Building biotech Featured

7:00pm EDT February 23, 2009

The biotech revolution is widespread,with innovative technologies evolvingaround agriculture, industrial applications, marine and aquatic uses, medical andpharmaceutical applications, and advancements that cut across multiple areas of thesesciences and others. But with innovation andgrowth comes the immediate need for achanging work force.

“Employees moving from large pharmaceutical companies to small biotechnologycompanies are confronted with the need tobroaden their skill sets. One promisinggrowth area is the translational researcharea,” says Jim Horan, COO, PennsylvaniaBiotechnology Center and Institute forHepatitis and Virus Research, adjunct professor, Delaware Valley College. “A combinedregional market of 75,000 incumbent workers exists for graduate and education trainingprograms, in addition to the annual graduating class of bioscience degree recipients.”

Smart Business learned more from Horanabout a changing biotech environment.

What trends have precipitated emergingbiotechnologies?

In today’s market, some of the hottestbiotechnologies are molecular scaffolding ofsurfaces for tissue compatibility in medical/prosthesis devices, and tools for DNAand protein diagnostics that facilitate geneticpathways. A growth spurt has occurredbecause nanotechnology has evolved anddeveloped the molecular analytical tools ofresearch so that investigators can actuallysee and measure, where in the past this mayhave been inferred. For example, nanotechnology deals with products and processesthat are measured in almost unbelievablysmall increments. At the nanoscale level,materials differ from larger objects in theirphysical, chemical and biological properties,and therefore lend themselves to new andimproved materials, systems and devices.Nanotechnology is behind the developmentof such diverse advancements as drug delivery, biofiltration and separation sciences, andimproved coatings for medical devices.

Additional trends leading the growth areadvancements in micro-systems development, and a clearer understanding of biochemical mechanisms and pathways. We seean increase in discoveries developing and evolving out of academic institutions as wellas industry/entrepreneurial initiatives.

How is higher learning changing to keeppace with the evolution?

There is a need for learning institutions toexpand their curriculum, and curriculumsare growing to encourage cross-disciplines,including a more prominent role for microbiology, chemistry, physics, computational sciences, business and bio-entrepreneurship.We conducted a review of the graduatedegrees in the Pennsylvania/New Jersey areacombined with a review of work force andeducation studies since 2000 that indicatetwo possible areas of graduate degree studiesthat are emerging in the biotechnology/medical research areas and one at the executiveMBA level for industry entrepreneurs.

What graduate degree studies may emerge?

The first is the area of translationalresearch and medicine. This degree is inresponse to the need to train scientists intranslational biology and clinical science,from bench to bedside. The second is theunique area of applied biotechnology and medical laboratory techniques — a Mastersof Applied Science. There is a strong need fortraining incumbent laboratory technicians,bench scientists and clinical associates andrecent college graduates in the sciences inapplied laboratory techniques. This includesrequired laboratory certifications, techniquesand procedures. The Institute’s initialresearch failed to locate a program availablein the Philadelphia region either full time orpart time. The degree would be a combination of clinical laboratory techniques, analysis and procedures performed in microbiology, hematology, immunology, biochemistry,pharmacology and molecular procedures,and include required OSHA laboratory certifications and procedures such as ELISA,Cytoxix T, Gel Electrophoreses and others.

How will the business side be addressed?

A third degree is a unique executive MBAprogram focusing on the business expertiserequired to bring a discovery concept to successful launch as a start-up biotechnology/pharma/medical business. The programwould include the basics needed in any business including finance and capital formation,marketing, QA & QC, strategic planning, project management, written communicationsand presentation skills, etc. — but directlyfocused on industry issues. There are literally hundreds of executive MBA programs inthe entrepreneurial biotech/pharma fieldsnationally and internationally and many inthe Philadelphia region.

What should all sectors of business understand about emerging biotech opportunities?

Businesses both big and small should beaware of the impact of emerging biotechnologies on society. Translational researchhas proven to be a powerful process thatdrives the clinical research engine. However,a stronger research infrastructure couldstrengthen and accelerate this critical part ofthe clinical research enterprise. For example,if these technologies can be developed andcommercialized, they ultimately could leadto improved health care, a better quality oflife and reduced health care costs.

JAMES HORAN, MBA, CPA, is Chief Operating Officer, Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center, Institute for Hepatitis and Virus Research,and adjunct professor, LaSalle University and Delaware Valley College. Reach him at (215) 489-4902 or jim@ihvr.org.