Lifelong Philadelphian Iyana Pearson loves cheering on Philadelphia’s sports teams, exploring the region’s nationally recognized food scene, and helping others through her work. Whether as a dialysis tech or a home health aide, being able to make a difference in people’s lives is a part of Pearson’s moral code. What she didn’t know was that she would end up taking this ambition to Iovance to work with cutting-edge cell therapies.

Pearson is a graduate of the first cohort of the Biomedical Technician Training Program (BTT) program, a first-of-its-kind and award-winning initiative from the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, The Wistar Institute, and Iovance Biotherapeutics, with support from the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation

In an industry that often requires a Ph.D. or master’s degree, the program’s training model aims to connect a broader range of Philadelphians to biotech jobs, including candidates with at least a high school education equivalency. 

Pearson was working as a dialysis technician when she received an email about the program.

“I was a dialysis tech for eight years and a home health aide before that, so I’ve been in the healthcare space for a while now,” said Pearson. “But I was looking for something else to transition into outside of dialysis and figure out what would be next for me. I got an email about the Biomedical Technician Training Program, and it stood out to me because it sounded interesting, and I was already working a job as a technician. So, it seemed like something that could be applicable, and the posting said you didn’t need a college degree to apply. I thought, why not?”

Pearson was one of hundreds who applied to the program. After aptitude tests, math tests, interviews, and days spent anxiously waiting for a result, Pearson was accepted into the BTT program and eventually one of nine to be hired by Iovance at the program’s conclusion.

“I was so excited to get into the program, but I was scared too. I hadn’t been in school in a long time. It was a long six months, but I couldn’t be happier that I completed the program and graduated. It felt so great to challenge myself and accomplish this, and then end up in a new career path like I was hoping for.”

Throughout the training, Pearson and her counterparts in the cohort learned cellular and molecular biology fundamentals, worked on labs at The Wistar Institute, and completed an externship at the Iovance iCTC (Cell Therapy Center).

“I didn’t know until I was accepted into the program that I would be working with therapies that treat cancer,” said Pearson. “When I found that out, I was shocked – I didn’t have a degree in oncology! Dialysis saves lives, too, but working with cancer treatments felt different.”

Upon graduating from the BTT program and starting her role at Iovance, Pearson said that it was sometimes daunting working alongside others who had advanced degrees. But everyone’s dedication to improving patient outcomes and the culture at Iovance quickly eased her anxieties.

“This whole experience has been so rewarding,” said Pearson. “Not only have I accomplished something that was hard, and I challenged myself to learn new things, but I’m also now working at one of the best companies I’ve ever worked at – and I’m 37. I was initially nervous, being someone without a college degree at Iovance, but nobody makes us feel like we’re on a different level than them. No one makes us feel less than. We’re all really one unit, one band, one sound. That’s one of the things that I love about my job. I love our morale and the people. Everyone’s always willing to help each other. We hold each other up and push each other to be better and do better. Because at the end of the day, we are all working toward the same goal to help people.”

The BTT program came into Pearson’s life when she asked, “What’s next?” She says she would encourage others looking for a change to consider the program and to know that there are careers in the life sciences out there for people with all levels of education and experience. 

“For anyone looking to get into the sciences, I would 100% recommend this program,” said Pearson. “The role that I got after graduating is a career, not a job. Iovance is a great company, and there’s a lot of room for upward mobility. The experience I gained from BTT, and now my current role will also help me later on throughout my career. Cell and gene therapy is such an emerging science, so there will always be something on the horizon for folks in these sectors.”

The third BTT program is currently underway, focusing on lab technician training. This rendition will prepare graduates with at least a high school equivalency for rewarding roles with a starting pay of $25/hour at VintaBio’s gene manufacturing site in the Navy Yard. Learn more about Biomedical Technician Training: Lab Technician here.

To explore career opportunities in cell and gene therapy in the Greater Philadelphia region and join Iyana Pearson and thousands of others in the mission to bring groundbreaking therapies to patients, visit Select Greater Philadelphia’s new job search tool here.

To learn more about what it means to live and work in the life sciences in Greater Philadelphia, watch more of our “Discovery Starts with Me” series here.