Fueled by top-tier talent and strategic public-private investments, health & life sciences sector gains momentum in the District

The DC metro area is a national force in the health & life sciences sector, supported by its unmatched access to federal institutions, a network of leading research universities, and a robust talent pipeline that will strengthen the sector for years to come. Located at the center of the region, the District provides convenient access to established industry leaders and is beginning to focus more closely on advancing its own life sciences sector through new strategic investments.

Innovation Ecosystem

The region is home to global companies such as AstraZeneca, Novavax, and Emergent BioSolutions as well as the FDA, NIH (the largest funder of biomedical research in the world), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Furthermore, the metro area provides businesses with exceptional access to a highly educated workforce, venture capital funding, and a growing footprint of lab space.

In addition to these government and funding institutions, the area is also home to several relevant industry associations that bring together researchers, specialists, and manufacturers, including the BioTechnology Innovation Organization, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Advanced Medical Technology Association.


The DC metro region is #5 among U.S. metros for employment in research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences, as shown below. The Baltimore metro area, only a half hour train ride away from downtown DC, ranks #11.

Top 15 – Metro area employment in Physical, Engineering, and Life Sciences R&D


Metro Area Total Employment
Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH 89,155
San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, CA 69,060
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 47,904
San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad, CA 42,737
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 40,679
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 30,865
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 26,027
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 25,515
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 17,437
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 16,100
Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD 15,046
Albuquerque, NM 14,462
Durham-Chapel Hill, NC 14,241
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI 14,142
Pittsburgh, PA 9,938

Source: JobsEQ. 2022 Q1 Total Employment – Research and Development in the Physical, Engineering, and Life Sciences (NAICS 54171)

Both metro areas provide a competitive talent pool in the life sciences sector. In recognition of this, CBRE recently ranked the DC/Baltimore region as #2 in the country for life sciences research talent, with 25,130 workers employed in life sciences occupations in 2020. This group includes those employed as biochemists, medical scientists, biophysicists, as well as biological technicians and other relevant occupations.

To support the demand in the field, local universities produce top graduates in a variety of relevant sciences and expertise areas, providing businesses with a reliable pipeline of trained workers for the region’s growing pharmaceutical companies, research labs, and health innovation start-ups. Universities such as George Washington University, Johns Hopkins (#1 national recipient of NIH funding), George Mason University, and University of Maryland all provide ample research opportunities for students, faculty, and medical practitioners and serve as critical partners in innovation for the area’s companies.

District Developments

In the District, several recent developments will strengthen the ecosystem for life sciences and health innovation as the city begins to prioritize this sector. In 2021, Children’s National Hospital celebrated the completion of the 160,000 SF first phase of its nearly 12-acre Research & Innovation Campus development at Walter Reed in northwest DC. The 380,000 SF medical facility features a primary care clinic and is the first in the nation dedicated to pediatric research on complex and rare genetic diseases.

Serving as a partner on the campus project, JLABS @ Washington, DC also opened in 2021 to foster innovation in pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and other health technologies. The life science and healthcare incubator provides entrepreneurs and start-ups with access to laboratory and office space, mentorship, and investors. The DC JLABs location is also a Blue Knight hub, a partnership with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) that supports companies dedicated to addressing public health threats and emerging infectious diseases. Additional campus partners include Virginia Tech, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and the National Organization of Rare Diseases (NORD).

In the coming years, the District will welcome additional new research space at Howard University. The school is proposing plans for a mixed-use project with 260,000 SF of office/lab space, with the new National Research Center for Health Disparities anchoring the project. The center will provide a home for pharmaceutical companies and biomedical research organizations that specialize in chronic illnesses, with an emphasis on solutions for communities of color. Howard is also investing in a new $450 million, 225-bed Level I trauma and academic teaching hospital that is scheduled to open in 2027.

Adjacent to Howard, the District is advancing a transformation of the 25-acre McMillan Sand Filtration site into more than two million SF of residential, office, and retail uses. The redevelopment plan includes the McMillan Center for Health and Research, which will offer nearly one million SF of healthcare and medical research space in three, state-of-the-art health and wellness facilities.

In recognition of the growth in the sector throughout the region, the District government is also beginning to invest in supporting life sciences projects within the city. The Vitality Fund, an incentive for companies seeking to remain or expand within the District, is available for businesses in the life sciences sector looking to lease or own commercial space.

As part of the HOPE Initiative, the District will also apply for $92 million in federal funding for research and innovation facilities within four medical campuses. Children’s National’s Research and Innovation Campus, Whitman-Walker at St. Elizabeths, Howard’s National Research Center for Health Disparities, and George Washington University’s new Cedar Hill Regional Medical Center would all be recipients of funding to further develop the city’s lab, medical, and telehealth infrastructure. With hopes to capitalize on the sector’s expansion in the region, these investments will reshape the life sciences landscape within the District.

For more information on health innovation in the District, reach out to Audrey Polk or Prayas Neupane.

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