A recent study, the “2020 Cell and Gene Therapy and Connected Health Talent Needs Assessment,” predicted substantial job growth in the cell and gene therapy sector in Greater Philadelphia in the coming decade. Industry leaders have already taken action to ensure the region’s talent pool is ready for that future. The newly formed Life Science Talent Pipeline Collaborative is a group of 16 organizations representing cell and gene therapy companies and specific academic research labs in the cell and gene therapy space committed to addressing the talent needs on the horizon, including attracting and retaining talent.

The Collaborative, which began meeting virtually in the fall, welcomes additional members to join. The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia is the convener of the Collaborative, with Patricia Day, manager of Leadership Engagement for the Chamber, providing support. The group is employer-led, with actions guided by the cell and gene therapy employers who are its members, acknowledging they know the needs of employers and employees best. To date, participants 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.

Both the study and the Collaborative are results of the work of the Cell & Gene Therapy and Connected Health Initiative, 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.

According to the independent talent needs assessment, which was conducted by Econsult Solutions, Inc., with counsel from an advisory board of 20 leaders from industry, academia and the healthcare sectors, the cell and gene therapy workforce is expected to grow between 35 percent and 94 percent in the next 10 years, using mid-range projections. 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. The study was commissioned by University City Science Center, University City District’s West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, and the Chamber, with support from the Lenfest Foundation, and an executive summary is available.

To meet the objective of ensuring a strong future talent pool that enables the cell and gene therapy sector to thrive in Greater Philadelphia, the Collaborative identified a few actions. They started with articulating 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.

Next, they conducted a review of critical jobs for the sector, categorizing them in four job clusters. The clusters are: quality assurance/quality control; research functions (entry-level to PhD); process development and manufacturing; and non-science roles such as warehousing, finance, and sales.

Their third step, currently underway, is a review of curriculum at academic institutions in the region to assess what is available and advise where additional coursework is required to meet the job needs. As an example, the group participated in an information session with Thomas Jefferson University’s Jefferson Institute for Bioprocessing (JIB) to learn more about the workshops, certificates, and hands-on education JIB provides, and to take a virtual tour of their state-of-the-art, 250,000-square-foot, GMP-simulated facility located at Spring House Innovation Park in Lower Gwynedd, Pa.

Several members also recently joined the Campus Philly Life Science & Biotech Fair, held in a virtual format on February 25. The Life Science Talent Pipeline Collaborative also plans to conduct an evaluation of the number of industry-related degrees granted versus the available jobs in the region and time needed to fill those positions.

Connecting with existing programs will also be essential, such as the newly announced strategic arrangement between The Wistar Institute and Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, who are working together to expand life science research education, training and business development opportunities in the Commonwealth. The Collaborative will also be linking to community STEM programs such as University City Science Center’s free, two-week virtual lab skills training program for residents of West Philadelphia called BULB: Building an Understanding of Lab Basics, and collaborating with groups such as Philadelphia Works, Inc., the City of Philadelphia’s Workforce Development Board.

K-12 students will be an important focus as the Talent Pipeline Collaborative works to build a longer-term pipeline by making connections for the members to mentor and sponsor programs in schools. Among the ideas are classroom and site visits to introduce students to career opportunities in the cell and gene therapy sector.

The Collaborative will connect with the many programs and resources underway, including programs such as FirstHand, a free offering from the University City Science Center that provides supplemental STEM learning for middle and high school students; 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; and community STEM programs offered by organizations such as The Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia STEM Ecosystem.

You can follow the activities of the Life Science Talent Pipeline through this newsletter. To inquire about becoming involved with the group, contact Patricia Day at [email protected].

Cell & Gene magazine published a story about the Life Science Talent Pipeline Collaborative on February 18. You can read the article, authored by Claire Greenwood, Executive Director of the Chamber’s regional CEO Council for Growth, and Patricia Day, Manager, Leadership Engagement at the Chamber.