(SOURCE: Colliers)

The Latest on Talent and Training in Philadelphia’s Life Science Scene

By Mark Terry
March 20, 2023

Colliers recently issued its Philadelphia Life Science Market Report Winter 2023, titled “Cautious Capital, Unstoppable Cures.” The report noted that Philadelphia, in a report from eConsult Solutions for the CEO Council for Growth, ranked as the second-best regional hub for cell and gene therapy growth. The same report also ranked Philadelphia fourth in human capital — in other words, talent.

Ranking fourth behind Boston (5,079 graduates), New York (4,529 graduates), and the San Francisco Bay Area (3,985 graduates), Philadelphia produced 3,732 biomed graduates.

The Colliers report noted, “These well-trained biomed graduates, coupled with the depth of experienced big Pharma science and leadership talent between Wilmington, DE and North Brunswick, NJ provides a deep talent pool for startups and growing drug development companies in Philadelphia and those considering the region.”

The report also pointed out that the availability of talent coupled with “relative affordability makes Philadelphia a very attractive cluster for consideration.” The report found that the average rent per square foot in Philadelphia was $65, compared to $125 per square foot in Boston, and $115 in New York City.

Training Initiatives

The Colliers report noted several initiatives in place to “expand the talent pool to meet the growing demands of big Pharma, growing drug development and new requirements to the region.” They include:

The Wistar Institute

BioBuzz recently interviewed Kristy Shuda McGuire, Ph.D., Dean of biomedical Studies and Associate Professor, Molecular & Cellular Oncogenesis Program at the Ellen and Ronald Caplan Cancer Center, part of The Wistar Institute. She said, “We love our Biomedical Technician Training Program. It’s really our signature education and training program.” It was also recognized as the 2022 BioBuzz Workforce Champion of the Year.

That program is only part of the education programs Wistar offers, which also includes several apprenticeships, such as the Fox Biomedical Research Technician Apprenticeship, and a program focused on bio-entrepreneurship, with a course called Life Science Innovation.

University City Science Center

Founded in 1963, the UCSC is an independent non-profit organization focused on four strategic pillars:

  • Commercialize – to identify, support and commercialize promising healthcare technology.
  • Capital – to mobilize capital for start-ups.
  • Cultivate – to nurture the STEM workforce.
  • Convene – to “foster connectivity through our spaces and content.”

On March 8, 2023, the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Commerce announced a round of investments through the Workforce Solutions Grant, one of which was to UCSC. UCSC indicates it will use the $200,000 it received to expand its Building an Understanding of Lab Basics (BULB) programming, a hands-on laboratory training program with four week-long sessions.

In a press statement, Dawn Summerville, Deputy Commerce Director, Office of Business Development and Workforce Solutions, said, “Philadelphia is filled with world-class growth industries including but not limited to Life Sciences and Biotechnology, Advanced Manufacturing, Creative Economy, Innovation and Technology, and Trade. The Workforce Solutions Grant helps advance access to work readiness in Philadelphia.”

Community College of Philadelphia

In addition to UCSC, the abovementioned Workforce Solutions Grant included Community College of Philadelphia, which will use the $250,000 grant to address the workforce shortage in the Cell and Gene Therapy (CGT) sector, with a focus on Manufacturing Associate 1 and Aseptic Technician positions. The college plans to develop a training program that could be scaled and expanded to address the workforce shortage in CGT and other sectors.

The college also offers programs in Biomedical Equipment Technology, Medical Laboratory Technician, and collaborations with Wistar.

Vishal Shah, Ph.D., Dean, Division of Math, Science, and Health Careers, Community College of Philadelphia, told BioBuzz, “Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) is proud to work with WuXi Advanced Therapies and Integral Molecular in launching this training program that addresses the workforce shortage in the cell and gene therapy industry. As the city’s college, CCP plays a key role in the economic growth of Philadelphia and feeding the pipeline to Philadelphia’s workforce.”

Referring directly to the new program to be launched in the summer of 2023, Shah said, “Trainees will undergo 50 days of instruction and training, and upon successful completion, be qualified for well-paying jobs in the industry. Committed to our mission of providing education to all Philadelphia citizens and removing barriers to higher education, the program does not require any formal educational qualification to enroll.” 

Jefferson Institute for Bioprocessing (JIB)

Part of Thomas Jefferson University, residing academically in the College of Engineering, JIB is the university’s first academic business unit.

Geoffrey Toner, MS, MB(ASCP), Director of Curriculum Development and Instructor, MS Program Director of JIB, told BioBuzz, “Our goal is to supply the biopharmaceutical industry with a steady supply of well-trained and prepared talent. Traditionally, the industry is looking for students that are chemical engineers that have a history in bio and a history in chemistry. But outside of chemical engineers, these students really don’t have a good, physical, or hands-on skill set that can be readily applied to industry. So that’s where we step in.”

JIB offers an MS in Biopharmaceutical Process Engineering; an MS in Advanced Biotherapeutics: Manufacturing & Regulatory Affairs; a Certificate in Biopharmaceutical Process Development; a BS or MS in Biotechnology with a concentration in Biopharmaceutical Process Development; an MBA with a concentration in Biopharmaceutical Commercialization; and a PhD in Biologics Process Engineering.

The JIB has a large laboratory facility with pilot plant-scale equipment, including bioreactors as large as 200 liters. “They can really gain a firm grasp of the processes involved, from end to end, from cracking the vail all the way to tangential flow filtration, concentration of material, buffer exchange and getting things ready for the next steps of formulation, finish and fill, and things of that nature,” Toner says.

Cheyney University

The university’s bioscience strategy included signed agreements with four scienced-based companies operating out of the university’s science building, an agreement with The Wistar Institute to expand research education and start-up incubation and growing bioscience companies on its campus and in the region. It has also partnered with Integrated Project Services (IPS), a bioscience engineering company, to offer education, training and help Cheyney create facilities and processes for sciences business that want to be part of a biotech hub named The ThinkUbator.

University of Delaware

U of D has a broad life sciences curriculum that includes undergraduate and graduate degrees in physiology, cellular biology, ecology, molecular biology and genetics, and microbiology.

The report also says, “In addition to the programs offered through these institutions, there are collaborations between private sector companies, organizations like the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, PIDC and the CEO Council for Growth to expand these offerings and train a diverse and well-qualified pool of biomanufacturing technicians to support growing demand.”

The report concluded, “Expect more of these creative collaborations to address specific talent needs in the region.”