The following op-ed, originally posted on CellandGene.com, was written by CEO Council Executive Director Claire Greenwood and Patricia Day, Manager, Leadership Engagement, Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia.
On the heels of a 2020 study predicting substantial job growth in the cell and gene therapy sector in Greater Philadelphia, industry leaders in our region have created the Life Science Talent Pipeline Collaborative to ensure a strong talent pool for the future. With the Greater Philadelphia cell and gene therapy hub already home to 36 cell and gene therapy R&D companies, and expectations for sector growth as those companies continue to develop, new companies are born, and others relocate to or expand in the region, the timing was right for the formation of the Collaborative to address the talent needs on the horizon, including attracting and retaining that talent.
The newly formed Life Science Talent Pipeline Collaborative is employer-led, with actions guided by employers and for employers. The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia serves as convener of the group. So far the Collaborative includes 16 organizations representing cell and gene therapies companies and specific academic research labs in the cell and gene therapy space, with even more participants expected to join the group over the coming months. The members include: Adaptimmune; AmerisourceBergen; Amicus Therapeutics; Cabaletta Bio; Carisma Therapeutics Inc.; Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; Integral Molecular; Iovance Biotherapeutics Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; Merck & Company, Inc.; Passage Bio; Rockland Immunochemicals; Spark Therapeutics, Inc.; Spirovant; University of Pennsylvania; and WuXi Advanced Therapies.
Data from the “2020 Cell and Gene Therapy and Connected Health Talent Needs Assessment” guides the work. The independent study, which was conducted by Econsult Solutions, Inc., an economic consulting firm, with counsel from an advisory board of 20 leaders from industry, academia and the healthcare sectors, analyzed the current workforce landscape in the region and assessed future talent needs. University City Science Center and the University City District’s West Philadelphia Skills Initiative joined the Chamber’s regional CEO Council for Growth as partners in commissioning the study, with support from the Lenfest Foundation, as a means to ensure the region is well positioned to proactively address workforce needs as the industries scale. The three partners talked about the results in a recent interview with Cell & Gene, and you can read the study’s executive summary here.
As the study states, in 2019, there were approximately 4,900 employees working in the Greater Philadelphia region at cell and gene therapy companies, CMOS, biopharma companies, research organizations or research hospitals in the cell and gene therapy fields. Econsult estimated that, using mid-range growth estimates, in the next 10 years the workforce is expected to grow between 35 percent and 94 percent. That could account for 6,558 to 9,396 total cell and gene therapy sector jobs. The growth could be as much as 54 percent to 136 percent using high-range growth estimates, predicting the region’s total number of employees in the cell and gene therapy field could be 7,400 to 11,274.
Inside The Life Science Talent Pipeline Collaborative
The Life Science Talent Pipeline Collaborative, which began meeting in the fall, was quick to articulate the benefits of working together to be ready for the job growth the study predicts, to improve workforce diversity and inclusivity, and to address challenges to attracting and retaining talent, such as the highly specialized job requirements, competition for talent from other life sciences clusters across the globe, and lack of visibility for some of these opportunities. While some of the jobs can be difficult to fill, they are essential for continuity and growth.
Among the group’s first actions was to complete a review of critical jobs for the sector, identifying four job clusters: 1) quality assurance/quality control, 2) research functions (entry-level to PhD), 3) process development and manufacturing, and 4) non-science roles such as warehousing, finance, and sales. With the critical jobs determined, a second step was a review of curriculum at academic institutions in the region to determine where additional coursework is required to meet the job needs.
For example, an information session was held with Thomas Jefferson University’s Jefferson Institute for Bioprocessing (JIB) where the collaborative members were given an overview of JIB’s capabilities and took a virtual tour of their state-of-the-art, 250,000-square-foot, GMP-simulated facility located in Spring House, Pennsylvania. JIB is the first and only specialized education and training institute for biopharmaceutical processing in North America that combines commercial single-use processing equipment with the internationally recognized National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training curriculum. JIB is focused on delivering customized workforce development platforms for biopharma companies through workshops and certificates and hands-on education of new bioprocessing engineers at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
The Life Science Talent Pipeline Collaborative will also be evaluating the number of degrees granted versus the available jobs and time needed to fill those positions. And they will share information on recruiting, and join together in efforts such as the upcoming Campus Philly Life Science & Biotech Fair, being held in a virtual format on February 25.
