Two decades ago, a group of Delaware educators, businessmen and politicians founded a biosciences institute to help the state push into that sector of the economy.
Gov. John Carney told the 300 people who packed the first Delaware DNA Life Science Conference Thursday that he could draw a line directly from that day to drug company WuXi STA’s announcement last year that it will build a 90-acre plant in Middletown.
The plant is expected to open in 2025 and employ 500 people full-time within a year.
Biosciences have helped diversify Delaware’s economy, “driving job growth and economic development in our state, and nothing is more important than that,” Carney said.
Helping to grow the state’s bioscience sector was one goal of the Delaware DNA conference sponsored by the Delaware BioSciences Association. It also offered networking, with the hope of leading to more collaborations, along with breakout sessions on financing, manufacturing workforce and more.
Delaware DNA issues
Among the points made:
- While Delaware alone has many things going for it already, it’s actually considered part of the Pennsylvania region, and many from Philly were in attendance.
- Even so, the greater New York New Jersey region is considered the No. 1 regional ecosystem dealing with life sciences in the country. No. 2 is the greater Chicago area. No. 3 is the greater Philly area, including New Castle County.
- The industry itself needs to push for more government money to improve infrastructure and train more workers. Right now the state of Kentucky ranks No. 3 on the list of states that put money toward bioscience, behind Massachusetts and California. Delaware and Pennsylvania are much further down the list.
- The industry can no longer simply scour educational institutions for ideas to grow; it must look other places, too.
- To best succeed, Delaware’s biosciences need diversity. Entrepreneurs are coming from different backgrounds and experiences to drive the sector forward.
- In recent years, capital investment companies have slowed down investment in bioscience and drug companies, with many offering smaller percentages of investment, compared to the years leading up to 2021. In 2022, about $22 billion of new capital investment went into life sciences.
- The life sciences sector gets a pretty steady share of capital investment, but it’s not immune to market presssures, such as overevaluation as a result of incredible growth, which is then painful to adjust and pushes investors to seek more validation before writing a check.
- In 2010, 50 million people used the top 20 drugs in the country. In 2020, the top 20 drugs were used by 8 million. That represents a shift from medicines that serve a broad number of people to medicines that target smaller, more specific groups such as heart, cancer or those with rare dieseases.
- Segments of the market that are drawing investment interest include drugs dealing with obesity; with inflammation, which is an issue in many illnesses; with the underpinnings of immunology problems; with Alzheimer’s and dementia issues; with genetics; and with specific rare diseases.
- Pharma manufacturing jobs get a bad rap because people don’t see them as the “clean, cool and quiet” jobs they are.
RELATED STORY: Bioscience leaders brief legislators on growth of sector
- Life sciences in the country employed 2.1 million individuals across 127,000 business establishments and generated $3 trillion in economic impact. The biopharma subsector employs about 345,000 people in 6,000 companies that offer an average salary of $126,000 per year for the average employee. That 85% higher than the average in the private sector.
- Biopharmaceuticals helped increase U.S. life expectancy 35% from 1990 to 2015, adding 3.3 years from an average of 75.4 years to 78.7 years. That included adding in deaths from ischemic heart disease, HIV AIDS and malignant cancers.
- Biopharma manufacturing job growth has been up about 12.5%, while employment for other manufacturing fell about 1.7% nationally across all sectors.
- The industry has been hit with a tsunami of worker problems: Many experienced workers quit in recent years; women who left during the COVID pandemic are not returning to work, creating a gender imbalance; hiring a diverse workforce can be difficult because of a lack of readiness; and young people don’t want to spend 45 years at one company. “It seems like after six months, they’re looking for a job,” said Shamus Whyte, executive director and general manager at AstraZeneca. “Fair play. I mean, we have to adapt to that. Industry needs to recognize and adjust to that.”
- Delaware must focus on growing and retaining the biosciences workforce. It needs to do that both through the companies themselves, but also through creating programs that train and educate people who want to work in the industry. Many state, education and industry programs collaborate to do that, and all would like to see more of them.
- People who work together in the industry need the ability to be able to gather together in one person at least some time. Conversations in person among the team are critical for solving problems and move forward.
- Those groups don’t need to be huge. “Complexity is the enemy in terms of getting science done,” said Daniel Rush, senior vice president of Waters Corp., which makes laboratory equipment.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience.
Share this Post