PHILADELPHIA, PA — Partners in Greater Philadelphia’s life sciences ecosystem are expanding their commitment to connecting a wider range of Philadelphians, including residents from disadvantaged communities, with career opportunities in the burgeoning biotech industry with the announcement of an upcoming recruitment for an award-winning biotech training program.
The launch of recruitment for the second cohort of The “Biomedical Technician Training Program: Aseptic Manufacturing” follows on the heels of the successful implementation of a pilot program that resulted in the training and hiring of 10 program graduates in March 2023. Recruitment for the program will begin on August 22 and go through September 6. Recruitment and application information can be found on The Navy Yard website (navyyard.org/skills).
In a field that often requires PhDs or master’s degrees for most roles, the program – “Biomedical Technician Training Program: Aseptic Manufacturing” – creates opportunities for Philadelphians with at least a high school equivalency. The initiative is one way the region is working together to meet the talent needs in its rapidly growing cell and gene therapy sector.
“If you really want a change, really want something different, and you’re ready to make a difference in your life this would be a great opportunity, and it doesn’t require a degree,” said Iyana Pearson, a graduate of the first training cohort. “You have to go into it from an open mind and open heart and know it is probably completely different from anything that you have ever done in life.”
The “Biomedical Technician Training Program: Aseptic Manufacturing,” the first of its kind in the region, is an innovative, high-touch workforce training model that was collaboratively designed with Iovance Biotherapeutics. The program connects Philadelphians to robust biomedical training at The Wistar Institute and offers program graduates a direct path to full-time, career-ladder employment as Associate Aseptic Manufacturing Technicians at Iovance.
The second cohort of this program is made possible through the strong support of Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05), in which PIDC received a $525,000 grant for its Navy Yard Skills Initiative (NYSI) and a $100,000 commitment from Ensemble/Mosaic’s Navy Yard Building Better Foundation. Ensemble/Mosaic is the exclusive developer of a 109-acre mixed-use development at the Navy Yard. The grant and the donation will enable the continuation of the program, which will be open this year to 20 new participants.
The first cohort launched in the summer of 2022 generated more than 400 applicants. In total, 13 students graduated from the program, and 10 were offered full-time employment at Iovance Biotherapeutics in positions starting at $25/hr. The program received the 2022 BioBuzz Workforce Champion Award, which was given to the program for a measurable contribution to enhancing the biotech workforce within the BioHealth Capital Region and Philadelphia.
“We had tremendous success with participants who completed our first cohort of this program and want to expand the pool of well-trained biomedical laboratory technicians here in Philadelphia,” said Dr. Kristy Shuda McGuire, Wistar Dean of Biomedical Studies. “This happened through cross-sector partnership with a group committed to the mission of creating a diverse life science talent pipeline. Only then could we offer effective training to adult learners that connects them to employment opportunities. This is the key to building the workforce that will support our region as a hub for life science innovation today and into the future.”
Recruitment begins August 22 for the 24-week paid program, which will include class- and lab-based training provided by The Wistar Institute and professional development from University City District’s West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, culminating in a 12-week externship at Iovance Biotherapeutics, Inc., a biotechnology company focused on innovating, developing and delivering novel polyclonal tumor infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) therapies for patients with cancer, whose cell therapy manufacturing center is located at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Program participants will gain the skills needed to be considered for employment as associate aseptic manufacturing technicians – jobs starting at $25/hour – at the conclusion of the program in March 2024. Associate aseptic manufacturing technicians are responsible for maintaining a sterile lab environment, assembling sterile products, stocking supplies, and documenting processes of biomedical manufacturers in supporting the creation of cell therapies.
For the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative (WPSI), the opportunity to work with Iovance on a second project allowed for delivery of the next level of service with a program that has the benefit of experience. “There is now just not proof of concept but proof of product. We are poised as a region to be best in class for building diverse and deep talent pools which can continue to push Philadelphia to become an even more competitive location for the life science industry. Through our collaborations with Wistar and Iovance and in our sector partnership building work under the Good Jobs Challenge federal investment, we see a full range of possibilities and abundant opportunities,” said Cait Garozzo, Executive Director at the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative.
