University of North Carolina Wilmington has been chosen to be part of a new $250 million program to support the development of new biopharmaceuticals. The goal of the public-private national initiative, the university announced Tuesday, is to bring safe drugs to market faster and educate a new biopharmaceutical workforce.
The newly-formed National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL), based at the University of Delaware, will involve more than 150 companies, educational institutions, nonprofits and government partners.
Biopharmaceuticals are prescription drugs made with living cells. UNCW is currently researching the therapeutic properties and potential pharmaceutical applications of microalgae found in the world’s oceans, at its marine science center located off Masonboro Loop Road.
“This initiative is designed to bring new biotherapeutic drugs to the market by developing and implementing new USA-based manufacturing processes,” said Dan Baden, executive principal of MARBIONC (Marine Biotechnology in North Carolina), a UNCW-based economic development program that promotes discovery and marketing of products and technologies derived from the sea.
“At the same time, it will demonstrate the translational value of university research to the public through industry partnership.
“The program is an industry ‘needs’ driven program,” Baden added. “NIIMBL seeks to network the biopharmaceutical industry with research active universities to create value-added collaborations for each partner. Industries will solicit, through request for proposals, universities to carry out R&D work in the manufacturing sector for producing pharmaceuticals from single cell culture. NIIMBL anticipates supporting 10-20 projects per year.
"Along with all of the at-the-bench work, MARBIONC anticipates being involved in the education of students at all levels of post high school education.”
The university’s participation, Baden said, was bolstered by both its investment in marine biotechnology and its regional commitment to developing a marine and life science cluster in southeastern North Carolina through a statewide initiative known as InnovateNC.
InnovateNC is a two-year public-private project with a goal of fostering a creative, innovative environment similar to Research Triangle Park. The Wilmington area was one of five metropolitan areas
in the state that were chosen to be involved when the initiative kicked off in 2015. Baden is co-chair of the local InnovateNC committee.
The federal government will contribute $70 million to NIIMBL, with private industry providing the remainder of the expected $250 million investment. The goal is to build a network of public and private institutions that work together to develop new biological products and identify new manufacturing methods to get them to market. The network will connect companies with universities doing research in that area, opening an efficient pipeline to take products from the discovery stage to manufacturing production, Baden said.
“MARBIONC, UNCW and the broader southeastern North Carolina community have a unique opportunity to participate in, and garner support for programs through consultation with industry, development of formalized and executed manufacturing protocols, and production of pilot scale amounts of biopharmaceuticals for further development,” Baden said. “I see us performing in part like the R&D arm of industry, creating and facilitating development of new biopharmaceutical entities.”
“Partnership in this innovative and advanced manufacturing institute will continue to build on our considerable strengths in the marine and life sciences,” said Ron Vetter, associate provost for research and dean of the Graduate School, in a news release. “UNCW will not only serve as a location for new technology development, but it will also support the institute’s education and training activities that will help produce the next generation of highly skilled workers for the biopharmaceutical industry and beyond.”
While many biotechnology programs see biopharmaceuticals as arising from human cell culture, therapeutics may be similarly isolated from other living cell cultures -- animal, plant, fungal, or microbial, Baden said.
“In our case, we seek to exploit the biopharmaceuticals present in marine microbes of bacterial, algal, or other single cell character,” he said. “This is the niche that MARBIONC fills and we have several biopharmaceuticals in our pipeline.”
NIIMBL was formed in December by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, and is supported by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). NIMBL is the nation’s 11th Manufacturing USA Institute.