Drexel University’s School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems, in collaboration with Drexel’s College of Medicine, has received grants from the pharmaceutical company Bristol Myers Squibb, to support the education and training of diverse and talented students looking to pursue careers in cell and gene therapy.
The funding provided close to $1 million to support the creation of a new Cell and Gene Therapy Technology, Engineering, Analytics, Manufacturing, & Science academic program, known as CGT-TEAMS, that launched this summer for undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems and the College of Medicine at Drexel.
In addition to a curriculum development grant, a companion grant will increase support for Drexel CGT-TEAMS students to pursue cooperative education experiences during six-month rotations at BMS. The funding will also support outreach and scientific educational programming for high school students and professional development for high school teachers in Philadelphia.
“This grant support from Bristol Myers Squibb, a global biopharmaceutical company and pioneer in cell therapy, is anticipated to not only improve the educational experience at our college, but also strengthen the pipeline between education and career for many of our brilliant and diverse students,” said Paul W. Brandt-Rauf, ScD, MD, DrPH, dean of the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems. “In the tradition of our university’s founder, philanthropist Anthony J. Drexel, this is a continuation of the culture of collaboration that is changing the way we prepare students for the workforce and advancing how industries innovate.”
CGT-TEAMS will start as a concentration with 30 credits in cell and gene manufacturing, regulatory requirements, analytical techniques, immune engineering, genomics and informatics, and other topics taught by faculty from the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems and College of Medicine. After a trial period, the concentration will be developed into a minor, available to all undergraduate and graduate students.
“Cell therapy holds so much potential for patients with cancer and other serious diseases and we are thrilled to partner with Drexel to support education and training programs for prospective diverse talent who will drive next generation approaches in this growing field,” said Lynelle Hoch, senior vice president, Global Cell Therapy Franchise Lead, Bristol Myers Squibb. “To reimagine the future of cell therapy, diverse perspectives, including those borne out of academic and industry collaboration, are critical to ensuring we unlock the full promise of this life-saving treatment.”
This funding representants the latest facet of a growing partnership between Drexel and BMS. Central to its Global Inclusion & Diversity strategy, BMS and its Pan Asian Network People & Business Resource Group also partnered with Drexel’s School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health System’s Summer Academy for the past three years to provide scholarships for minoritized and other high school students from Philadelphia, Camden, New Jersey, and other locations across the United States and Canada. To spark their interest in STEM, Summer Academy students spend a week rotating through biomedical engineering research labs at Drexel performing experiments in different disciplines spanning tissue engineering, gene editing, biomaterials, biomechanics and neuroengineering.
“Greater diversity leads to better ideas and better results,” said Wendy Clemens, PhD, vice president of Early Development Program Lead, Oncology at Bristol Myers Squibb and chair for the BMS STEM Council. “By empowering these bright minds, we’re solidifying a pipeline of students who can help drive innovations across the fields of cell and gene therapy.”
According to a 2020 study by Econsult Solutions Inc. commissioned by the CEO Council for Growth, the University City Science Center and University City District’s West Philadelphia Skills Initiative concluded that jobs in cell and gene therapy and “connected health” are projected to grow in the Philadelphia region between 35% to 94% over the next 10 years. The report found that mid-range growth estimates will stand at roughly 2,000 to upwards of 7,600 new jobs.
“We’re proposing an educational model in which our students can directly impact the biomedical industry with unique inroads not offered elsewhere,” said Charles Cairns, MD, dean of the College of Medicine. “Having these students’ work at Drexel magnified further in lab settings at BMS is especially rewarding. We’re laying the groundwork now for incredible career opportunities ahead for these students.”
Experts from Drexel and BMS say these types of academic-industry partnerships are at the forefront of education and research and are critical to keep pace with clinical development in cell and gene therapy.
“The role our industry partners play in a Drexel education is unparalleled and an important part of our research and curriculum,” said Anna Koulas, vice president of the Drexel Solutions Institute. “Partners such as Bristol Myers Squibb provide experiential and innovative learning opportunities that enable students to acquire knowledge first-hand and allows them to gain tangible skills that they can then apply when they begin their careers. These relationships also help ensure Drexel’s curriculums are current and relevant to industry workforce needs.”