Late last year, the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Association received a call from a search firm asking the trade group’s staff if they knew of any people with an expertise in cell culture manufacturing.
Christopher Molineaux, then a vice president at Pennsylvania Bio, knew of a group of former employees at the Johnson & Johnson global pharmaceutical supply group in Malvern who had the skills needed by Fibrocell Science Inc. in Exton, which ended up hiring several of the displaced workers.
“We probably get eight to 10 résumés a week from people looking for jobs and we also get companies coming to us looking for candidates,” said Molineaux, who took over as president of Pennsylvania Bio last month. “We are able to marry technical skills with open positions, but I wouldn’t say we do it on a regular basis.”
Over the past decade, thousands of jobs at local Big Pharma—at companies such as Merck & Co. Inc., GlaxoSmithKline, Wyeth and AstraZeneca—have disappeared due to mergers or belt tightening.
Pennsylvania Bio is one of more than a half-dozen area entities trying to help displaced Big Pharma stay in the area either by starting their own companies or going to work at one of the growing number of smaller life sciences companies throughout the region.
New Jersey has about 89,000 workers in the life sciences industry, while Pennsylvania has just under 81,000, according to a report prepared earlier this year by Battelle, a nonprofit independent research organization.
Molineaux said he wants Pennsylvania Bio to lead a more structured effort to link out-of-work scientists and researchers with biotech companies, entrepreneurs, academia, funding organizations and investors. He sees the initiative as a way to help keep skilled life sciences workers from leaving the area in search of new employment, and create new companies.
“Scientific knowledge and technology are great, but if you can’t sell your idea to an investor, you are going to be working in your garage for a long time. We want to create a process or venue through which those scientists can be formally connected with technology that is sitting on the shelves of universities or Big Pharma,” he said, noting cost pressures are forcing drug companies to narrow the therapeutic areas on which they are focusing.