While COVID-19 led to 22 million jobs lost last year, of which about 18 million had been recovered as of September 2021, the life sciences workforce grew in 2020 to all-time highs in the states with the nation’s two largest biopharma clusters, according to recently published data by industry groups in Massachusetts and California.

Massachusetts, the home of the nation’s leading cluster as ranked by GEN—centered in Boston and Cambridge, MA—saw its biophama workforce grow in 2020 by 5% or 4,324 jobs, with a 3.7% increase in biomanufacturing jobs coming on top of a 9.3% jump in the Bay State’s traditional strength of R&D employment, life sciences group Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio) reported.

While the job gain may seem modest, the life sciences are an oasis in an arid job market. Massachusetts lost some 335,400 jobs in 2020, of which less than half appear to have returned. The state has gained 147,200 jobs since December through September 2020, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures released last month by Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.

Massachusetts’ biopharma industry, however, saw its overall workforce grow last year to 84,296 jobs from 79,972 in 2019, MassBio revealed in its 2021 Industry Snapshot, produced in partnership with Evaluate®.

The hiring surge reflected in part the scramble by institutions and businesses to research and develop COVID-19 vaccines and drugs—reflected in the more than 300 entries in GEN’s COVID-19 DRUG & VACCINE CANDIDATE TRACKER.

Ben Bradford, MassBio’s Vice President of Membership and Economic Development

“COVID has played a role in that, certainly,” Ben Bradford, MassBio’s Vice President of Membership and Economic Development, told GEN Edge. “Those were jobs that primarily can’t be done from home, so they were never had to downsize throughout the pandemic, like other industries. And probably some individuals from other industries ended up finding new roles within the life sciences, which could explain some growth.

A second reason for the job growth, Bradford said, was the record amount of financing received by early-stage life-sci companies—$5.8 billion in 2020, followed by $4.3 billion in the first quarter of 2021 alone, which surpassed the third-highest year on record (2017, when $3.1 billion was reported).

“Those investors want to put their money to work and the best way to put the money to work is to hire more people,” Bradford added. “I think that those two things [VC financings and COVID] certainly played a role in the growth of the industry over the last year or so.”

Seeing double

In Massachusetts, the company appearing to benefit most from COVID-19 is Cambridge, MA-based Moderna. Its workforce has more than doubled over the past year, from 830 to 1,500 as of March 31 this year, according to the company—and to 1,758, according to MassBio’s report. That growth has catapulted Moderna into the state’s seventh-largest biopharma industry employer, from 15th a year earlier.

Moderna last month announced plans to build a new 462,000-square-foot Moderna Science Center in Cambridge, MA, within the Alexandria Center® at One Kendall Square campus (325 Binney Street), set for completion in 2023. [Moderna]
Moderna’s workforce is expected to grow even more. On September 30, the company said it would build a new 462,000-square-foot Moderna Science Center in Cambridge, MA, within the Alexandria Center® at One Kendall Square campus (325 Binney Street), set for completion in 2023.

And in suburban Norwood, MA, the company is adding 155 employees to its manufacturing site, in return for $2.3 million in tax incentives from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center. (The quasi-public agency oversees the Massachusetts Life Sciences Initiative, through which the state has committed up to $623 million in bond authorization and tax credits from 2018–2023 in education, research and development, and workforce training.)

The Center was launched in 2006 under then-governor Mitt Romney (R) and expanded the following year by his successor Deval Patrick (D) to oversee the Initiative, initially a 10-year, $1 billion bond and tax credit program that ended in 2018. Patrick’s successor, current Gov. Charlie Baker (R), oversaw the Initiative’s five-year renewal.

“We’re lucky there has been bipartisan support for the life sciences industry,” Bradford said. “We look forward to continuing to work with the executive branch and making sure that Massachusetts remains the best place in the country for the life sciences.”

According to MassBio, Takeda Pharmaceutical remains Massachusetts’ largest biopharma employer with 6,750—up 37% from 4,927 last year, reflecting the relocation of its U.S. headquarters to Cambridge, MA, from Deerfield, IL, after acquiring Shire for $62.7 billion in January 2019.

Sanofi remained second among biopharma employers, though its workforce shrank by 200 from 4,200 staffers as reported in MassBio’s 2020 Industry Snapshot. Biogen placed third with 2,800, up 354 jobs from last year; while Novartis remained fourth with 2,500 jobs, up 100; and Vertex climbed to fifth, up 543 staff, overtaking Pfizer even though it added 150 jobs, rising to 2,250.

MassBio’s figures for the state’s largest biopharma employers come from membership reports and surveys, as well as the Boston Business Journal’s Book of Lists 2021.

In recent months, two newly public companies disclosed plans to expand in Boston: Centessa Pharmaceuticals, an umbrella for 10 single-asset drug development companies, opened an office in the city while fast-growing data-driven medicine platform developer SOPHiA Genetics will expand to 14,000 square feet at 185 Dartmouth St. near Copley Square.

