BioBuzz: Hiring During a Biotech Boom: The Talent Challenges Facing Companies Across All Markets – Part 1

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Part 1: This article is the first in a new series where we will explore the impact that the booming biotech market is having on hiring and talent strategies for companies and for biotech clusters.

Life science industry growth projections for the next decade mean the battle to acquire and retain the best talent will continue in 2020 and beyond, both here in the U.S. and globally.  The many top biotech clusters across the U.S., including the BioHealth Capital Region (BHCR), will experience a new set of challenges as competition for talent becomes more fierce.

According to a recent CBRE report entitled “Markets Positioned for ‘Century of Biology’,” 2019 was a year of explosive growth for the biotech industry, fueled in part by the rapid emergence and proliferation of personalized medicine, including the burgeoning cell and gene therapy industries. The CBRE report calculates the life sciences sector is growing at its fastest pace since 2000, expanding 3.2% year-over-year

Rent for lab space in the Boston-Cambridge cluster, according to this same report, increased by double digits in 2019 and 1.9M square feet of lab space is currently under construction there. Another recent report by MassBio showed “…that the Massachusetts biopharma industry experienced the highest year-over-year employment growth in over a decade, adding over 4,300 new jobs from 2017 to 2018 for 6.4% growth.” More specifically,  the report cites that biotech research & development (R&D) employment growth was nearly 50% over the past 10 years. Additionally, New York currently has 1.5M square feet of lab space under construction; Seattle, Houston, Austin and Denver were tagged by CBRE as emerging clusters. The next decade is ripe for disruption and more explosive change and growth.

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BioBuzz: Vigene Biosciences Opens New Rockville Headquarters

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Vigene Biosciences officially opened its new, state-of-the-art 51,000 square foot cell and gene therapy manufacturing facility in Rockville, Maryland at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on January 29th.

The grand opening marked a major milestone for the company, which has grown from three employees to approximately 100 team members since launching in 2012. The $20M project has increased Vigene’s footprint to 71,000 total square feet, amplifying its capacity to serve its clients and achieve the company’s ultimate mission: Making gene therapy treatments more affordable for people and families battling cancer and genetic disorders.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony was a vibrant, joyful celebration of Vigene’s remarkable achievements. It was also a moment of real hope for families seeking better, more affordable gene and cell therapies for loved ones stricken with cancer and rare diseases.

Gina Hann, the founder of the non-profit organization Batten Hope, was Vigene Biosciences’ grand opening special guest. Her seven-year-old son, Joseph, known as JoJo, was diagnosed with a rare form of Batten disease at age five. Batten disease is a terminal, genetic, neural-degenerative disease. Hann spoke to the rapt crowd about her family’s experiences and her son’s courageous battle with Batten disease.

“I want everyone in this building to understand why the work that you are doing is so, so important. This is a great day for the rare disease community, and in case you’re wondering who this community is I want to give you a sense of it: one in ten. Look around this room and how many people are here. One in ten are impacted directly by rare disease,” stated Hann.

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So, You Want to Join a Life Science Startup?

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Why You Should Consider Workplace Culture Before Taking the Leap

The startup mythology has its origins in the tales of geniuses like Walt Disney, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos’ going from small California garages to world domination. And the startup mystique became part of popular culture with Silicon Valley companies like Google and others creating workplace cultures where employees skateboarded down hallways, enjoyed yoga and meditation sessions onsite, and blew off steam with breaks at the company-provided vintage arcade and craft coffee bar.

These startup stereotypes bely a stark reality, however: Most startups are risky and operate on tighter budgets until they survive long enough to mature and raise ample funding.

If you get in at the right inflection point, the spoils of joining a startup can be life-changing. Regardless, leaving an established life science company for a bioscience startup is a tough decision defined by the high-risk, high-reward nature of these fledgling companies fighting to win funding and bring its product to the market.

For those in the early stages of their life science career, joining a bioscience startup could be a no brainer—there’s likely a lot less risk and so much more to gain. For the less experienced, stock options are not the only potential windfall; startup culture will likely furnish development opportunities to less-experienced workers not readily available to them in larger, established biotech or big pharma organizations.

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AMPEL BioSolutions Announces Gene-Based Lupus Diagnostic At Biotech Showcase In San Francisco

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SAN FRANCISCOJan. 17, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — AMPEL BioSolutions’ Co-Founder and COO/CSO Dr. Amrie Grammer today at the Biotech Showcase at JP Morgan Healthcare announces the kickoff of a Series A $12.5M raise to commercialize LuGENETM, a gene-based diagnostic.  AMPEL’s initial focus is Lupus, but the test can be used for many autoimmune or inflammatory diseases.  AMPEL’S goal is to have its test available for routine use by physicians within the next few years.

