Two Passage Bio employees are sharing their stories of what brought them to the Greater Philadelphia region’s expanding cell and gene therapy ecosystem.

Mohamed Aziz, Director of Planning and CMC Project Management at Passage Bio, is the most recent person featured in the new “Discovery Starts With Me” video series. Created by the CEO Council for Growth and the Cell & Gene Therapy and Connected Health Initiative, the series is providing an inside look at the talent behind the region’s cell and gene therapy hub. You can view Mohamed’s story here.

Jackie Brenner is Passage Bio’s Senior Director of Human Resources, and a member of the Life Science Talent Pipeline Collaborative, a CEO Council initiative to support workforce growth in the region’s life sciences industry. In this article, she tells us about the culture at Passage Bio and how the company is benefitting from participation in the Collaborative.

Passage Bio is a genetics medicine company focused on developing transformative therapies for central nervous system disorders. The company, which is headquartered in Philadelphia, has established a strategic collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania’s Gene Therapy Program. Its patient-centered culture is what attracted Brenner, who is originally from Queens, N.Y., and studied as an undergraduate at Drexel University in Philadelphia, back to the area and to the company.

“The opportunity to bring a potentially life-altering therapy to our patients – many of whom are children — who don’t have other options, is a pretty exceptional opportunity, and that’s really what brought me, and most everyone, here,” Brenner said. The chance, as an HR person, to assist in building an organization from scratch, was another factor.

“We have company values that are very important to us,” Brenner said, “and first and foremost is patient focus. We work with a sense of urgency and collaboration because we really want to get good work done, because we know there is a patient waiting on the other side.”

When she joined Passage Bio in January 2020, Brenner was the startup’s 20th employee. The company has since grown to more than 140 employees, quite an accomplishment, the HR director said, during a remote hiring situation due to the pandemic. Some of the new hires have been for the company’s first laboratory, which Passage Bio opened in July 2021 in Hopewell, N.J.

“It’s our first laboratory, so that’s really exciting for us, and now we have two facilities between the headquarters and the laboratory,” Brenner said. “We’re doing QC and analytical testing and process development work, so we’ve hired some really talented scientists, many of whom have gene therapy experience,” she said.

She credits the company’s ability to grow during this time to the leadership team, and the company’s vision and mission. “Collaboration, inclusion, patient-focused, succeed together, and challenging each other to consider each other’s viewpoints” are words she uses to describe the company culture, which she said has been defined by the employee level up, rather than the leadership team down.

When talking with candidates, she also describes the company’s partnership with the University of Pennsylvania, as well as the region’s quality of life.

“We definitely describe our relationship and close collaboration with Penn as why we’re in Philadelphia, and also how we are contributing to Philadelphia becoming the hub of cell and gene therapy, and how it’s really an exciting time to be in this area and working in this field,” she said.

“Our relationship with Penn’s Gene Therapy Program, with their expertise in gene therapy, is very important. To work with Dr. (James) Wilson is obviously a wonderful benefit and asset, and it’s a great recruiting tool as well, because of the cutting-edge science coming out of Penn,” she said.

A great quality of life, reasonable cost of living, food scene, culture, good places to live, and school districts are also part of the recruitment conversation. “There are obviously terrific opportunities as well in terms of academic institutions, and other industries, which is fantastic for a trailing spouse or a family move because in this area we have strong employment opportunities and educational options not only for the candidate but for the people coming with them,” she added.

Partnering to Attract Talent

As she works to grow Passage Bio, Brenner’s participation in the Life Science Talent Pipeline Collaborative has enabled her to engage with like-minded companies as they face the challenge of attracting talent. It’s a chance to share ideas, hear what others are doing, request information for benchmarking, help fellow colleagues, work toward solutions, and build relationships and network in an environment that is collaborative, not competitive.

“It’s clear that the more people we have in this area with this expertise will benefit all of us,” Brenner said.

The 18-member Life Science Talent Pipeline Collaborative, which is employer-led, with actions guided by the cell and gene therapy employers who are its members, welcomes new participants. To date, partners include: Adaptimmune; AmerisourceBergen; Amicus Therapeutics; Cabaletta Bio; Carisma Therapeutics Inc.; Center for Breakthrough Medicines; Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; Integral Molecular; Interius Biotherapeutics; Iovance Biotherapeutics Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; Merck & Company, Inc.; Passage Bio; Rockland Immunochemicals; Spark Therapeutics, Inc.; Spirovant; SwanBio Therapeutics; University of Pennsylvania Gene Therapy Program; and WuXi Advanced Therapies. For information, contact Michele Washko at [email protected].

Over the coming months, watch this space for more profiles of the Life Science Talent Pipeline Collaborative’s member organizations and their efforts to support the sector’s workforce growth as they look to hire talent.