In June, developer DivcoWest broke ground at 441 Morgan Avenue, a ten-story, 375,000 square-foot life science building, at Cambridge Crossing (CX), a 43-acre mixed-use neighborhood rising in portions of Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston.

Golden state growth

In California, life sciences employment grew 0.5% from a year earlier to 488,665 direct jobs, no mean feat in a state where total employment dropped by 7.4%, according to the statewide life sciences group Biocom California.

Biocom California’s 2021 Economic Impact Report showed that the life sciences industry was responsible for a total 1.38 million jobs across the Golden State when indirect multiplier effects were accounted for, such as the supply chains serving life sciences companies and consumer spending.

Joseph Panetta, Biocom California’s President and CEO

“Our companies, because they were deemed to be an essential industry, were able to keep their people doing the research, and keep the funding coming in to keep on manufacturing and keep on hiring,” Joseph Panetta, Biocom California’s President and CEO, told GEN Edge.

As in Massachusetts, the increased hiring was fueled in part by a surge in venture capital—more than 60% in 2020, rising to a record $15.237 billion statewide from $8.752 billion in 2019.

“What it shows is that because the industry is able to show its progress in areas of research, such as the development of mRNA vaccines and diagnostics and therapies like [Foster City, CA-based Gilead Sciences’ COVID-19 drug] remdesivir, that there’s a lot of promise in investing in the industry and the fact that the industry was able to continue to keep doing its work,” Panetta added. “The venture capital community had that assurance that the investment it was making was going to go directly to companies continuing to be able to do their research and their hiring.”

COVID-19 was among the challenges Panetta discussed with GEN Edge last year. Another was the future of California’s stem cell agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). California’s life-sci industry survived a challenge in November when state voters barely (51–49%) approved Proposition 14, The California Stem Cell Research, Treatments, and Cures Initiative of 2020, which authorizes $5.5 billion in general obligation bond funding for CIRM.

Opponents argued that the new authorization will actually cost state taxpayers $7.8 billion once interest was figured in, and cited the Legislative Analyst Office (LAO)’s estimate that the new bond measure will add at least another $310 million a year to the $327 million in repayments to the general fund that the state must make for issuing the original $3 billion bond that passed in 2004—funds unavailable for other state needs.

Panetta, a member of CIRM’s governing board, the Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee, contended that CIRM has made significant progress in regenerative medicine, having supported 16 treatment candidate that advanced into the clinic over 17 years.

“It’s remarkable: $3 billion in investment for 15 products in the clinic,” Panetta said. “The expectation that was created with the original proposition was that we would actually have therapies on the market, that we would be curing things such as neurodegenerative disease and diabetes. That expectation was, I think, a little bit over-inflated. These things take time; they don’t happen overnight.”

23% hiring surge

California’s life sciences employment growth was paced by a 23% year-over-year surge of biopharma hiring in the San Francisco Bay Area, the No. 2 U.S. biopharma cluster in GEN’s rankings.

Senti Biosciences of South San Francisco, CA, agreed to lease a site in Alameda, CA, for a 92,000-square-foot cell therapy manufacturing facility. Senti plans to provide clinical and commercial-scale manufacturing for multiple allogeneic, or “off-the-shelf”, chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) natural killer (NK) cell product candidates. [Senti Biosciences]
According to Biocom California’s 2021 California Economic Impact Report, the life sciences workforce of the Bay Area’s nine counties swelled to 178,958 from 145,235 the previous year—compared with 187,152 jobs in the Los Angeles region that included its namesake Los Angeles County and four neighboring counties, a 4% increase from 2019. The San Diego region grew 6.4% year-over-year, to 72,403.

While professionals continue to be drawn by the Bay Area’s critical mass of companies and institutions, Panetta said, the region is also growing as activity expands into suburbs beyond South San Francisco, which calls itself “the Birthplace of Biotechnology” thanks to heritage anchors like Genentech, whose campus expansion plan won local approval last year.

In recent months, within the San Francisco Bay Area:

  • Agenus purchased 120-acres in Vacaville’s California Biomanufacturing Center from housing developer A.G. Spanos—a milestone in that city’s plans to position itself as a global center for biomanufacturing.
  • Sana Biotechnology announced plans in July to build a 163,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Fremont, CA. Sana plans to produce T cell therapies, human stem cells, and viral DNA to engineer cells there.
  • Senti Biosciences of South San Francisco agreed to lease a site in Alameda, CA, for a 92,000-square-foot cell therapy manufacturing facility. Senti plans to provide clinical and commercial-scale manufacturing for multiple allogeneic, or “off-the-shelf”, chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) natural killer cell product candidates.

