Pharma Friends: ECU Conference Highlights Pharma Industry

East Carolina University’s annual Spring Pharma Conference proved personal for Jack Pender.

“This is a meeting of my pharma friends,” said Pender, director of pharmaceutical training and laboratory services in the ECU Department of Chemistry.

Pender provided opening remarks at the event that drew more than 130 pharmaceutical industry representatives and employees from 49 pharmaceutical and life sciences companies for two days of information, topical discussions, presentations, vendors and networking.

James Davis is just one week into a new role in technical support for Merck in Wilson. He said he attended the conference to learn more about the pharmaceutical industry in general.

“I’m relatively new to everything so it’s good to communicate with other people, to get to know vendors and to see new technologies since I am on the tech support team,” said Davis, who has been with Merck for a year and a half.

Davis said he works on lab instruments and software implementation in support of lab analysts as part of his new job. He was most looking forward to a presentation on high performance liquid chromatography, which is used to separate various components in a product.

Mark Phillips of NCBiotech
Mark Phillips of NCBiotech at ECU Spring Pharma Conference. 
-ECU Photo by Rhett Butler

“I’m pretty new to everything, so it will be a great eye-opener to understand how it actually works and the actual fundamentals of the machine,” Davis said.

ECU’s Eastern Region Pharma Center, the office of Continuing and Professional Education and the office of Research, Economic Development and Engagement hosted the event. The pharma center serves as a hub for pharmaceutical education and workforce development in eastern North Carolina.

Mark Phillips, vice president of statewide operations and executive director of the eastern regional office for the N.C. Biotechnology Center, addressed why tools such as ECU’s pharma center are so important. In his opening remarks, he noted North Carolina’s place as the third-leading state in the country for biotechnology. He said that since 2020, 94 biotech and pharma companies had invested $10.8 billion in the state to help create another 12,600 jobs.

“There is a lot of continued growth,” Phillips said.

He said partnerships among universities such as ECU, community colleges, government and pharmaceutical companies have supported that growth. The creation of the pharma center in 2021 and the subsequent opening of ECU’s Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building will only add to that growth.

“We cannot sit on our laurels,” Phillips said. “A lot of things have happened, and they don’t just happen.”

Overall, North Carolina has more than 800 life sciences and pharma companies employing more than 75,000 people.

“Ain’t it a good time to be in life sciences in North Carolina?” Pender said.

Bobby Ansley Jr., North Carolina talent acquisition manager for Novo Nordisk, said the pharma conference would provide insights into how to develop programs and build processes to bring in new employees that the industry needs.

“Many people with engineering degrees are looking to the tech sector or maybe the architectural field, but there is such a need for engineers in biopharma,” he said. “The average engineer is probably starting around $100,000 to $112,000 a year. It’s one of those hidden gems. It’s a gateway to the industry. It’s a gateway to, in many cases, a recession proof industry.”

Not only do jobs in the industry pay well, but they are also very rewarding, Ansley said.

“As a community, we’re all getting older. We’re all interested in medications that will help us have a better quality of life, and maybe more importantly, continue to have a life,” he said. “We’re making people’s lives better. We’re saving lives. We’re doing what’s right. … It’s good to do something where you know that at the end of the day, you’ve done good for someone.”

The conference included general sessions as well as 18 targeted breakout sessions on a variety of topics. It featured 23 guest speakers and presenters, 20 vendor tables and a welcome reception with special guests.

Ken Buday, ECU Writer
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