Bio Innovation Conference | Life Sciences Track – Biomanufacturing in Maryland: Building a global footprint and maximizing the local ecosystem
Maryland Life Sciences Bio Innovation Conference Life Sciences Track – Biomanufacturing in Maryland: Building a global footprint and maximizing the local ecosystem. Missed the live conference? Watch and read more about the panel.
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Session C – Life Sciences Track

Session C – Life Sciences Track

Life Sciences Track – Biomanufacturing in Maryland: Building a global footprint and maximizing the local ecosystem



  • Curran Simpson, Chief Operations and Technology Officer, REGENXBIO


  • Sean Kirk, Executive Vice President, Manufacturing and Technical Operations, Emergent BioSolutions
  • Tom Spitznagel, Ph.D., Senior Vice President, BioPharmaceutical Development & Manufacturing, MacroGenics
  • Aaron M. Vernon, VP, Engineering & Supply Chain, Autolus, Inc.


QUESTION: Maryland is now sort of being referred to as a strategic location for manufacturing, in general, so could you describe what is it about the area that you feel fits the category strategic location, maybe we’ll start with you.

We have a desire to enhance our overall collaborative effectiveness with not only HHS, BARDA, and other agencies, but also the FDA and the Department of Defense. Biodefense preparedness was really the origin of Emergent, so we’ve had a lot of great success and it just so happens that we’ve acquired products that came along with facilities, two of which happened to be here in Maryland. So to your point, through acquisition and organic growth we’ve ended up firmly rooted in the Maryland area.

Maryland’s real estate prices are reasonable compared to other biotech hubs like Boston or San Francisco. Maryland still has a substantial advantage over there even if you build within the city of Rockville for example it’s still highly discounted compared to other areas. One of the things in why we built our manufacturing facility in our actual corporate headquarters is to showcase manufacturing. It’s a way of advertising. 

Compared to Boston, it was still a much better cost basis for us to come to Maryland but also it came down to the talent. It has a substantial kind of cluster of people in particular biologics. But even more so in the last several years, cell gene therapy in the area is a pretty good cluster.


QUESTION: How do you deal with the necessary operational speed in Maryland? What are the advantages of being here and what are some challenges that you see the local area as it relates to employment, providing opportunities which.

We’re hiring over 300 people to support our efforts across our three manufacturing plants, and our product development facility is in Gaithersburg. The competition can be a bit stiff here and the talent pool is a bit undersized to serve all the different needs that exist amongst these companies and many others. I believe that much could be done to improve the overall personal income tax structure and other things that are sometimes a challenge to get people to overcome when they’re relocating here from, say the North Carolina area or other areas. Of course, some aspects of living here are actually less expensive than some of the other competitive markets. We’ve worked with the Chamber of Commerce and others in the past and we’re continuing to look to explore mechanisms to enhance the attractiveness of the greater Maryland area to the overall talent pool and get the numbers of candidates up to serve all of our needs.


QUESTION: Could you share some success stories around recruitment and in onboarding of new employees? What areas or techniques have you used to attract and retain employees and what can Maryland do to help support the next generation of companies that are involved in manufacturing?

We’ve been very successful recruiting directly out of college. That’s one area that does have a lot to offer, a lot of local colleges with talented individuals. And a lot of companies won’t give these people the time of day, so we were actually quite successful in scooping those people right out of college and training them and getting them, a rewarding and fulfilling career within manufacturing, and that’s worked quite well for us.

After that second or third year people leave. And, on one hand, we’ve decided we can live with that. If we can get a good two or three years out of them, that’s sort of a minimum but what we really try to focus on is, can we get them to the next part of their career, either into a more supervisory role within manufacturing which, honestly, the options are limited if you’re not expanding your capacity. But more importantly, getting them into development and things like that and we’ve, actively tried to do that and it’s still a work in progress.

Rockville has a lot to offer. Within just amenities, the street from us has 20-30 restaurants. One of the things we find is that a lot of our younger manufacturer employees are living in the cities, so Rockville does have more of a centralized location for that worker base.


QUESTION: Did you consider Frederick or Hagerstown? Obviously, the lower cost of living and potentially the real estate pricing being more affordable.  

So being in closer to the DC area you have access to BWI, Reagan, Dulles, whereas going out to Hagerstown, for example, it’s severely limited in terms of the logistics and the cost and complexity would go up so that’s one of the reasons we wouldn’t go much further west in in Maryland. We did absolutely consider Frederick. Part of the reasoning also was to be located in the middle of the Rockville cluster as our US headquarters.


QUESTION: Cell therapy is an interesting area. Have you thought about the sort of ideal profile of employees in terms of academic training. Are you looking for people with advanced degrees, associate’s degrees or all of the above?

With very early stage clinical, you’ve got many more people with advanced degrees who are touching the product but that’s not sustainable especially not in a large scale. Certain roles that are associate’s degree and more of our manufacturing is probably in the four-year degree. When we’re talking shop floor, that wouldn’t require an advanced degree.


QUESTION: How do you manage that growth in terms of people in onboarding and training and also considerations for the academic level that you’re recruiting for.

We are hiring at virtually every level in the organization. It’s challenging. The pace of hiring is challenging, we have stood up some focused training and education methodology to get people on board and onto the floor or into the labs, and we’re moving at warp speed. I’m wondering how much stress this is going to put on the state of Maryland. So, the state of Maryland has long been dependent upon folks who are government employees but reside in the state of Maryland for income tax base. And as the government reassesses how it operates in a paradigm going forward, I’m curious as to if it may actually lead more individuals using the government as an example to relocate to the state of Virginia, where the overall tax structure is lower, creating downstream tax deficiencies in the tax base for the state of Maryland.   


QUESTION: Have you considered as part of the substantial growth you’re going through things like apprenticeships or on-the-job training programs to bring people in who might not have science degrees but also could be cross trained in the manufacturing?

Yes, we have a variety of different programs that are kind of sprinkled in throughout the organization and have apprenticeships and internships in a variety of different areas ranging from engineering to manufacturing. We’re looking at ways to continue to build them out and to improve the effectiveness of them if you will.


QUESTION: Historically, there have been initiatives in Maryland where labs have been set up to demonstrate for students how manufacturing works, how to put together valves, how to run bio reactors, etc. Is that something that Maryland should continue to invest in? I know that historically that has been developed and then kind of fallen away and then come back. Is that something that you feel that for example Montgomery College could do more to sustain?

It’s great that we have a cluster now in particular manufacturing, But there’s more jobs that we need to hire for than there are people available right now. So I do think that this is an area where companies can work together and work with the state to be able to do a little bit better job of helping to pipeline.


QUESTION: I imagine the facility you’re putting together will have a fairly high level of automation associated with it. Where do you find automation engineers in the Maryland area? What are the creative ways to find this rare skill and retain that that skill?

I wish I had a good answer to that, I think that the best I could say is that, not just in Maryland, I would say all around the country there’s probably not as good automation engineers and we’re all going through this. I think one of the things that is really exciting for automation engineers is the intention to be paperless on the shop floor and to run an almost fully digital supply chain.


QUESTION How important is the commute? When everything goes back to normal, do you feel like that is an impediment for further growth for you, or is it something that just people deal with and you tend to recruit, maybe less from remote more remote areas.

 We haven’t seen commute time be the final deciding factor. Surprisingly, we haven’t seen that be a big driver in either inability to attract people, or the ability to retain people.


QUESTION: One question I would ask around recruitment since that’s going to be front and center for you as the facility comes together. Do you think we are now in a position where people look at us as a hub, and that there are multiple opportunities so the resistance to relocate has gone down or am I just imagining that?

Today, we’re kind of on the precipice thing. People will feel like the DC area is another place like San Francisco like Boston where they could just be here for a long time. And if they have to, they can find opportunities, big companies, small companies and take different roles.