In 1989, Dr. William Wunner, then a rabies researcher at The Wistar Institute, was one of nine people brought together to influence Pennsylvania’s life sciences narrative to one that encourages and supports innovation. On Dec. 10, 2014, nearly 25 years later, all nine joined together at the Founder’s Reception, at the Merion Cricket Club, to be lauded for their role in shaping the region as a successful biotech industry.
“Together, we set up a mission and purpose to educate science administrators to communicate the science more effectively, connect life science professionals and academics to collaborate with businesses and organizations, and make an impact in Harrisburg for Pennsylvania,” said Wunner, who currently serves as director of academic affairs and director of outreach education and technology training programs at The Wistar Institute.
Pennsylvania Biotechnology Association, also known as Pennsylvania Bio, is now an organization with more than 650 members and a mission to make Pennsylvania a hub of innovation. PA Bio has created a far-reaching network and vast scientific community that spans the pharmaceutical and biotech industry to academia as well as strong private sector companies to emerging startups, not to mention providing services and educational opportunities for those working in biotechnology.
In the 80s, Dr. Wunner was part of a team of Wistar scientists who developed a new oral rabies vaccine that could be administered to animals through bait, a breakthrough that has protected and saved countless animal—and possibly human—lives. So how did the then-rabies scientist become involved in the association?
“I was the only one from academia, but we all had our hands in different parts of the life sciences industry—Jeff Davidson was executive director and Dennis “Mickey” Flynn was chair of the group. We made ourselves available as technologists by providing services that could extend our mission to educate, create jobs and make Pennsylvania into a life sciences incubator,” Wunner explained.
Dynamic, credible, talented, and supportive are just a few words to describe Dr. Wunner. He is a leader and teacher who guides Wistar’s educational and training programs including the Biomedical Technician Training Program (BTTP) and the high school Summer Fellowship Program in Biomedical Research. As a mentor, he gives students perspective on attaining jobs and links BTTP graduates to promising work in the field. PA Bio recognized Dr. Wunner’s long history and active service as a leader in the evolution of the region’s life sciences industry by awarding him “The 1995 Biocatalyst Award,” and again in 2001, honoring him with an award “[i]n recognition of Exemplary Service toward the Advancement of Biotechnology in Pennsylvania.”
Fast forward 25 years and it is no wonder that in this new year, the strengths of the region’s life science sector make Pennsylvania an exciting place where trailblazers want to be. Pennsylvania employs more than 79,000 people in the life sciences industry, has more than 2,200 life science businesses, and the life sciences industry contributes a $40B annual economic impact.* The region’s rich science history (including Wistar’s involvement for more than 120 years), dedicated pioneers, and fresh scientific movers and shakers have jolted the region with the energy and creativity to continue to make dynamic things happen.
Dr. Wunner is still involved and linked to the original founding partners: Jeff Davidson, Dennis Flynn, Maria Maccecchini, Mike Dougherty, Jim Sharpe, John Enders, Gwen Melincoff, and Jim Shillenn.
“When we started up, we were serving our own needs, but we reached out to the universities, the academic labs in the region, the small and midsize companies. Then partnerships came to fruition and collaborations succeeded on all levels. People shared research knowledge along with resources; tech companies combined with science organizations to create opportunities, and we continued to offer educational programs,” Wunner stated.
Pennsylvania’s life sciences sector is alive and well thanks to the dedication of Dr. William Wunner and the founding partners—who continue to plow new ground to ensure Pennsylvania’s place as a national and global leader.
*Courtesy of PA BIO Industry Fact Sheet.