LuGENETM is a breakthrough in precision and personalized medicine that could revolutionize the way doctors treat chronic diseases, like Lupus.  The lab test, only a concept for the last few years, is now ready for commercialization for practical decision support for precise drug treatment based on a patient’s genes.  LuGENETM will transform the way doctors treat chronic diseases by using the information gathered by the lab test and analyzed by machine learning to predict a flare and treat it before it even begins, saving patients from pain and inconvenience of a disease that otherwise drastically affects their lives.

“Predicting lupus disease flares, allowing initiation or modification of disease-modifying therapies, should have an important impact on patient health,” stated Mary K. Crow, MD the Physician-in-Chief, Hospital for Special Surgery, Weill Cornell Medical Center and Former President American College of Rheumatology. “LuGENE seems to be an important step in that direction.  Application of knowledge of molecular mechanisms to aid in patient management is the future of lupus care and will benefit patients and improve outcomes.”

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Novavax Granted Fast Track Designation for NanoFlu in Older Adults

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GAITHERSBURG, Md., Jan. 15, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Novavax, Inc. (NASDAQ: NVAX), a late-stage biotechnology company developing next-generation vaccines for serious infectious diseases, today announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Fast Track Designation for NanoFlu™, its recombinant quadrivalent seasonal influenza vaccine candidate, adjuvanted with Matrix-M™, in adults 65 years of age and older.

“The FDA’s decision to grant Fast Track Designation for NanoFlu reflects the urgent unmet medical need for a more effective vaccine against influenza, particularly in the older adult population which often experiences serious and sometimes life-threatening complications, of the disease” said Stanley C. Erck, President and Chief Executive Officer of Novavax. “We believe that NanoFlu will offer an innovative improvement compared to traditional egg-based vaccines, which frequently result in mismatch and poor effectiveness. We look forward to working closely with the FDA through the expedited review process, accelerating the access to this vaccine for the most vulnerable populations.”

The ongoing Phase 3 clinical trial is intended to evaluate the immunogenicity and safety of NanoFlu compared to the quadrivalent formulation of Fluzone. The trial’s primary objectives are to demonstrate non-inferior immunogenicity as measured by hemagglutination inhibition (HAI) titers of vaccine homologous influenza strains compared to Fluzone, and to describe its safety profile. Top-line clinical data from the trial is expected by the end of the first quarter of 2020 and could support a U.S. biologics license application (BLA) and future licensure of NanoFlu using the FDA’s accelerated approval pathway.

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New Decade, Old Challenge: BioManufacturing Workforce Development Remains Key to Industry Growth

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The BioHealth Capital Region (BHCR) experienced significant change in 2019 that has set the table for an intriguing 2020.

How 2020 plays out across the region is unknown.

However, if you’ve followed BioBuzz throughout the past year, it is abundantly clear that workforce development strategy, investment, and support will be a critical issue for the next decade in the BHCR. In addition to change and growth across more traditional life science sectors, the ascension of personalized medicine within the region, which includes a host of new and growing regenerative medicine, cell therapy, and gene therapy companies, has transformed the region’s workforce needs.

How the region develops its workforce to support traditional life science growth and adjusts—or, for that matter, does not—to the accelerating growth in the cell and gene therapy sector is a big unknown and an even bigger, ongoing challenge. Developing talent for the emerging cell and gene therapy industry is just one piece of the region’s workforce development puzzle, albeit a crucial one.

A cohesive, well-funded workforce development strategy that brings together industry, government, academia and various life science support organizations is essential to retain and attract the talent needed to keep the BHCR healthy and growing. The region has made real progress in talent development; the BHCR has one of the deepest, most skilled and highly educated workforces in the world. However, as science and technology advances, biohealth clusters like the BHCR need to be agile enough to stay ahead of the innovation curve.

Workforce challenges remain to be overcome, including balancing collaboration with competition for talent, expanding the talent pipeline and securing the funding required to support essential workforce development programs across the BHCR.

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6 People in the BioHealth Capital Region You Should Know In 2020

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2019 was a year of change for many BioHealth Capital Region organizations. The past year has seen a host of notable leadership transitions that are sure to have an impact in the region.

The Maryland Department of Commerce said goodbye to Secretary Mike Gill and welcomed Secretary Kelly Schultz; the Office of Bio and Life Sciences saw turnover as well. TEDCO’s President John Wasilisin resigned early in the year and CEO George Davis left in June. David Peter departed from MCEDC.  Jarrod Borkat, who had spearheaded the BioHealth Capital Region strategy for more than five years departed in 2018, and even MedImmune itself, the proverbial anchor biotech for the region, disappeared this year after finally being absorbed by AstraZeneca.

