Home Computing SMC, Chamber continue bold talent program with biotech, cloud computing focuses

SMC, Chamber continue bold talent program with biotech, cloud computing focuses

Santa Monica has continued its tradition of involvement in cutting-edge industries, with local education and business leaders partnering to ensure the city remains forward-thinking in its attention to these ambitious sectors.

On April 26, Santa Monica College (SMC) and the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce furthered its Chamber Talent Connect program, which builds partnerships for SMC students and Santa Monica businesses, by hosting an event focused on the biotechnology industry. The following week, the program focused on the sector of cloud computing, data science and artificial intelligence.

At the biotechnology event, hosted at the Kite Gilead campus adjacent to Bergamot Station Arts Center, Kite and SMC faculty discussed opportunities for SMC students in the ambitious industry, including a chance for students to engage with Kite’s revolutionary cell therapy aimed to treat and potentially cure cancer.

Kite Gilead Vice President Kent Detwieler and Senior Director of Process Development Semsi Ensari walked attendees through the company’s CAR-T cell therapy process, which collects a patient’s white blood cells to isolate and activate T cells, engineering the cells with the CAR gene used to selectively target and kill cancer cells. Kite’s first CAR T-cell therapy was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2017, and its second was approved in 2020, making Kite the first company to gain FDA approval for two such therapies. As of 2024, more than 20,000 clinical and commercial patients have been treated by the process.

“Our motto is focused on the cure, so when we’re talking about curing cancer, people get a little finicky about that, because how much data do you need to show that it’s cured?,” Detwieler said. “But we have really good data, up to five years of people who are completely cancer-free after taking our treatment.”

SMC’s biotechnology program was created with companies like Kite in mind, made with the awareness that the industry is struggling to find highly-skilled technicians to support its rapid growth. The curriculum, which starts with the entry-level Biol 30 “Fundamentals of Biotechnology 1” course, has been validated by industry partners and has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the W. M. Keck Foundation.

“We are excited to help develop a pipeline of what we believe will be exceptionally talented students who will be ready to grow in your organizations … these innovations (are) cutting edge with the inspiring, audacious goal to cure cancer,” SMC President Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery said of the pathway.

Along with the inspiring research, the biotechnology industry has been an economic boon for Santa Monica. City Economic Development Manager Jennifer Taylor noted at the event that the healthcare sector, of which biotechnology is a large part, employs over 10,000 in the city, equating to about 12% of the Santa Monica workforce.

Taylor added that the city has a “deep commitment” to the sector, with the sector producing an employee payroll of approximately $180 million per quarter to support the local economy. Kite, a city tenant, has added to the sector by employing over 1,000 across its Santa Monica-based global headquarters and global research and development and clinical manufacturing center.

The cloud computing, data science and artificial intelligence event on May 3 was held on SMC’s main campus and featured speakers along with workshops for interested students. Keynote addresses were given by Crancer Group Founder Sherman Crancer and Amazon Web Services (AWS) AI ML Technical Program Manager Myra Roldan.

SMC and AWS collaboratively designed the Cloud Computing Certificate curriculum for the California Cloud Workforce Project, a consortium of 19 Los Angeles County community college and sister high schools. The curriculum aims to equip students with cloud skills necessary for careers in the technology industry. The college’s cloud computing program, which begins with the CS 3 “Introduction to Computer Systems” course, provides students with skills like technical principles of hardware and software requirements to run systems in the cloud.

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