We must protect, grow state’s life sciences innovation assets

Imagine a new and improved way to treat glaucoma, or a device that enables heart valve repair without invasive surgery. These are just two of the many life-changing technologies being developed by Pennsylvania life science companies. For residents of the Commonwealth, the positive impact of life sciences companies doesn’t stop there: life sciences innovation is a key economic driver in the Commonwealth.  

More than 3,000 life sciences establishments across Pennsylvania are developing groundbreaking technologies that can solve our most pressing healthcare challenges. They include established companies like GlaxoSmithKline in Philadelphia and B. Braun in the Lehigh Valley as well as smaller startups like Indigo Biosciences in State College and Chromatan in Lower Gwynedd.  

And their contributions to our quality of life extend beyond healthcare. Together the Commonwealth’s life sciences ecosystem has created meaningful jobs for more than 100,000 Pennsylvanians.  

When it comes to life sciences employment, Pennsylvania is punching above its weight. According to a study by KPMG for Life Sciences PA, employment in the sector grew by more than 20% between 2015 and 2020 – outpacing the U.S. average. When you zoom out to include indirect and induced jobs, that number grows by an additional 230,000 jobs. 

Indeed, when you look at key indicators of the strength of the life sciences sector – academic spending on bioscience research, funding from the National Institutes of Health, bioscience-related patents, and venture capital – Pennsylvania ranks in the top quintile nationwide.    

Pennsylvania’s strength in the life sciences is no accident and should not be taken for granted. Advancing health care innovation and capturing the economic benefits is a collaborative effort that requires an active ecosystem of talented individuals, respected research institutions, and a diverse array of companies that vary in scope and size.  

Established life sciences companies are anchors in the ecosystem, but mid-sized firms and startups also merit our attention. Great strides in health care innovation often occur when scientific discovery meets entrepreneurship and a supportive environment.  Any number of Pennsylvania’s emerging companies have the potential to scale and grow to become tomorrow’s life sciences stars. It’s imperative we nurture that spark to innovate and address unmet medical needs, because like human beings, young companies are especially vulnerable during their infancy.  

Fortunately, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has support organizations and programs that do just that – these include groundbreaking programs like the Life Sciences Greenhouses, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, and the Keystone Innovation Zones – as well as R&D tax credits. Incubators and entrepreneurship support programs across the state are connecting scientists with the real-world business advice they need. Together, these resources are making a difference.  

As we enter a new year and welcome a new administration and new legislators to Harrisburg, it is critical that Pennsylvania’s longstanding support of the life sciences sector continues. We must protect – and grow – our valuable life sciences innovation assets. As our policy makers and legislators address the challenges and opportunities ahead, it is critical they prioritize life sciences innovation – and its benefits for patients and for the Commonwealth’s economy. 


Michele Washko is President & CEO of Life Sciences Greenhouse Investments, an evergreen venture fund that advances healthcare with early investments in life science technologies.  


OraSure honored for contribution to life sciences

OraSure CEO Stephen Tang, left, speaks with Don Cunningham, president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. (Photo submitted) –

The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. honored Bethlehem-based OraSure Technologies for its contributions to the life sciences industry and growth as a company that produces medical diagnostic tests.

The event took place at LVEDC’s fifth annual fall signature event Wednesday at the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks in Bethlehem.


At the event, OraSure CEO Stephen Tang spoke with Don Cunningham, president and CEO of LVEDC, about the growth potential of the industry. In addition, Tang spoke about OraSure’s role as a center for life sciences research and manufacturing and how the Lehigh Valley supported those efforts.

“OraSure is improving health and wellness for people around the world by providing access to accurate, essential personal health information,” Tang said in a news release. “Our business requires employees with a wide range of skills, from manufacturing equipment operators to Ph.D.-level scientists. To recruit successfully, we need an environment where talented people want to locate.”

That environment is the Lehigh Valley, which he said, offers the location and quality of life employees want.

“Lehigh Valley is becoming a microcosm of an innovation hub,” Tang said.

With its established companies, growing startups, and numerous universities and colleges that provide access to talented employees and forums for sharing ideas, the Lehigh Valley can press its advantage, Tang said, by extending connections with surrounding areas that are hubs for talented life sciences employees.

Cunningham said life sciences research and manufacturing are a target industry sector for LVEDC recruitment initiatives and the valley is at the heart of one of the largest concentrations of life sciences workers in the nation.

In Lehigh and Northampton counties, life sciences companies such as OraSure provide more than 6,000 jobs.

In the last five years, employment in the sector grew at an annual rate of 1.7 percent, he said.

In the Lehigh Valley, employment in the sector could grow at a rate of 0.5 percent per year for the next five years, according to LVEDC.

LVEDC’s fall event spotlights a company in one of the region’s targeted industry sectors, such as high-performance manufacturing, life sciences research and manufacturing, food and beverage processing, and high-value business services.