Philadelphia’s CGT sector highlights future talent needs

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags cell and gene therapies cell and gene therapy Pennsylvania

Employment in Greater Philadelphia among cell and gene therapy companies has more that doubled since 2019, while employees at contract manufacturing organizations have grown by nearly 40%. Continuing to build the workforce will be crucial as the area develops from an R&D hub into a commercialization and manufacturing center.

Released by the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia’s CEO Council for Growth and the University City Science Center, the 2022 Greater Philadelphia Cell and Gene Therapy Workforce Update Report says the key to future growth will be to develop a local workforce, across all levels, to meet the needs of companies and particularly those that begin building manufacturing capacity.

The report says that strong cell and gene therapy employment growth has been seen across the Greater Philadelphia region since 2019. In that year, there were around 4,900 employees working at CGT companies, CMOS, biopharma companies, research organizations or research hospitals. In 2022, that number has nearly reached 10,500.

Employees at contract manufacturing organizations have grown by nearly 40% since 2019; and the number of employees at regional biopharma companies claiming cell and gene therapy-related skills has grown by more than 200%.

While much of the growth in regional employment since 2019 has come from new companies or divisions focused on cell and gene therapy, examination of companies that had LinkedIn employment data in both 2019 and 2022 shows strong growth as well from existing cell and gene therapy companies, which increased employment by 67% over this time period.

Perhaps most importantly, growth is expected to continue.

With industry experts projecting employment growth of between 25% and 50% over the next three years, we would expect total employment at CGT companies and CMOs to be between 4,500 and 5,400 employees, with increasing shares of employees not requiring bachelor’s degrees,”​ notes the report.

Turning to the future

Industry insiders are upbeat about Philadelphia’s CGT future: seeing it remaining as a leading R&D hub but also transitioning to a commercialization and manufacturing hub, says the report, having surveyed 30 industry experts.

And yet key challenges need to be overcome. An inability to find qualified talent could limit jobs, with companies already having trouble finding employees across all levels.

Almost all respondents (29 of 32) cited having difficulty finding candidates for technical positions, with both lack of applicants and skills deficiencies being cited as primary reasons,"​ notes the report.

"For technical positions, there remains concern for finding highly skilled applicants with bachelor’s and higher credentials, even as we see shifts in the future orientation of the workforces. This points to the need to maintain a focus on recruiting top candidates for positions from outside the region, or developing more candidates from regional colleges and universities, as the competition for talent increases. Until now, many of those roles were filled by recruiting from larger pharmaceutical companies, but as those companies ramp up their cell and gene therapy work, there may be less movement from those companies to CGT startups.”

Since 2019, several workforce programs have launched or expanded to provide opportunities for Greater Philadelphia-area residents in this growing field. The Wistar Institute’s pioneering apprentice program, Jefferson Institute for Bioprocessing, and the Science Center’s BULB (Building an Understanding of Lab Basics) initiative all seek to address expected workforce needs and talent gaps through skills training and certification.

Supporting growth

If Greater Philadelphia does indeed make a substantial transition to a commercialization and manufacturing hub scenario, higher growth of 75% - for example - would result in 6,300 jobs at CGT companies and CMOs by 2025, with up to 25% of those jobs being in manufacturing roles.

Lack of available talent could slow movement to this scenario. There has been a lot of growth already, but there are expectations of more growth if funding and talent barriers are mitigated. Companies like Spark Therapeutics and Discovery Labs, as well as contract manufacturers, demonstrate potential for workforce growth. However, if the region doesn’t keep up with employment needs at all levels, it may be difficult to reach those expectations.”

As the industry broadens, the workforce degree mix is expected to broaden. That could include more people without advanced degrees: but this would require more skills training.

The keys to future success then, concludes the report, is building on and expanding collaborative work training efforts to ensure the region has the talent necessary to meet increased demand in the CGT manufacturing and development industries; and continuing to promote the region as a leading center for CGT to attract talent and fund the region’s growing base of companies.

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