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

Michele Washko //February 2, 2023

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

Michele Washko //February 2, 2023

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 of Central Pennsylvania, an evergreen venture fund that advances healthcare with early investments in life science technologies.