Change is inevitable and is often a creative force that generates an opportunity for new leaders to emerge and drive new levels of influence and innovation.

So, who are these emerging leaders in BHCR?

We’ve identified five new faces that we believe will play prominent roles that will influence and shape the future of the BHCR.

Click here to read more via BioBuzz.

Emergent BioSolutions Receives EMA Agreement for Proposed Development Path of Investigational Chikungunya VLP Vaccine Candidate

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GAITHERSBURG, Md., Jan. 13, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Emergent BioSolutions Inc. (NYSE:EBS) announced that it has received agreement from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to pursue its proposed development plan for its chikungunya virus virus-like particle (CHIKV VLP) vaccine candidate. The company has proposed conducting a safety and immunogenicity Phase 3 trial using Serum Neutralizing Antibodies (SNA) as an immune correlate of protection to predict clinical benefit of the vaccine candidate.

“Emergent is encouraged by the concurrence we have received from EMA in paving the path for chikungunya vaccine development based on SNA as the surrogate endpoint,” said Abbey Jenkins, senior vice president and vaccines business unit head at Emergent BioSolutions. “As a leading provider of travel health vaccines, Emergent seeks to address the threat posed by this highly debilitating virus by defining a realistic and optimal path to bring to market a much-needed chikungunya vaccine that could potentially serve patients worldwide. We look forward to continuing to work with regulators, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with whom we had our End-of-Phase 2 meeting last December, as we plan to initiate a pivotal Phase 3 trial this year and define the approach for a post-approval confirmatory efficacy trial.”

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QIAGEN celebrates surpassing 2,500 cumulative placements of QIAsymphony

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Hilden, Germany, and Germantown, Maryland, January 9, 2020 – QIAGEN N.V. (NYSE: QGEN; Frankfurt Prime Standard: QIA) today announced the 2,500th placement of QIAsymphony, the leading Sample to Insight workflow automation solution for molecular laboratories worldwide, in Tübingen, Germany.

Cenata GmbH is a medically led genetic diagnostic laboratory offering prenatal testing, and repeat customer of the QIAsymphony, purchasing this milestone QIAsymphony SP as the third unit in their lab, expanding capabilities for circulating DNA purification and other applications.

“The QIAsymphony in our lab is in near-constant use,” explains Dr. Karina Häbig, Scientific Coordinator of Cenata GmbH in Germany. “For our non-invasive prenatal testing applications, especially the Harmony® Test, it gives us consistent results with automation while lowering our hands-on time and ensuring quality.”

“2,500 cumulative QIAsymphony placements represent a great milestone for QIAGEN and are proof-point for a new era in laboratory automation that began in 2008. Today, QIAsymphony is considered a trusted workhorse in molecular testing labs worldwide whose continuous enhancements and ongoing menu expansion enabled numerous breakthroughs in science and helped diagnostic decision making to improve outcomes for over a million patients,” said Thierry Bernard, Interim CEO of QIAGEN and Senior Vice President, Head of the Molecular Diagnostics Business Area “And the remarkable success story is not over yet. Building on the established market leading position for QIAsymphony, we are further expanding the system’s capabilities. The new QIAsymphony PowerFecal Kits add to the growing number of applications that cover different sample types and testing technologies – from liquid biopsies to tissue samples, from PCR to NGS.”

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Adaptive Phage Therapeutics Awarded Initial Contract with Department of Defense

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GAITHERSBURG, Md.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Adaptive Phage Therapeutics (APT), a clinical-stage biotechnology company founded to provide an effective therapeutic response to the global rise of multi-drug resistant (MDR) pathogenic bacteria, today announced the Department of Defense (DoD) has awarded APT a contract of $10.2 million for the development of PhageBankTM a personalized bacteriophage therapeutic for the treatment of bacterial infections. The award is designated to conduct a clinical trial, with the goal of making PhageBank phage therapy available to treat multidrug-resistant (MDR) and complicated infections.

“This is a promising step toward making phage therapy available to military and potentially non-military patients alike as a rapid and cost-effective option for multi-drug resistant bacterial infections. Building on the US military’s impressive history in antimicrobial research, including the advanced development of penicillin prior to the Second World War, APT’s PhageBank is now the first phage-based therapy to be selected by the Department of Defense for advanced development,” said Greg Merril, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of APT. “APT’s proprietary technologies enable the rapid administration of phage therapy as a precise treatment tailored to a patient’s individual infection. Our dynamic, adaptive approach translates to a therapeutic option that potentially will target a broadening spectrum of bacteria over time.”

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