Univ. of Washington plans new biotech workforce heart in Bothell with $750K in federal funding

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The University of Washington Bothell. (UW Bothell Photo)

The University of Washington Bothell has landed $750,000 in federal funding to support a new center to focus on educating the life science workforce.

The funding is part of millions set aside for Washington state in the giant federal appropriations bill signed Tuesday by President Joe Biden. The money builds on $900,000 already allocated through the university to launch the center, which is still in the planning stages.

“The Puget Sound region is a national hub for biotech research and development,” Sen. Maria Cantwell said in a statement. “The bill provides $750,000 to UW-Bothell’s new Center of Biotech Training and Innovation, which will provide high-tech training for tomorrow’s biotech workers, and help develop the next biotech breakthroughs.”

The Center for Biotech Innovation and Training will collaborate with regional biotech companies to identify areas of need and build new curriculum, said Leslie Cornick, dean of UW Bothell’s School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. 

Leslie Cornick, dean of UW Bothell’s School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. (Photo courtesy of Cornick)

“Ultimately the goal is to service the workforce needs of this fast-growing and incredibly innovative sector of our economy,” said Cornick in an interview with GeekWire. The university will hire a director and initiate the program by the end of the year, she said.

Workers with the right mix of biotech talent are often hard to find, and the biotech industry nationwide has been scrambling to find employees. Workers are also in demand in the Pacific Northwest, a region that has seen recent rapid life sciences growth. The number of jobs in life sciences R&D increased 5.9% between 2019 and 2020 in the Seattle area, according to a recent report by real estate firm CBRE.

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A lot of that growth has taken place outside of Seattle in nearby Bothell, which is home to global biopharma company Seagen, manufacturing facilities for Bristol Myers Squib, Lyell Immunopharma, and operations for other companies. Bothell has about 2.8 million square feet of lab and R&D space, compared to about 5.5 million in Seattle.

The university will invite industry scientists to campus to teach and help develop curriculum, and the center will foster new internship opportunities. Much of the focus at first will be on undergraduate training and certificate programs, she said.

“Our longer-term goal is for this to really be a comprehensive resource and a research accelerator between all of the schools on our campus,” she said. Science-savvy software engineers are in demand, and the business school could support programs in regulatory affairs.

The federal funding enables planning to go to “the next level” said Cornick, opening the door to leasing space in the biotech neighborhood of Canyon Park.

UW Bothell has a high proportion of minority, low-income, and first-generation college students from within the state, as well as veterans. “These are exactly the right kinds of jobs that help them stay in the area, and really change the socio-economic trajectory of entire families and communities,” said Cornick. She also envisions retraining older workers such as those in aerospace.

Longer-term funding could come from the U.S. National Science Foundation, which supports such centers, she said.

Cornick first started working on plans for the new center for about a year ago in collaboration with physical sciences professors Hyung Kim, Lori Robins and other colleagues. The university is accepting comments on plans for the new center until April 11.  

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Cantwell and fellow Sen. Patty Murray championed the new funding.

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