Cali bioproduction set to grow but education must improve

By Nick Taylor

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Stem cell California

Californian bioproduction expansions could create jobs in 2011 but changes to education are needed to sustain growth, according to a survey.

There is “real potential​” to ramp up manufacturing capacity in recession-hit areas, said Assemblyman Jerry Hill, but the current tax structure is a deterrent. Hill cited the case of Genentech building a production facility in Oregon as evidence of the impact of taxes.

Despite this, for the first time in the 17-year history of the BayBio report​, more CEOs expect to increase manufacturing in California, 41 per cent, than outside the state, 21 per cent. However, more CEOs also plan to cut manufacturing operations in California than in other regions.

Nonetheless, the expansion upswing reverses the trend seen over the past year, when 71 per cent increased production outside of California, compared to 41 per cent for within the state. Unlike 33 states California lacks laws exempting biomanufacturing equipment from sales tax.

CEO concerns include environmental manufacturing restrictions, which were rated “extremely important​” by 48 per cent of respondents. The report dedicates a section to pharmaceuticals in the environment.

Educating to compete

Offshoring of manufacturing, as well as other biopharm tasks, presents a real long-term risk to California and the rest of the US, says the report. In response, the US must develop the highly-skilled workforce needed to compete and, to achieve this, Californian education must improve.

More than 30 per cent of CEOs said the emerging workforce’s maths and science ability is somewhat or completely inadequate. Respondents were particularly concerned about production, with a quarter of CEOs saying it is the sector in which workers are least equipped to succeed.

Industry is working to improve the situation. Affymetrix and Genentech offer internships in their manufacturing units, while Pfizer is involved in educating high school students about green chemistry.

Stem cell manufacturing

Stem cells are an emerging high-tech field in which California is aiming to establish a leadership position. Many obstacles must be overcome before commercialisation of a stem cell therapy, the largest of which is manufacturing, according to Hans Keirstead of University of California.

The greatest challenge of stem cell research is to get a stem cell that can become any type of cell to become a single type and produce it in large numbers at high purity​”, said Keirstead.

Manufacturing techniques will be slower and more expensive, even than biologics, says the report, and will be accompanied by a more rigorous regulatory framework. To succeed it will requite workers who have the skills and judgement needed to work with stem cells.

Clearly, California will benefit from an expansion of life sciences research and development and manufacturing and stability at all levels of the state’s education system​”, concludes the report.

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