OraSure a Leader for Innovation and Life Sciences Growth in Lehigh Valley
By George Lewis on October 28, 2019
In just 20 years, OraSure Technologies has grown from a Lehigh Valley startup company to a global leader in the development and production of point-of-care diagnostics. Along the way, it has been a prime example of Lehigh Valley’s growth as a center for life science research and manufacturing.
Bethlehem-based OraSure was the featured business at the fifth annual Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) Fall Signature Event on Oct. 23 at the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks in Bethlehem. The event highlight was a conversation with Stephen S. Tang, Ph.D., OraSure President and Chief Executive Officer, about the company’s growth and how Lehigh Valley has made it possible.
“OraSure is improving health and wellness for people around the world by providing access to accurate, essential personal health information,” Tang told an audience of more than 125 Lehigh Valley business and community leaders. “Our business requires employees with a wide range of skills, from manufacturing equipment operators to Ph.D.-level scientists. To recruit successfully, we need an environment where talented people want to locate.”
Lehigh Valley, he said, offers the location and quality of life employees are looking for.
“Lehigh Valley is becoming a microcosm of an innovation hub,” Tang said. “We have outstanding health care and education. We have strong established companies and a growing start-up culture. Our universities and colleges provide access to talent and a forum for idea-sharing.”
Lehigh Valley can press its advantage, he said, by extending connections with surrounding areas that are hubs for life science talent.
LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham said life science research and manufacturing is a target industry sector for LVEDC recruitment initiatives, and Lehigh Valley is at the heart of one of the largest concentrations of life science workers in the country.
“Within a one-hour drive of Lehigh Valley, medical equipment manufacturers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, medical and diagnostic laboratories, scientific research and development centers, and other life sciences companies employ more than 43,000 people,” Cunningham said. “Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York are three of the top six states in the nation for life science jobs.”
In Lehigh and Northampton counties, life science companies such as OraSure provide more than 6,000 jobs. In the last five years, employment in the sector has grown at an annual rate of 1.7%.
“Lehigh Valley has everything life science companies want in a location: proximity to large consumer markets, access to skilled labor, excellent transportation systems, and outstanding colleges and universities,” Cunningham said. “We’re confident that there’s a bright future for the life sciences industry in Lehigh Valley.”
OraSure’s story began at the Ben Franklin Technology Partners’ business incubator at Lehigh University. In its early days, it focused on developing tests for infectious diseases and substance abuse. OraSure developed the first rapid in-home test for HIV and the first HIV self-test prequalified by the World Health Organization. More than 60 million OraQuick HIV tests have been sold worldwide.
The company also developed a rapid diagnostic test for Hepatitis C and recently received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of a rapid diagnostic test for Ebolavirus.
While innovation and product development has enabled OraSure to grow from within, three significant acquisitions have fueled additional growth by broadening the product portfolio, Tang said.
The 2011 acquisition of a Canadian start-up company focused on DNA testing has resulted in the widespread use of OraSure’s technology in the millions of genetic testing kits that have been sold by 23andMe. Two more recent acquisitions are enabling OraSure to analyze the human microbiome and its potential role in treating diseases.
“OraSure companies share a history of innovation and first-to-market products, a commitment to customers, a desire to push the frontiers of science, and a dedication to make a difference in the world of individual and public health,” Tang said.
Tang is a native of Wilmington, Del., who joined OraSure’s Board of Directors in 2011 and served as Chairman until he was appointed President and CEO in April 2018. From 2008 to 2018 he served as President and CEO of the University City Science Center, an urban research park and business incubator in Philadelphia.
He has a degree in chemistry from the College of William and Mary, a master’s degree and doctorate in chemical engineering from Lehigh University, and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
LVEDC’s Fall Signature Event spotlights a growing Lehigh Valley company on one of the region’s targeted industry sectors: high-performance manufacturing, life science research and manufacturing, food and beverage processing, and high-value business services. Previous companies spotlighted at LVEDC’s Fall Signature Event are Freshpet, Victaulic, Crayola, and Mack Trucks.
The event was made possible through the generosity of presenting sponsor Highmark, silver sponsor Lehigh Valley Health Network, cocktail sponsor Klunk & Millan Advertising, and community sponsors Baker Tilly, EarthRes Group, and People’s Security Bank & Trust.
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