Genentech recently launched Futurelab+, a $10 million expansion of its existing educational initiative to boost interest in students around career opportunities in the biotech sector.

As part of Futurelab+, a free, open-source curriculum emphasizing biotech and lessons that reiterate lessons related to health equity and inclusive clinical research is available for teachers. The company said the materials align with the California Career Technical Education Model Curriculum Standards for Biotechnology.

Additionally, Futurelab+ includes support to teachers in Title I schools in the form of lab equipment, stipends and networking opportunities for students with industry professionals to provide further insights into the work conducted by these companies.

Futurelab began in 2015 as a STEM-focused program catering to schools in the South San Francisco Unified School District. Genentech said that over those seven years, 8,000 students annually have been introduced to biotech concepts, skills and experiences.

The company has a larger goal than simply promoting biotech careers in the Bay Area, noting that by 2026, it aims to reach more than 2 million students through this program. The additional funding of Futurelab comes as the pharma and biotech industries seek to diversify the workforce and adopt more inclusive practices going forward.

For Genentech’s part, the company has prioritized initiatives that encompass voices for numerous communities. This includes support for the spinal muscular atrophy patient population at the Special Olympics and New York Fashion Week as well as the recent launch of a direct-to-consumer campaign for Ocrevus in both English and Spanish languages.

In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, Ragnar von Schiber, head of K-12 STEM education initiatives at Genentech, noted that while Latinx/Hispanic workers comprise 17% of the workforce, they account for just 8% of all STEM professionals.

Von Schiber said Genentech realized that to expand the reach of biotech across the country, the company needed to rally teachers and invest in the education of students at a young age. By raising awareness of opportunities in the biotech space, von Schiber said Genentech hopes it can empower students, especially those from marginalized communities, to pursue careers in the sciences.

“Futurelab+ is about investments on an enterprise level so that we can bring diversity into Genentech, into biotechnology as an industry overall, and, even broader than that, into health and medicine,” he said. 

Serving patients is the top priority for Genentech, von Schiber said, which means the company is making a concerted effort to invite more diverse voices and perspectives into its processes. He added that the company is optimistic that Futurelab+ will have ripple effects that encourage other biotech companies and other industries to consider implementing similar concepts in the future. 

“We have the ability to create the infrastructure that so many smaller biotech companies do not have, but they have amazing expertise and incredible employees who are desirous to help,” he said. “With time, we’re hopefully going to be able to open up Futurelab+ and invite them in to join us.”