A major emphasis for both academic and corporate researchers at UNCW’s MARBIONC Center has been developing new ways to manufacture pharmaceutical products derived from living organisms.
Now that work will be promoted and expanded as part of a new, quarter-billion-dollar public-private consortium, supported by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST).
We are an important part of a group called the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL). In mid-December, the NIIMBL consortium won a competition sponsored by NIST, which is part of the US Department of Commerce.
Our institute is headquartered at the University of Delaware in Newark, and consists of more than 150 partners, including colleges and universities, state governments and private companies in the east coast region.
This is a high-profile initiative supported at the federal government’s top level. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker visited the University of Delaware on Dec. 16 to announce the new institute. It will be the eleventh Manufacturing USA Institute of a total of 15 expected to be created by the end of 2017.
This is what that organization’s website says about its purpose: “Manufacturing USA brings members of the manufacturing community together to overcome technical hurdles and to enable innovative new products though the institutes. It seeks to restore U.S. preeminence in manufacturing by addressing shared manufacturing technology and workforce challenges.”
Our institute was created to develop biopharmaceuticals. These are drugs made with living cells, which are far more challenging to produce than medicines based simply on chemistry. Examples are vaccines, some cancer and auto-immune-disease treatments and new therapies related to cells and genes.
In addition to getting these new drugs to market more quickly, our institute will also develop training programs for workers in the biopharmaceutical field. As with many growing high-tech industries, it has more available jobs than qualified workers to fill them.
Because UNCW and the MARBIONC Center are “Tier 1” partners in NIIMBL, I had the honor of being invited to participate in the final presentations during NIST’s visit to the University of Delaware campus in early December. The decision in our group’s favor was made quickly after that.
The institute’s value is expected to be around $250 million, including $70 million in federal funds and the rest as direct or in-kind contributions from industry and academia.
What this means for our programs at MARBIONC includes faster advancement of potential new drugs and development of new methods for manufacturing products using biological processes.
Now that we are part of this expanded network of participants, we see new opportunities to create new knowledge, train our students, and develop new biomanufacturing capacity.
Beyond our own campus and our industry partners, we anticipate benefits to our own local region. As part of the “Innovate SENC” program in New Hanover and Brunswick counties, we see opportunities for better interactions with local community colleges, local industries and the public at large.
Some specific MARBIONC projects that will directly benefit from being part of NIIMBL include our researchers’ work to introduce new drug scaffolds — substances used in creating newer, more complex molecules — and developing new, more efficient methods of developing substances that may be candidates for development as drugs. Devices called photobioreactors, developed in our laboratories, are producing newly discovered biological substances in much larger amounts, to much more rigorous standards, and at far lower cost, than older laboratory methods allow.
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We are part of this proposal because of our experience in developing small-size pilot plants, and our track record of offering private-industry partners our broad expertise in biotechnology.
To summarize, what I anticipate from being part of NIIMBL — a collaboration of collaborations — is the creation of new biopharmaceuticals, new jobs, new manufacturing methods, and a well-trained workforce, both nationally and locally.
The MARBIONC building, part of our CREST Research Campus, was funded by NIST as a public-private partnership. In its 69,000 square feet, government supported research and development takes place just steps away from laboratory space leased by private companies. On both the public and private sides, researchers are exploring the potential of organisms from the ocean and the unique chemicals they produce, with the ultimate aim of helping develop them into useful medicines.
UNCW CREST Research Park is a frontrunner in marine biotech research and development. Researchers are exploring the potential of natural products derived from the sea to treat or cure human diseases and meet other important needs. Discover why rising biotechnology and life sciences groups from all over the country are moving to CREST. UNCW CREST Research Park offers top-notch commercial laboratories available for lease at affordable rates, flexible terms, and innovative product development opportunities that are unmatched by any other park. Connect with CREST at firstname.lastname@example.org today.