“We’re seeing growth in places like Emeryville, and Berkeley, and Fremont and Hayward,” Panetta said. “We’re seeing this expansion throughout the bay area and Biocom California is seeing that in terms of our membership growth. We’re seeing much greater membership growth in the Bay Area than we are experiencing in San Diego or in Los Angeles, because there’s this critical mass, and the proliferation of industry growth across the whole geography up there.”

AI “superstar”

One reason for the Bay Area’s life-sci growth, Panetta added, is the industry’s expansion beyond drug development, driven by companies specializing in artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, and genomics. The San Francisco area was recently named the sole “superstar” region of 360+ regions ranked by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program for their core AI assets and capabilities.

The San Diego and Los Angeles regions were also cited by Brookings as “early adopters” of AI tech. Most recently, San Diego-based Cue Health on October 6 said it was partnering with Google Cloud to add real-time respiratory viral variant sequencing, tracking, and predictive capabilities to its Cue Integrated Care Platform; the value of the collaboration was not disclosed.

In addition to its new niche in AI and its heritage specialty in biopharma R&D, San Diego has long concentrated on genomics thanks to anchors that include University of California, San Diego; the Salk and Scripps institutes; and sequencing giant Illumina.

“It used to be that the two strong companies, Illumina and Thermo Fisher, were the sequencing companies in San Diego, and certainly they are the giants, but we’re beginning to see a lot of other companies are rising with different types of sequencing technologies here too,” Panetta said.

San Diego-based Element Biosciences, for example, completed a $276 million Series C financing in June, bringing its total capital raised to approximately $400 million. Founded in 2017, Element is developing its first product—a modular DNA sequencing platform that it promises will “make next-generation sequencing technology more accessible”—one among many “high quality, low cost, easy-to-use” genomics tools the company aims to bring to market.

Cancer fighters

Building on oncology research anchors such as Cedars Sinai Medical Center, USC, and UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, the Los Angeles region has attracted an emerging hub of cancer therapy developers. The region’s largest biopharma, Amgen, has about 2,000 employees based at its Thousand Oaks, CA, headquarters, while Kite, a Gilead Company, has 1,400 employees in the region, including a headquarters in Santa Monica, CA, and a cell therapy manufacturing site in El Segundo, CA.

Over the summer, Amsterdam-based cancer drug developer Neogene announced plans to create a U.S. headquarters in Santa Monica, where it agreed to lease 38,000 square feet in two buildings. Also, Xencor, which focuses on autoimmune disease as well as cancer, said it will relocate from San Diego to East Pasadena, CA, where it will lease approximately 148,000 square feet at the 240,904 square-foot 465 North Halstead office campus.

Regional industry group BioscienceLA is hosting its inaugural LABioTechWeek Oct. 13–16, 2021, with the goal of introducing a broader audience to life science and biotech initiatives in the greater LA region—such as BioscienceLA’s new 20,000-square-foot collaboration hub within a former LA County courthouse in Culver City, CA, which formally opened this week.

The LA regional increase reflected the addition of a fifth county, Santa Barbara, to LA, Orange, Riverside, and Ventura counties this year. That change was among several implemented following a change of consultants: the Fermanian Business & Economic Institute at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego completed this year’s Biocom California report, while Texas-based T. Clower & Associates prepared the 2020 report.

Another methodology change re-grouped the life sci segments measured by the report. Biocom California now categorizes life sciences jobs as being in any of six sub-sectors. Research and manufacturing account for a plurality of jobs (42% or 205,762 jobs), followed by medical device manufacturing (includes diagnostics; 22% or 106,022 jobs); Biopharmaceuticals (16% or 77,433 jobs); “biotechnology” (15% or 71,467 jobs); Scientific/Research Tools (5% or 26,988 jobs); and Food and Ag Biotechnology (0.2% or 993 jobs).

Last year’s report listed five categories totaling 481,888 jobs: Research & Lab Services (53% or 254,539 jobs); Medical Devices and Diagnostic Equipment (19% or 89,731 jobs); Life Sciences Wholesale (12% or 59,517 jobs); Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing (10% or 47,415 jobs); and BioRenewables (6% or 30,686).

Also new this year is a proprietary “Biocom California Index” designed to track how California’s life science sector is performing over time, based on a weighted average of eight metrics:

  • Number and dollar value of NIH grants.
  • Number and dollar value of National Science Foundation grants
  • Number of patent grants
  • Number of payroll jobs
  • Number of establishments
  • Amount of venture capital raised

Those criteria are mostly similar to the five used by GEN in ranking the nation’s top biopharma regional clusters: Amount of NIH funding, amount of venture capital funding, number of “biotechnology” patents awarded since 1976; inventory of lab space (square feet); and number of jobs.

Biocom California’s Index begins at a base value of 100 in 2000, and rose by 19.6% in 2020 to reach an all-time high of 298—a tripling of life-sci activity across California, representing a compound annual average growth rate of 5.6%, according to the industry group.