Individualized Medicine Creates Job Opportunities

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Submitted by Todd Smith on Thu January 03, 2019.

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BETA (Biomedical Emerging Technology Applications) Skills

This past November (2018) I attended the national advisory council meeting for BETA (Biomedical Emerging Technology Applications) Skills. The BETA Skills project, hosted by the National Center for the Biotechnology Workforce and funded by the ATE (Advanced Technological Education) program at NSF (National Science Foundation) is a three-year endeavor to define biotechnology skills for national use by educators, industry, researchers, and employers, with a focus on the technical skills that are needed to support emerging medical device and tissue engineering manufacturing [1]. Digital World Biology is collaborating in the project to enhance its Biotech-Careers.org website for summarizing the industry and presenting related career opportunities. 

The motivation behind the BETA Skills project is based on the fact that personalized medicine is changing biomedical manufacturing in a fundamental way. Traditionally, biotechnology and pharmaceutical therapeutics, and devices, are produced in a large-batch manufacturing processes. In these processes, a single product is produced for large numbers of people in a one-size-fits-all model.  The new manufacturing processes replace this large-batch format with individualized formats with each batch being tailored to a single person. Two specific examples include: 1) Immunotherapies, such as CAR-T, where a patient’s own T-Cells are isolated, genetically engineered, and reintroduced into their bodies to fight their own cancer, and 2) Tissue engineering where a person’s healthy skin or other cells are isolated and grown to replace injured or diseased tissues (see Atala below).  

BETA Skills are being developed by the National Center for the Biotechnology Workforce and collaborators

A result of changing large batch processes to small individualized manufacturing is that many more people are needed in the production operations. More importantly, it means that the demand for technicians is increasing. Indeed, through Biotech-Careers.org, and other sources we’ve had inquiries and conversations about this demand. Several several biotechnology companies stating that they currently need 100's of technicians and expect to have large increases for more in the coming years. Recent articles also demonstrate this need [2]. 

During the BETA Skills meeting current and future technician education goals were recommended through industry presentations. These presentations indicated that education and hands on laboratory programs, should increase their emphasis on aseptic technique (mammalian cell culture), quality processes, assay development, and biohazard awareness, to mention a few. Personalized therapies and tissue engineering depend on cell culturing, and, as the cells being cultured come from individuals, it is vitally important that quality processes track the full chain of custody from patient, through the process steps, and back into the patient. Each step will require verification of tissue origin and utilize several kinds of assays that involve DNA sequencing and antibodies. 

In addition to specific technical skills, speakers also emphasized that future biotechnology employees need to be adaptable. As recent trends toward individualized medicine emphasize, the life sciences industry is in constant flux. We are moving from ideas to products at increasing rates, and, to be prepared, future workers need to be problem solvers, work in teams, and be life-long learners. Not only are biotechnology careers rewarding with their positive impacts on health and other big issues, they are rarely boring. 

Digital World Biology's Role

As part of the meeting I discussed Digital World Biology’s role in the project. There are several goals to our work. The first being to improve the Biotech-Careers.org biotechnology company directory. The current directory contains close to 7,000 companies and organizations (collectively employers). In the site, each employer has a page that includes a brief description of the employer’s work, along with one or more keywords.  Keywords are used to group employers by their business areas and thus provide a measure of many different activities undertaken by the biotechnology industry. 

While the Biotech-Careers.org biotech employer directory is one of the most comprehensive, it is incomplete. So, we want to work with our collaborators to add employers and develop additional keyword tags for emerging technologies. This way students, teachers, and instructors will have an improved resource for understanding their local industry. 

Other aspects of the project will be to develop new capabilities for the site that enhance our users’ experiences and update descriptions of careers and jobs based on the new kinds of biotechnologies that are becoming available.  

Dr. Anthony Atala and Regenerative Medicine

A highlight of the meeting was a presentation by Dr. Anthony Atala, Director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Dr. Atala’s lab, and the institute, are developing ways to use an individual’s own tissues to replace organ transplants. Organ transplants are problematic in that donated tissues must closely match recipients’ tissue to prevent graft-versus-host disease and tissue rejection. This, combined with the fact that, in many cases, donors must also be dead, means that tissues for transplants are always in extremely short supply. 

In his talk, Dr. Atala gave several examples of the institute’s work in developing skin grafts for burns and using patients’ normal kidney cells to treat disease via injections. In the institute’s most recent work, teams are developing 3D printers that can print tissues directly inside of patients! As Dr. Atala presented this work he emphasized that tissue engineering is highly multidisciplinary. To be successful, teams need to have biologists, chemists, computer scientists, materials scientists, engineers, and medical personnel. Dr. Atala’s has also presented his work at TED conferences so you can learn more [3].  

1. Skills for Biomedical Emerging Technology Applications (DUE #1800909)

2. Orchard Therapeutics inks contract for new gene therapy manufacturing facility
Thousands of sickle cell and hemophilia patients are waiting for gene therapies. Can manufacturers keep up?

3. Anthony Atala TED talks: