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Bill would create entity to commercialize research

By From the Boston Business Journal

by Brian Kladco, Journal staff

The University of Massachusetts is hoping to create a corporate entity that would enable its biomanufacturing and nanomanufacturing centers to be more nimble players in the commercial arena.

The proposed entity, part of the economic stimulus bill passed by the Legislature last week, would have the power to strike deals with other companies to produce test batches of biopharmaceuticals or nanomaterials at the Lowell, Dartmouth and Amherst campuses.

The Corporation for Advanced Manufacturing in Massachusetts, as it would be called, would be a university subsidiary. The bill, which awaits Gov. Mitt Romney's signature and potential line-item vetoes, doesn't spell out the entity's governing and management structure, but it would probably be run by a mix of academics and private sector representatives.

The university decided to push for the creation of a subsidiary corporation after discussions with biotech executives about plans to expand its biomanufacturing and nanomanufacturing capabilities, which are focused on helping companies make the leap from small-scale laboratory production to mass production, said Jeffrey Brancato, UMass' associate vice president for economic development.

Whenever a biotech company wants to use the university's facilities to create a test batch, an agreement must be structured like any other sponsored research, and it must go through lengthy bureaucratic approvals.

"With the existing framework we had in place, things were really cumbersome to get done," said Carl Lawton, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. "Often the contractual piece ... would take several months to review, and the industry really wants a 24-hour turnaround."

The new corporation would be "a single point of contact that is fully empowered by the university to make things happen," said Mark Trusheim, president of Co-Bio Consulting LLC in Acton and former interim president of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, who was hired by the university as a consultant.

The University of Massachusetts-Lowell started a bioprocessing center more than 10 years ago. The Lowell campus is now teaming up with the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Tufts University to create an expanded Massachusetts Biomanufacturing Center.  The university predicts the center would help develop 10 new drug compounds a year.

Meanwhile, the university system is creating two nanotech manufacturing centers -- one at the Lowell campus, the other in Amherst -- after winning two separate grants from the National Science Foundation.

The stimulus bill doesn't allocate any money for the corporation itself, although it does authorize $35 million in direct funding and bond issues to build an $80 million manufacturing facility on the Lowell campus that would house the nanomanufacturing center and the Lowell branch of the biomanufacturing center. The bill also authorizes $10 million in bonding to create a bioprocessing facility at Dartmouth.