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Pennsylvania Life Science Industry: A Soaring Future

Corporate, higher ed and startup synergy creates a thriving life science and health scene throughout the state.

By Val Hunt Beerbower on July 8, 2022

Research taking place at Pennsylvania’s universities and private-sector companies has made the state a life science leader.
Bayer Health

With more than 2,300 companies supporting the life science industry in Pennsylvania – from pharmaceuticals and medical devices to animal health, diagnostics, and research and testing – the state is well positioned to push bio-innovation to new heights.

Companies such as Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp., Quest Diagnostics, Aventis Pasteur, Bayer HealthCare and AlphaLab Health are just a few of the big names supporting this industry.

The state has a highly developed cell and gene therapy network of 30-plus companies in the Philadelphia area alone that has raised more than $1 billion in investment capital and created more than 3,000 jobs.

Research taking place at Pennsylvania’s universities and private-sector companies has made the state a life science leader.
Christa Neu

Talent + Research Heft

What makes Pennsylvania such an attractive location for these companies? Megan Shaw, managing director of life sciences at Innovation Works and AlphaLab Health, boils it down to three main factors: world-class education and research, density of health care systems and insurers, and a thriving talent pipeline.

Those factors not only sustain the life science industry, but keep it growing.

“The world-recognized higher ed programs of Carnegie Mellon, University of Pittsburgh and other institutions, plus the talent they produce in terms of faculty and students, mean that government and private capital are targeting Pittsburgh to support groundbreaking ideas,” Shaw says.

“We are really in a ‘Goldilocks’ phase for talent in this region.”

Megan Shaw, Innovation Works and AlphaLab Health

“More and more in the worlds of advanced computing technology, (artificial intelligence) and robotics, and life science – the real sweet spots for Western PA innovation leadership – are collaborating and connecting. We see that in the companies that come through our accelerator.”

One such example of this collaboration among existing organizations and emerging, multidisciplinary research is the relatively new software company, MindTrace. Launched in 2020, this platform utilizes AI/machine learning to integrate multiple sources of neuroimaging and behavioral information.

Clinicians use this data to plan neurosurgery more effectively in support of the best postoperative quality-of-life for the patient.

Finding Synergies

MindTrace’s incubation in this unique life science ecosystem is precisely the reason why it has enjoyed all its success to date.

“The first dilutive capital into MindTrace came from Innovation Works and Allegheny Health Network via the AlphaLab Health accelerator program,” says CEO Max Sims. “This opportunity is helping us refine MindTrace’s value proposition and business model to allow this technology to come into the market in a sustainable way.”

Support services also thrive in Pennsylvania’s economy. Quest Diagnostics has been growing its presence in the state since 1999 after acquiring SmithKline Beecham Clinical Laboratories.

“We now have more than 2,200 employees across Pennsylvania, including a corporate hub in Collegeville, a Rapid Response Lab in Norristown, and a Patient Service Center, accessioning lab and logistics hub in Bethlehem,” says Geoff Albrecht, Northeast commercial regional vice president for Quest Diagnostics. “That’s in addition to the 144 patient service centers available for patients to get the testing they need, when they need it.”

Apogee Biotechnology Corp. is another example, developing new drugs for diseases such as cancer and inflammatory illnesses. Located at the Hershey Center for Applied Research, the company is in the midst of clinical trials for a new drug that treats severe COVID-19.

Attracting New Investments in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania continues to attract life science investment. Iovance Biotherapeutics has opened a new location at the Philadelphia Navy Yard with potential to manufacture novel cell therapies for thousands of cancer patients annually.

Efforts to attract new talent while retaining higher-ed graduates is paying off. Shaw says many of the world’s largest tech companies have operations in Pittsburgh, and several large corporations have their headquarters in the region.

Expansion = Jobs

Express Med Pharmaceuticals has announced an $8 million expansion near Pittsburgh where it will create nearly 700 full-time jobs.

“Having potential clients and acquirers for innovation companies right here in Pennsylvania helps companies test and refine their ideas,” she says. “We are also doing more and more to advance homegrown talent and make sure the communities who have called Pennsylvania home through the tough times also benefit from the economic renaissance.”

She also notes the wave of innovators, entrepreneurs and other talented individuals who have returned to the state or come there for the first time from across the globe.

“It’s D.C., Dubai, the Bay area, Beijing, New York, New Delhi,” she says. “And they stay because they can follow their career ambitions while maintaining a better cost of living and pace of life.”

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