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Happy to Be Here: An investment that continues to grow


The Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center in Buckingham Township has a Public Service Wall of Fame at its entrance. In March, the center unveiled a photograph of Mark Schweiker, former governor and lieutenant governor, that will be added to the wall.

The Wall of Fame includes leaders like the original members – Tom Wolf and Ed Rendell, former governors, former state senators Chuck McIlhinney and Joe Conti, and former state Rep. Marguerite Quinn — and more recent additions, former Congressman Jim Greenwood and state Sen. Steve Santarsiero.

Rendell said at the first Wall of Fame announcement in 2018, that the idea of the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center becoming reality was one of his proudest accomplishments.

In 2001, as his final official act in office, Schweiker approved a $7.9 million award to the Hepatitis B Foundation toward the development of a biotechnology center in Bucks County, the first of its kind. The foundation had been growing for 10 years, thanks to the work of founders Tim and Joan Block, Jan and Paul Witte, Dr. Baruch Bloomberg, discoverer of the Hepatitis B virus, and other scientists. The grant set the stage for major expansion.

The first step was purchasing an empty 62,000-square-foot warehouse and renovation to create research labs and offices to house nonprofit research organizations and biotech companies under one roof.

“Over the years, two more buildings were purchased on site for a total of 110,000 square feet,” according to a statement by the biotech center.

The Baruch S. Blumberg Institute, a research arm, was established in 2003. The Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center (PABC) was launched to support Blumberg researchers and startup companies in the life sciences in 2006. The nonprofit foundation has become a life sciences incubator focusing on liver disease and offering state-of-the-art laboratory and office space to 52 early-stage and developing companies.

“The PABC grew significantly in 2022 with the opening of a new 37,000-square-foot building on the Doylestown campus and the launch of B+labs at Cira Centre in University City, Philadelphia, a partnership with Brandywine Realty Trust,” the statement continued.

This week in a phone conversation, Schweiker recalled his “last chapter of public service.” Looking toward the final days, with local officials, he arranged the “Bucks County Tour,” a two-day visit to important sites in the county, including the public library in Quakertown and Washington Crossing Historic Park and the Middletown Township Police — it was wishing for a mobile operations center — and the Hepatitis B Foundation. He had an opportunity to help them all.

Schweiker has always been impressed by the work of scientists and their responsibilities for the future. At the biotech center’s reception, he recalled meeting Mary Dell Chilton, the biotechnology pioneer who led a team that developed the first transgenic plant.

“When I solicited advice from Ms. Chilton on a legislative policy pursuit of our administration’s public use of Tobacco Settlement proceeds, her response to me was simply stated but deeply inspirational,” Schweiker said.

“Grandparents will know their grandkids if done right,” Chilton said.

Schweiker told the scientists and lawmakers, “Many researchers and scientists at the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center see their work the same way.”

Schweiker compared the founding of PABC to the founding of Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Study, where Albert Einstein became a notable member. Schweiker invoked founder Abraham Flexner’s description as “a haven where scholars and scientists may regard the world and its phenomena as their laboratory without being carried off in the maelstrom of the immediate.”

The event began with a private, small-group roundtable conversation about the biotech industry in Pennsylvania with Schweiker and CEOs of resident companies. Lou Kassa, CEO of the PABC, Hepatitis B Foundation and Blumberg Institute, led the discussion with Dr. Chari Cohen, president of the Hepatitis B Foundation, and Dr. Randy Hyer, president of the Blumberg Institute.

Schweiker is still a resident of Middletown Township, his “forever home,” where he was once a township supervisor. He and his wife, Kathy, have two sons, Brett and Eric, and a daughter, Kara.

Schweiker serves on corporate boards today and as an advisor to business management teams.

He understands fiscal responsibility.

“I worked on 23 public budgets,” he said, “eight years as a supervisor, seven years as a county commissioner and eight years with the state.”

The biotech center’s Wall of Fame reception was a kind of family reunion with legislators and business leaders he used to see often, maybe every day. Schweiker enjoyed the meeting with old partners who had drifted apart.

The gathering with government leaders was “a form of validation,” he said. Kassa presented him with the first-ever, “Key to the Biotechnology Center.”

“I hope Bucks County appreciates the life-enhancing exceptionality of the biotech center in their midst,” the former governor said.

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