As a nonprofit organization that serves as a resource for college students and recent graduates, and fuels economic growth by encouraging college students to study, explore, live and work in the region, Campus Philly will be a key partner in the effort to acquire and retain talent. During the career fair, students will have the opportunity to connect virtually with companies including Adaptimmune; Amicus Therapeutics; Passage Bio; Spark Therapeutics, Inc.; and WuXi Advanced Therapies, as well as research leaders Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and University of Pennsylvania.
The Collaborative will also be making connections with programs such as the newly announced strategic arrangement between The Wistar Institute (the nation’s first independent biomedical research institute) and Cheyney University of Pennsylvania (the nation’s first historically Black college and university) as they work together to expand life science research education, training and business development opportunities in Pennsylvania. They will also be connecting with community STEM programs offered by organizations such as the University City Science Center, which has created a free, two-week virtual lab skills training program for residents of West Philadelphia called BULB: Building an Understanding of Lab Basics. They will be collaborating with groups such as Philadelphia Works, Inc., the City of Philadelphia’s Workforce Development Board.
Other activities of the Talent Pipeline Collaborative will focus on building a longer-term pipeline by providing connections for the member organizations and training partners to mentor and sponsor programs for K-12 students through career exposure, classroom and site visits. The Collaborative will connect with programs such as FirstHand, a free offering from the University City Science Center that provides supplemental STEM learning for middle and high school students, and Project Onramp Philadelphia, a partnership between Life Science Cares Philadelphia and Philadelphia Futures to help low-income, first generation college students start their life sciences careers with 12-week paid internships. The Collaborative will also be looking at community STEM programs offered by organizations such as The Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia STEM Ecosystem.
Undertaking the study and creating the collaborative are projects that serve to assist the Chamber and its regional Cell & Gene Therapy and Connected Health Initiative (The Initiative) in reaching its goal to make Greater Philadelphia a global hub of cell and gene therapy. Launched in 2019, The Initiative is a multi-year effort to promote Greater Philadelphia’s cell and gene therapy, gene editing, and connected health sectors. The current success and future potential of the cell and gene therapy industry in the Greater Philadelphia region is also a main focus of the Chamber’s Recharge and Recovery Initiative as the region works to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic.
In 2021, the Chamber and its partners in the Cell & Gene Therapy and Connected Health Initiative will continue their focus on assisting start-up, scaling and relocating companies by aiding in the development of critical infrastructure that ensures the smooth transition from concepts to products; undergoing talent assessment, attraction, and training to address workforce needs as the industry scales; and building an ecosystem that supports growing and retaining companies, innovators, and expertise in the region.
They will also focus on shared storytelling that builds awareness of the region’s assets. Thanks to efforts by The Initiative, all Life Science Talent Pipeline Collaborative partners have access to a toolkit of materials to assist them in their talent attraction, development and retention activities. A paid social media campaign is also underway.
The Cell and Gene Therapy and Connected Health Initiative is supported by 11 partner companies, institutions and universities in the Greater Philadelphia region. Partner companies include: AmerisourceBergen, Aramark, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, ChristianaCare, Comcast, Drexel University, Independence Blue Cross, Jefferson Health, Macquarie Group, Penn Medicine, and University of Pennsylvania. You can learn more about the initiative by visiting Ceocouncilforgrowth.com/initiatives/cell-gene-therapy-and-connected-health.
The job growth predictions are a strong indicator of the momentum in the cell and gene therapy sector in Greater Philadelphia. The region’s leading role as a hub for cell and gene therapy will only grow with efforts such as the Cell and Gene Therapy and Connected Health Initiative, and the talent attraction and retention work of the Life Science Talent Pipeline Collaborative and its members.