The April issue of The Connecticut Economic Digest examines Connecticut’s bioscience industry and its impact on employment.
Bioscience today spans several industry categories, including manufacturing, medical devices, laboratory testing, and R&D.
Companies that research, develop and produce small molecule pills, like Lipitor, large molecule medicines, like infused cancer drugs, vaccines, MRIs, glucose monitors and heart stents, to name only a few, are all considered biotechs.
In addition, a new crop of companies, like Sema4 in Stamford and Branford, that marshal vast computing power to unravel the combination of factors that cause disease, decipher the genetic code of tumors and create detailed images of biomolecular mechanisms in action are, as well, biotechs.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that it’s a complex task to accurately assess biotech’s contribution to the labor force.
Quality is as important as quantity in assessing the job profile of Connecticut biotech. Biotech jobs tend to have robust benefits and, especially R&D-related jobs, are not easily moved offshore. Connecticut biotech’s average annual salary in 2019 was $121,308.
Biologic Manufacturing Opportunity
The latest issue of the Economic Digest found that biopharma manufacturing in Connecticut, like manufacturing generally, except for defense manufacturing, has been in a long-term decline.
This trend, owing to lower costs found offshore, is unlikely to reverse itself.
The exception is biologic large molecule drugs, which require very sophisticated bioreactors that companies like to keep nearby and use highly trained employees. Connecticut would be well served to develop a focused economic development strategy to capture this highly specialized manufacturing business.
Bristol Myers Squibb, for example, recently began a 244,000 square foot expansion of its Devens, Massachusetts cell therapy manufacturing site.
Cell therapy manufacturing is highly complex operationally and technically because cell therapy drugs are state of the art in personalized medicine—each batch represents specially engineered T-cells unique to one patient.
The BMS facility was opened in 2009 following legislative changes that allowed BMS to claim a credit equal to 5% of its investment in the plant, a bond issue for infrastructure relating to the plant and construction of new waste treatment and sewage facilities.
Biotech R&D on the Rise
The good news is that Connecticut biopharma R&D is on the rise, and this trend is likely to continue.
The Connecticut Department of Labor statistics cited by the digest show that the number of bioscience establishments has increased steadily—approximately a 25% gain comparing 2001 to 2019.
This increase is apparent in the buildout of new labs and headquarters in Connecticut’s biotech hubs of New Haven, Branford, Stamford, and Farmington and consistent with the general impression that there are more biotech startups and much more sector entrepreneurialism today than 20 years ago.
But biotech R&D has gone through a radical transformation, becoming much more efficient and compartmentalized, with innovative biotechs not needing scores of employees to do their cutting-edge work.
Nevertheless, with steady year-over-year increases in these smaller companies, employment and overall economic impact will be noticeably measurable if not dramatic.
Here too, a well-designed economic development strategy could bolster this trend if it worked to capture these smaller companies as they meet with success.
COVID-19 Vaccine Development
Successful biotechs are generally bought by large biopharma companies or their further growth fueled by huge infusions of venture capital.
In either case, the Connecticut biotech is often moved to be closer to its out-of-state acquirer or funder.
Almost all Connecticut biopharma companies and research institutions were involved in some way with R&D for COVID-19 treatments and vaccines.
Indeed, critical development and clinical trial work for Pfizer’s highly effective COVID-19 vaccine was conducted at the company’s Groton facility.
These efforts are putting people back to work and are perhaps the greatest measure of Connecticut biotech’s impact on the labor force.