School Funding

Univ. of Washington plans new biotech workforce center in Bothell with $750,000 federal funding

The University of Washington Bothell. (U.W. Bothell Photo)

Washington Bothell University has landed $750,000 in federal funding to support a new center focused on training the life sciences workforce.

Funding is part of millions set aside for the state of washington in the giant federal appropriations bill signed Tuesday by President Joe Biden. The money is in addition to the $900,000 already allocated by the university to launch the center, which is still in the planning stage.

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

The Biotechnology Innovation and Training Center will work with regional biotech companies to identify areas of need and develop a new program, said Leslie CornickDean of the School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics at UW Bothell.

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

“Ultimately, the goal is to meet the labor needs of this fast-growing and incredibly innovative sector of our economy,” Cornick said in an interview with GeekWire. The university will hire a director and launch 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 scrambled to find employees. Workers are also in demand in the Pacific Northwest, a region that has recently seen rapid growth in life sciences. The number of life science R&D jobs grew 5.9% between 2019 and 2020 in the Seattle area, according to a recent report by real estate firm CBRE.

Much of this growth has taken place outside of Seattle in nearby Bothell, home to global biopharmaceutical company Seagen, manufacturing facilities for Bristol Myers Squib, Lyell Immunopharma and operations for other companies. Bothell has about 2.8 million square feet of laboratory 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 the program, and the center will foster new internship opportunities. Much of the focus will be on undergraduate training and certificate programs first, she said.

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

Federal funding takes planning to the “next level,” Cornick said, opening the door to leasing space in Canyon Park’s biotech district.

UW Bothell has a high proportion of minority, low-income, and first-generation students from the state, as well as veterans. “It’s exactly the right kinds of jobs that are helping them stay in the area and really changing the socio-economic trajectory of entire families and communities,” Cornick said. It also plans to retrain older workers, such as those in aerospace.

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

Cornick began working on plans for the new center about a year ago in collaboration with physical science teachers Hyung Kim, Lori Robins and other colleagues. The university is accept comments on the plans for the new center until April 11.

Cantwell and fellow Senator Patty Murray defended the new funding.