Prioritizing the cell and gene therapy sector is a key focus of the Philadelphia Regional Recharge and Recovery Task Force, which released its Phase 1 Recommendations and Actions report on September 18. The task force, which was first announced on June 1, is a collaborative, public-private initiative created as a region-wide response to the COVID-19 pandemic. A diverse, cross-sector group of more than 160 private and public-sector participants, representing various industries – among them health care, higher education, and life sciences – worked from mid-June through mid-July to identify a list of immediate actions to stabilize Philadelphia’s regional economy and ensure rapid recovery when businesses reopen. Leaders also urged everyone to sign the PHL Pledge, committing to information sharing; reskilling and upskilling; buying Black, brown, and local; and advocating for a business recovery agenda at the federal, state, and local levels.
Amy Gutmann, president, University of Pennsylvania, said, “In this pandemic … how we act will not only aid in Greater Philadelphia’s recovery, it will define us as the leading city and region we can be for years to come. So, key to our strategy is to create a truly inclusive economic recovery, in partnership with government.”
She identified five aspirations for the region:
- The new national model to learn, apprentice, and work in the jobs of the future;
- A place known for investing in and growing small Black, brown, and locally owned businesses;
- A digital community with increased digital literacy, technology, and internet use;
- The healthiest and most livable community in the Northeast;
- A top global cell and gene therapy hub.
David L. Cohen, senior executive vice president, Comcast Corporation, outlined a set of six short-term recommendations that are “actionable as soon as we are relieved from the pressures of the pandemic, and that are foundational to accelerating our economic recovery,” he said. “The first three … are in the health care context, which is one of our strengths,” he added.
The six key actions he described are:
- Coordination of a region-wide testing and contact tracing program;
- Coordinating communication strategies around COVID-19 prevention measures, public health, etc.;
- Adoption of a single region-wide pledge and threshold certification of health and safety to ensure the public that our venues (our offices, our public venues) are safe
- Reskilling and hiring under/unemployed residents into high-demand jobs;
- Creating and obtaining commitments to pledges for skills-based hiring across industries;
- Committing to increasing opportunities for Black- and brown-owned, small- and medium-sized businesses.
John J. (Jack) Lynch III, president and CEO of Main Line Health, thanked the health care work group, which he co-chaired with Madeline Bell, president and CEO of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; Dr. Bruce Meyer, president of Jefferson Health and senior executive vice president of Thomas Jefferson University; and Phil Okala, chief operating officer, University of Pennsylvania Health System.
“In the early weeks of the pandemic, our region’s healthcare systems worked in highly collaborative manner together, across our systems, along with our colleagues at IBC, and with our partners at state, county, and local level,” Lynch said. “This collaboration and cooperation were essential, and was the major reason why we were able to manage through the first wave of the virus, flatten the curve in our ICUs, and contend with the insidious virus,” he said.
“In these early days, our healthcare systems developed and deployed our own testing and tracing capacity for our patients, staff, and key partners,” he added. “Now, it’s incumbent on us to work in a true public-private partnership to build our regional platform necessary so that we can have testing and contract-tracing infrastructure in place as we continue to fight this virus,” he said in addressing the action steps.
“Equally important is the need for broad-based individual communication efforts to mask up, wash your hands, social distance, and support contract tracing efforts once deployed,” he said.
Osagie Imasogie, senior managing partner of PIPV Capital, co-chaired the life sciences subcommittee with Jeffrey Marrazzo, CEO, Spark Therapeutics, and Ashley McEvoy, executive vice president, Worldwide Chairman, Medical Devices, Johnson & Johnson. The group focused on three priority areas: 1) telling our region’s story as a hub of cell and gene therapy; 2) building an industry-driven talent initiative; and 3) expanding capital for Black and brown technology entrepreneurs.
“In that context, one of the things we are focused on is the urgent need for a fund that we are intentionally focused on for Black and brown entrepreneurs. Right now, within the U.S., less than one percent of venture capital funds go to African Americans,” he said. The fund will be comprised of African Americans who can identify high opportunities among entrepreneurs within the African American community and provide funding to support them, he added.
Imasogie also identified two actions underway through the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia’s CEO Council and Select Greater Philadelphia Council. One is an effort to develop a list of companies in cell and gene therapy and adjacent industries that are ready to expand, and conducting direct outreach to those organizations over the next 10 months to raise our region’s profile as a location for that expansion. The second is a paid social campaign targeting the venture capital community related to cell and gene therapy. The goal of both efforts is to increase awareness through targeted digital marketing and turn leads into real projects that invest in the region.
He also announced the launch of the Chamber’s Life Science Talent Pipeline Collaborative, which will assure prospects that the region will have a strong pipeline of future talent to help the life science sector – and cell and gene therapy industry – grow. Employers will work together, along with our region’s training partners, to address the most critical and pressing talent needs for the industry. The work will build upon the Cell and Gene Therapy and Connected Health Talent Needs Assessment that was conducted last year, the recommendations that came from the Life Science Subcommittee, public data and, most importantly, the assessment of the region’s cell and gene therapy organizations’ talent needs. One example of work that is in alignment with this recommendation is the recently announced Cheyney University-Wistar Institute Alliance.
In addition to health care, higher education, and life sciences, others sectors in the task force include: small and mid-size companies, hospitality/tourism/arts and culture, financial services, tech/media/telecommunications, and talent/workforce. The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia is providing staff support for the initiative, and the work is being informed by consulting firm McKinsey & Company.
To read the “Recharge & Recover PHL: Preparing for Recovery, Phase 1 Recommendations and Actions” report and sign the PHL Pledge, visit chamberphl.com/recharge.