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Regional Focus: Science and Culture in Pennsylvania


Driving across the rolling Allegheny Mountains as you make your way from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, the surprisingly dense, lush stretches of trees might make you wonder if such a rural state could be a hub of any kind. Pennsylvania, however, is not only a leader in biomedical sciences education, but has a thriving biotechnology industrial sector as well. Indeed, the former Quaker State has come a long way since its founding though a land grant to Englishman and Quaker William Penn in 1681. Known today as the Keystone State, in honor of its central location both geographically and economically to neighboring metropolitan corridors, Pennsylvania has much to offer scientists and biosciences professionals alike.

Home to several top-ranked medical schools, a rich industrial sector, and a low cost of living, Pennsylvania is a great place to be if you’re looking to study, research, or work in the biosciences. And with a rich cultural and economic history, the state offers some refreshing escapes when you need a break from talking to those zebrafish or running that mass spec.


Philadelphia: Perhaps best loved for its eponymous cheesesteak, Philly has long been known as a political and cultural center. In colonial times, it was called the “Athens of America,” and it became the world’s most populous city outside of London — eventually it would serve as the first capital of the US. Now the sixth largest metropolitan area in the country, the city has another reputation that isn’t as fun: it’s consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous cities in the US, with soaring homicide rates and personal crime risk ranking at 304, compared to an average of 100 in US cities.

If you’re looking for an escape from the lab, Philadelphia’s tourist attractions are worth the trip: Independence Hall (where the Declaration of Independence was signed), the Liberty Bell, and a host of science museums, including the Franklin Institute, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Pittsburgh: The second largest city in Pennsylvania may be the butt of plenty of jokes, but it also boasts several outstanding universities and an advanced healthcare sector. The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon both call this town home and are known for their medical and technology clout, respectively.


Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are both primary centers for academic biomedical research and pharmaceutical industry. In 2004, Pennsylvania ranked fifth out of all states in number of science and engineering doctorates awarded, at 1,280, according to a National Science Foundation report.

In 2005, Pennsylvania came in fifth highest for total NIH awards to institutions and schools, with 3,585 awards totaling $1.5 billion. The other top states were California, Massachusetts, New York, and Maryland; Texas and North Carolina were the only other two states to break $1 billion. That year, two Pennsylvania medical schools ranked in the top 10 in amount of money awarded, with second-ranked University of Pennsylvania winning almost $400 million from NIH, and the University of Pittsburgh coming in ninth with almost $300 million.

Though Philadelphia plays host to 39 colleges and universities, several are especially notable, the most renowned being the University of Pennsylvania, whose medical school was the first in the nation. Other major hospitals are Temple University School of Medicine, Drexel University College of Medicine, and Thomas Jefferson University. Philadelphia is also home to the highly regarded Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Fox Chase Cancer Center.


Pennsylvania is known for a lot of firsts: the first hospital in the US, the first polio vaccine, the first simultaneous heart, liver, and kidney transplant. Hefty sums put toward research mean excellent technology transfer and fertile ground for both established companies and startup ventures. According to a 2005 Milken Institute report, Philadelphia ranked third in the US among biotech clusters, coming behind Boston and San Francisco. Money magazine ranked the state 16th in best places to start a business in 2006.

According to data from 2004, a recent Pennsylvania Biotechnology Association report found there were 72,835 bioscience jobs in the state. The annual wage for a bioscience worker in Pennsylvania was $69,474, nearly twice the average private sector wage of $38,055. Venture capital investments in Pennsylvania bioscience companies in 2006 reached almost $500 million, accounting now for the majority of all VC investments in the state.

There’s no shortage of innovation here. Between 1999 and 2004, Pennsylvania businesses won 1,127 SBIR awards. The University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Technology Transfer created nine startups in 2005 and made about $10 million in income from its technology transfer activities. In 2006, the University of Pittsburgh was awarded 22 patents and started six companies.

The University of Pennsylvania is the largest private employer in the city of Philadelphia and the second largest in Pennsylvania. As of February 2007, Penn had a total regular workforce of 20,493, with 4,822 of those being faculty. Eight of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies are within a 50-mile radius of Philadelphia, including GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Pfizer, and Wyeth.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, a $6 billion organization and the region’s largest employer with 43,000 employees, serves 29 counties in western Pennsylvania. Its new $250 million Biomedical Science Tower 3, profiled in GT’s June issue, is a testament to the school’s dedication to systems biology and academic drug discovery initiatives. Major biotech employers in Pittsburgh include Cellomics and MEDRAD.

Pennsylvania Basics

Population: 12,440,621 (2006 estimate)
Residents with scientific PhD: 26,940 (2003)
Capital: Harrisburg
Known as: Keystone State, Quaker State
State animal: Whitetail Deer
State tree: Hemlock
State flower: Mountain Laurel
Major rivers: Allegheny River, Susquehanna River, Delaware River, Ohio River

To view the charts and graphics that go with this story, please click here for the PDF.

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