Why Jefferson Institute for Bioprocessing Has Become a Preeminent Model for Biomanufacturing Workforce Training 

The Jefferson Institute for Bioprocessing (JIB) is a jewel in the crown of Cellicon Valley. The institute provides critical training in biomanufacturing and bioprocessing for next-generation biologics, vaccines, and cell and gene therapies; skills that are in urgent demand by employers everywhere who are being challenged to find enough experienced employees to sustain their growth.

Recent studies are projecting that Cell and gene therapy and gene editing companies in Philadelphia alone are projecting to add an additional 6,000 new workers in the coming decade so the demand for a trained workforce will only continue to grow.  

In the two years since Thomas Jefferson University has opened JIB’s doors in Montgomery County, PA, just outside of Philadelphia, the institute is making its mark as a training facility for future industry workers. The institute is one of the very few places of higher learning in the United States that provides specialized education and training for biopharmaceutical processing. Leveraging an exclusive license for curriculum and training with Ireland’s renowned National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT), JIB aims to train about 2,500 workers with what is described as a ‘flight simulator for biopharma manufacturing.

JIB provides comprehensive training in commercial single-use processing equipment for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as working professionals who are expanding their skill sets. Its training includes industry standards and advanced technologies to provide its students with cutting-edge information in a rapidly changing field. 

JIB recently received a $2 million grant to expand its academic and training capacity at its Lower Gwynedd site. The expansion will allow the institute to magnify its teaching and training capabilities in processing and manufacturing for cell and gene therapies and vaccines. The expansion will not only boost the importance of Philadelphia as a leading hub for cell therapies but also in workforce training. 

It’s not just the coursework taught at the institute that makes it such a crucial asset to the biopharma community. This leading university-based institute brought in staff and instructors that have significant commercial experience which means that students are being taught according to the same regulations and procedures that they will be expected to perform in a real-world setting.

“They all come from commercial big pharma, which means they understand the requirements necessary,” Tia Lyles-Williams, Chief Executive Officer of LucasPye Bio said. 

Lyles-Williams said the commercial expertise at JIB is a crucial component to turning out competent students who can immediately benefit the biopharma industry when they secure a job following graduation. 

Robert Johnson, Chief Operating Officer of California-based GenVivo, touted the growing life sciences ecosystem of Philadelphia, of which JIB plays an important role. 

“This city is ripe to be the next center of biotechnology,” Johnson said. 

Praising JIB Executive Director Parviz Shamlou for his vision, Johnson said the program includes real-life training that provides invaluable experience to the students. Not only is there a critical need for biomanufacturing capacity across the United States, Johnson said there is also a significant need for the people who are trained in the field. 

Lyles-Williams touted JIB’s curriculum and the training it offers. At one time, she pondered seeking the license to that same curriculum for her employees, but now she’s grateful for the opportunities JIB offers, particularly with its efforts to promote diversity among its students. 

“They have been able to open the door for diversity, inclusion, and equity,” Lyles-Williams said. She added the institute has graduated three cohorts already that have a “super-diverse class.”

As an African-American Woman, Lyles-Williams has run into multiple obstacles throughout her career. In particular, she noted that African-Americans, LatinX people, and other minorities had been overlooked for promotions or were not considered for jobs for which they were well qualified. 

The JIB program ensures that future candidates for jobs will not be overlooked because of their differences in ethnicity, but will be evaluated based upon the high quality of the education specifically in bioprocessing and manufacturing they have received. She called the JIB program “pivotal” in that it changes the way in which people who have not gone through a traditional four-year college program can be trained in the field and provide an instant impact at a company. 

Thomas Jefferson University (TJU) has a vision for equal opportunity and equity in education, supported by a strong history demonstrating this commitment. The JIB programs reflect this vision and commitment: over the past two years, MS program students include 42% underrepresented minorities in STEM fields (African American, Latino, Native American), 52% ethnic minority, and 67% women. The industry supports TJU’s vision in this area, as reflected by the greater than 99% placement rate in the industry for JIB’s graduates.

Through TJU, JIB has developed an extensive suite of credential programs – from certificates and badges through Master’s and Ph.D. level programs, designed to provide the skills required by the industry from entry-level positions to leadership roles.  These credentials are transcribable, transportable, and stackable, enabling individuals to enter the field and make an impact while continuing to gain education and hands-on training to grow in their careers.  

Currently, JIB is in discussions with Lyles-Williams to plan a training path for individuals without college experience. The program would be supported by a partnership with HelaPlex (sister company to LucasPye BIO), Steppingstone Scholars, The Wistar InstituteThe Business Center, as well as other potential interested partners in the region.  Lyles-Williams is particularly excited about such a training path, as it will provide these individuals with a promising path toward a well-paying career. It’s particularly important for the city of Philadelphia given the high poverty rate there, she added. 

“It’s important for the city of Philadelphia to have JIB because it can change the economic pathway for the minority communities in the city. This is something that can really help a lot of people,” Lyles-Williams said. “This provides a real opportunity for underserved communities to get into the industry and have new opportunities.

Johnson said he became involved with JIB due to GenVivo’s need for individuals with manufacturing and process development experience, skills, and talents. He was drawn to JIB because the programs they established looked beyond what was necessary now in bioprocessing and manufacturing and developed programs that will serve future advances. One of the key programs that Johnson cited as a hallmark of JIB is its cleanroom training program. Having those capabilities puts the institute “ahead of the game,” Johnson said. 

Calling JIB a preeminent program in the nation, Johnson said the institute does not just have training capabilities for students but also has the capacity for employees of companies to go in and train in cutting-edge manufacturing and bioprocessing techniques. 

“This is a model that can be used by other institutions around the country,” said Johnson, who serves on the JIB Board of Directors. 

As JIB continues to expand its capabilities as a preeminent bioprocessing and biomanufacturing institute in the United States, not only will it raise the profile of Philadelphia as an educational and training center, it will also likely attract new companies to the area who will no doubt seek a highly-trained workforce. And that will continue to raise the profile of Cellicon Valley as one of the nation’s leading biopharma hubs.

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Alex Keown is a freelance journalist who writes about a variety of subjects including the pharma, biotech, and life science industries. Prior to freelancing, Alex has served as a staff writer and editor for several publications.