell and gene therapy and gene editing companies are preparing to add more than 1,100 new employees per year for the next decade, a net gain of more than 6,000 new workers.

Companies in Philadelphia are working hard to get ahead of this pending and existing issue. They have established the Life Science Talent Pipeline Collaborative as an employer-led organization guided by and for employers to grow the workforce. Participating employers and institutions include Adaptimmune Therapeutics, AmerisourceBergen, Amicus Therapeutics, Cabaletta Bio, Carisma Therapeutics, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Integral Molecular, Iovance Biotherapeutics, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co., Passage Bio, Rockland Immunochemicals, Spark Therapeutics, Spirovant Sciences, University of Pennsylvania, and WuXi Advanced Therapies.

While most regional ecosystems are still trying to figure out how to address this issue, many are still looking to the government for an answer. Philadelphia may have set in place the roadmap for success. One in which Industry takes the lead and leans on Government and nonprofits to be a convener and build out sustainable solutions.

Similar to in Philadelphia, the BioHealth Capital Region is also positioned well to overcome these problematic and vexing workforce challenges and is rolling out its own collaborative frameworks, such as the recently announced Montgomery/Maryland Life Sciences Education and Innovation Partnership.  This new initiative aims to facilitate collaboration among industry and academic partners on cutting-edge research and allow students from across Maryland opportunities to gain work experience and conduct translational research with Montgomery County’s industry leaders. Though the efforts are still a bit early-stage, it’s clear that biotech companies, university systems, and other workforce programs are already deeply committed to building a larger, more trained biotech workforce.

What workforce programs are working now?

In the BHCR, Montgomery College (MC) offers a Bioprocessing Certificate and Associate’s Degree programs where students learn under GxP-like conditions. In addition, they recently launched a four-week Bio Bootcamp program sponsored by WorkSource Montgomery to train displaced workers for entry-level biomanufacturing jobs quickly. These programs are doing vital work to fill the region’s talent pipeline.  All of which have curriculums that industry leaders guide to meet the industry’s needs.  MC also has the BioTrain program that helps companies up-skill their employees with soft skills and bio-business basics courses. The Bio-Trac program provides hands-on workshops on the latest advanced research techniques and skills, such as CRISPR, flow cytometry, and Single-Cell RNA-Seq.  

Frederick Community College’s biotech training program has also delivered talent to local companies. It is now offering a biotech apprenticeship program that is being utilized by companies like Kite, a Gilead Company, VaLogic, and Lonza.  Frederick, Maryland’s Hood College, and Kite also have an employee training partnership that will train new Kite employees and Hood College students in cell therapy manufacturing. Kite is installing a new 400 square foot lab within Hood’s Hodson Science and Technology Center as part of this training program.  

The common thread is that strong partnerships between universities and local industry are integral to ensuring that the workforce development programs are growing the talent pipeline to meet these currently unmet demands for talent. 

In Philadelphia, training organizations like the Jefferson Institute for Bioprocessing are blazing a path for what the future of the biotech workforce could become. Jefferson is the only biopharma processing educator in North America offering a commercial scale FLEX Factory with NIBRT curricula. In addition, private companies like LucasPye BIO are addressing the issue by looking to tap into underserved communities in Philadelphia to develop the talent they need to thrive while uplifting neighborhoods around their new facility.

“We consider these talent challenges to be the most critical issues facing the biotechnology field today that, if unsolved, will inhibit the industry’s ability to meet the growth potential that is almost inevitable in the decade to come,” shared Chris Frew, founder of BioBuzz and Workforce Genetics. 

The workforce development and talent ecosystems within the BHRC and Philadelphia are vibrant, but it is not enough. A solid workforce development foundation exists in both hubs; industry just needs more of it: more funding and investment in biotech company professional development is required, as is an increase in partnerships like those between Hood College and Kite Pharma. 

A big part of the solution to the talent gap and reskilling of the biopharma workforce problem is scaling up from the strong foundation that already exists in the BHCR, Philadelphia, and other key biotech hubs across the globe.

As the pace of life science innovation accelerates and more and more drugs move faster through the regulatory process to commercialization, the biotech industry must remain committed to funding professional development programs, partnering with universities and workforce development organizations, and reskilling its workforce to meet current and future talent needs. 

It’s time for workforce and talent development to become a greater priority for private and public investment and a hot spot for innovation. People-innovation needs to keep pace with scientific innovation if the biotech industry continues thriving and reaches its vast potential to change lives for the better.