These Workforce Development Programs Help Ensure the BioHealth Capital Region Stays Competitive in the Cell and Gene Therapy Space

The BioHealth Capital Region (BHCR) is a verified hotbed of cell and gene therapy innovation.

Emerging companies like Kite, a Gilead Company, NextCure, NexImmune, Arcellx, American Gene Technologies, and MaxCyte are some of the leading cell and gene therapy-focused companies that call the BHCR home. These companies have promising pipelines and are growing rapidly to support the advancement of their respective therapies through clinical trials and toward commercialization. 

And therein lies a major challenge facing the region’s blossoming cell and gene therapy cluster: Building a skilled cell and gene therapy workforce that can sustain this growth into the future. 

This is achievable, but no small task.

That’s why there are a host of regional organizations and companies working diligently to cultivate and develop the next generation of cell and gene therapy professionals. Industry, regional funding and support organizations, the region’s university system, and local and state government entities recognize this workforce challenge and have been collaborating to build the cell and gene therapy workforce infrastructure required to keep the personalized medicine workforce pipeline primed.

An organization with a unique purview into the evolution of this sector is the Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund (MSCRF). The MSCRF has helped scores of Maryland cell therapy companies with funding and has partnered with other key constituents like the region’s various university systems to build the talent pool. MSCRF has supported more than 500 projects with over $175M in funding to advance stem cell-based research and commercialization in the state. Recently, the MSCRF announced a new initiative—its Manufacturing Assistance Program—that will provide funding for Maryland stem cell companies to build out their respective manufacturing capabilities.

“As the cell and gene therapy space rapidly evolves, there is a need to develop sustainable workforce development solutions to address key industry gaps, and I’m glad we could be a part of the collective effort. Over the years, it’s been a privilege to support the careers of numerous scientists, trainees, technicians, and executives through our various programs,” stated Dr. Amritha Jaishankar, Executive Director of the MSCRF. 

“This has helped create the next generation of workforce needed to advance discoveries to the clinic and the companies that we’ve supported have contributed to the growth of the life science industry by building out their own employee base. We’ve supported nearly 1,700 jobs statewide, and with our newest manufacturing initiative we hope to further attract and retain an advanced therapy manufacturing workforce in Maryland,” she added.

The MSCRF is a key thread of the region’s cell and gene therapy workforce development efforts, but it is only part of an intricate and expanding workforce development tapestry. 

A rich ecosystem of interconnected workforce development programs already exists in the region, and more programs are being added each year. This in turn creates an expansive and streamlined infrastructure that will support cell and gene therapy companies—and other life sciences sectors—and grow the talent base required for sustainable growth.

Let’s take a quick spin around the region and highlight some of the workforce development programming that is and will be instrumental to building the cell and gene therapy talent base in the BHCR.

BioTracⓇ and BioTrain™, Montgomery College

Bio-Trac is a leading biotechnology-focused professional development and workforce training program located at Montgomery College’s Bioscience Education Center (BEC). The program nurtures and supports the BioHealth Capital Region (BHCR) talent pipeline as well as national and international academic, government, and private research institutions. Established at the NIH in 1985, Bio-Trac has trained over 17,500 research scientists in its history and offers powerful and insightful workshops for post-graduate professionals. 

RELATED: Go with the Flow – Why Flow Cytometry has Become One of the Most Sought-After Biotech Job Skills, and How to be Competitive

BioTrain, also held out of the BEC, is a sector partnership of biotechnology companies, government entities, and nonprofit organizations led by Montgomery College that collaborates to shape a technical workforce that is ready for today and tomorrow.

CHIP, CVilleBioHub

The CHIP Internship Program is approaching its third year and cohort in 2022. CHIP was started by CVilleBioHub, a growing organization whose mission is to increase the size of the Charlottesville area biohealth cluster it serves. CHIP is emblematic of the valuable programming that is part of the organization’s push to expand its biocluster, which is anchored by the University of Virginia.

CHIP is Charlottesville’s only internship program that connects local higher education institutions and programs with local biotechnology companies to provide industry experiences. The program offers a structured and engaging experience for interns; CHIP will connect local candidates to local companies, creating rewarding internship experiences while developing the region’s workforce of tomorrow. CHIP internships are 10-week paid industry experiences. 

RELATED: CvilleBioHub Builds a Thriving Life Sciences Ecosystem in Charlottesville

Biomedical Careers Program & The Maryland Technology Internship Program, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

The Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Biomedical Careers Initiative, or BCI, is a robust internship program that exists to help JHU biomedical Ph.D. candidates and postdoctoral fellows better understand career options outside of academia while also providing real-world, industry experiences to explore and assess.

Since its inception in 2013, BCI has helped scores of JHU trainees obtain paid internship positions across a wide range of non-academic, industry fields, including biotechnology and pharma, science policy, and consulting, among others. The program is highly structured and designed to provide tailored support to both interns and BCI intern host companies, which include some of the BHCR’s best-known companies.

The Maryland Technology Internship Program (MTIP) was launched in August 2018. In its first two years, the program helped approximately 200 unique organizations across various tech-related fields fund 310 paid internships in Maryland.

The program, which is administered by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and funded by the State of Maryland, is a critical component to the BHCR workforce development efforts. Along with increasing access to capital, workforce development remains one of the region’s leading challenges, cited again and again at BHCR conferences and panels by entrepreneurs, thought leaders, and talent executives.

MTIP is focused broadly on the tech sector and can offer both interns and companies support beyond intern wage reimbursements. The MTIP team has helped companies craft internship descriptions, evaluate funding opportunities and deliver training while also providing guidance on an as-needed basis to interns seeking advice. 

Kite’s Early Talent Program and Other Workforce Programs

To support the company’s rapid growth and build its talent pipeline for the future, Kite has invested in a robust and diverse program to develop life sciences talent. Kite’s Early Talent Program offers internships as well as rotations and apprenticeship opportunities. Kite offers paid undergraduate and graduate summer internship programs where participants have the opportunity to learn about cell therapy from leaders in the field. 

Kite’s paid internships run approximately 10-12 weeks in the summer. The program offers placement in the U.S. and Europe. The company has also partnered with Frederick Community College to develop a Cell Therapy Apprenticeship program and with Hood College to build out a cell therapy academic track and a new, state-of-the-art, 400-square-foot lab replete with cutting-edge tools.

Maryland Biotech Bootcamps, Montgomery, Baltimore and Frederick Counties

Biotech Boot Camps are four-week workforce development and training programs that are designed for life sciences job seekers of all types. These Boot Camps focus on different biotech topics, including regulation, basic skills, and communication. The Bootcamps’ goal is not only to help businesses find qualified employees, but to provide the students with a defined life sciences career path. These Bootcamps are a collaboration between local colleges and universities, industry, and state and local economic development entities. 

University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Biotech Graduate Program

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and its life sciences program has been a major contributor to the BioHealth Capital Regions’ (BHCR) ascent to top global biocluster status. UMBC’s life sciences research has produced spin-out technologies and startups that have bolstered a growing Baltimore biohub. UMBC’s biotechnology graduate program, in particular, has made significant contributions to the region’s workforce development efforts that have produced one of the deepest life sciences talent pools in the U.S. 

RELATED: UMBC Biotech Master’s Program Equips Professionals with Skills for Success

Stem2VA, Virginia Bio

VirginiaBio, the state’s leading life sciences advocacy and networking organization, recently launched its Stem2VA Internship Program. The new program will offer up to 100 undergrad and graduate students a challenging and exciting opportunity to learn firsthand about life sciences careers. 

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