National Science Foundation Awards MCCC Grant for Cell and Gene Therapy Workforce Development

Christine Tarlecki
Professor Dr. Margaret Bryan science grant
Image via Montgomery County Community College.
Biotechnology Associate Professor Dr. Margaret Bryans wrote the application that led to a grant from the National Science Foundation.
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The NSF has awarded a $573,347 grant to Montgomery County Community College to support MCCC’s efforts to build Southeastern Pennsylvania’s advanced technical workforce for the cell and gene therapy industry.

The rapidly growing industry of cell and gene therapy holds great promise in the treatment of diseases such as cancer and inherited genetic disorders.

Unlike chemical drugs or biopharmaceuticals like insulin, which are delivered into the body to combat illnesses, gene and cell therapies are the next generation of medical research and practice in that they focus on modifying a patient’s own cells or genes to help the body combat a disease on its own.

Pharmaceutical companies, including giants like Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, have expressed a need for trained and motivated staff in gene and cell therapies from many disciplines. These include bioscience, chemistry, and engineering, all working together to make these medicines a reality.

There’s hundreds of thousands of patients who could potentially benefit. With the increased approval of these types of therapies in recent years, there will be an increasing demand for professionals for these companies.

Biotechnology Associate Professor Dr. Margaret Bryans, who wrote the NSF grant application, is the grant’s principal investigator and Dr. James Bretz, Dean of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is the co-principal investigator. Bryans explained the Philadelphia region has quickly become a hub for cell and gene therapy.

“It has been referred to as ‘Cellicon Valley’ because of the growth of these companies in the Philadelphia region,” said Dr. Bryans. “There are about 30 companies developing cell or gene therapies as well as numerous contract manufacturing organizations, contract research organizations and big pharma companies also working on these advanced therapies.

Bryans states the importance of training the workforce needed to meet the growing demand to ensure companies will continue to invest in the Philadelphia region.

“There are over 1,000 cell and gene therapy products in clinical trials worldwide,” she said, “with the potential for the field to grow exponentially. There’s going to be a shortage of skilled technicians to develop, manufacture and test these products.”

“This grant is designed to provide trained technicians with the involvement of industry partners,” said Bretz. “It’s built off of Dr. Bryans’ great work on previous grants and programs at the college.”

The NSF grant will help the College accomplish three goals: to develop new curriculum for an associate’s degree program and a new certificate in advanced therapies; facilitate other regional colleges and institutions to develop and offer their own cell and gene therapy courses and programs; and begin to engage high school students to consider a career in the field of cell and gene therapy through summer programming at MCCC, said Bryans.

MCCC currently offers two Biotechnology programs of study, a two year Associate in Applied Science degree in Biotechnology and a one year Certificate in Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing designed for degree-holding students who wish to acquire the lab skills and knowledge needed to enter the biotechnology workforce.

MCCC President Dr. Victoria L. Bastecki-Perez applauded Bryans and Bretz’s efforts.

“Dr. Bryans’ work is transformational for our students,” she said. “Being in the company of schools like the University of Pennsylvania, leading research and development in this field, and training our students for living-wage jobs is extraordinary. I am immensely proud of our collective work to ensure a brighter future for all.”

Dr. Bryans is no stranger to the grant process. She has been the recipient of several grants from the National Science Foundation.

At MCCC, Bryans has developed open-source curriculum and training workshops for community college instructors, as well as summer workshops for area high school teachers and programs for students to introduce them to careers in biomanufacturing.

Read more about Biotechnology Associate Professor Dr. Margaret Bryans at MCCC.