“Following our success and valuable experience with the inaugural cohort of the Biomedical Technician Training Program, Iovance is looking forward to hosting the second cohort in collaboration with Wistar, the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, the Chamber of Commerce, and PIDC. We hope this training program will continue to grow and serve as a model to build deep, diverse life sciences talent pipelines across Greater Philadelphia and beyond,” said Jamie Crawford, Vice President, Commercial Manufacturing, Iovance Biotherapeutics, Inc.
Much of the growth of the region’s cell and gene therapy hub is taking place at the Navy Yard, where Iovance Cell Therapy Center is located, and in University City, where The Wistar Institute is located, and where the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative has built its reputation as one of the leading workforce intermediaries in the country. Among other factors, the sector’s growth is reflected in the more than 60 cell and gene therapy companies that now call Greater Philadelphia home; the $3 billion in investment the region’s cell and gene therapy sector attracted in 2021; the 80 percent increase in employment at cell and gene therapy companies, contract research organizations, and contract development & manufacturing organizations in the past three years; and the more than 10.8 million square feet of existing space and 2.7 million square feet under construction to support the sector’s growth.
PIDC‘s Navy Yard Skills Initiative (NYSI), a workforce development training program created to address the talent needs of the employers located at the Navy Yard, has been crucial in engaging its life sciences employers to create non-traditional pathways into cell and gene therapy careers, including Iovance. Currently, the Navy Yard has nearly one million square feet of life sciences lab, production, and office space and 4 million square feet planned.
“We are excited to continue this innovative partnership with The Wistar Institute, West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, Iovance, and the Chamber of Commerce and expand on this award-winning program that connects Philadelphians with life-changing, quality career opportunities in one of the region’s fastest growing sectors,” said Kate McNamara, PIDC’s Senior Vice President, Navy Yard. “With the success of the first cohort, there is now a proven training model that creates equitable access and lowers the barrier of entry to prepare Philadelphians to work in advanced life sciences. Since we began the Navy Yard Skills Initiative in 2020, we have connected nearly 100 Philadelphians with quality jobs at great Navy Yard companies like Philly Shipyard, Tastykake, Jefferson Health, and Iovance. We’re committed to continue creating exciting and accessible opportunities at the Navy Yard for all Philadelphians.”
A workforce talent study for the region’s cell and gene therapy sector, conducted by Econsult Solutions for the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia and the University City Science Center, identified job opportunities for talent at all levels, including those not requiring a four-year degree, particularly as companies grow and begin building manufacturing capacity. The workforce talent study is part of the Chamber’s broader efforts to proactively address the talent needs of the cell and gene therapy community through research, strategic promotion, early-career talent-focused events, and convening employers.
“When two of Greater Philadelphia’s strongest training organizations collaborated with industry partners to launch the pilot of this workforce development program, we envisioned something that could be replicated and repeated many times over to support our region’s rapidly expanding center for life sciences and cell and gene therapy,” said Sarah Steltz, Vice President of Economic Competitiveness, Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia. “Iovance’s commitment to a second cohort of the Biomedical Technician Training Program, and the launch of another cohort with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, demonstrate the possibilities for partnership. The Chamber is grateful to Iovance and CHOP for their commitment to skills-based hiring and a model that we know other employers will also embrace.”
“This is exactly the type of program that Ensemble/Mosaic’s Navy Yard Building Better Foundation seeks to support. One of our missions is the investment in the professional development of minorities and women in the Navy Yard by providing access to education, job training, capital and mentorship, and we look forward to the members of this second cohort finding success,” said Leslie Smallwood-Lewis, COO & Co-Founder of Mosaic Development Partners JV.
Calibrated specifically to meet the needs of a burgeoning sector, the Biomedical Technician Training Program is designed for replication across industry employers. The West Philadelphia Skills Initiative and The Wistar Institute partnered with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia on a cohort that will be connected to research positions there.
“The CHOP Research Institute is excited to partner with WPSI and The Wistar Institute to offer an accelerated, hands-on life sciences and training curriculum customized with input from CHOP researchers, providing once-in-a-lifetime training and job placement opportunities for residents of West Philadelphia to pursue careers in biomedical laboratory sciences,” said Senior Vice President for Research Administration and Operations Michelle Lewis, MS, CRA, CCP. “Our first cohort is learning in-demand skills that will unlock talent resources in the City of Philadelphia to advance pediatric care and make a difference for CHOP’s patients and families.”