By Rick Sobey
LOWELL -- UMass Lowell already has a strong program in advanced manufacturing, anchored by the Massachusetts BioManufacturing Center on campus.
Now, the university's program will get even stronger as it joins a public-private partnership to develop new advanced manufacturing technologies and train a skilled workforce.
Massachusetts has been named a partner in the nation's first manufacturing innovation institute in biopharmaceutical manufacturing, and UMass Lowell is one of five universities supporting the effort -- working towards finding better ways to produce biotech drugs.
"We're obviously very excited about it," said Julie Chen, vice chancellor for research and innovation at UMass Lowell. "Biotechnology and biopharmaceutical manufacturing is a big industry for the state, and it's important for the state to maintain that leadership role.
"It's important here at UMass Lowell, making sure that biomanufacturing continues to grow beyond Kendall Square and the Boston area," she added. "A lot of companies are already moving out to the Route 3 area, as we expand manufacturing capabilities."
Massachusetts will anchor the northeastern node for the biopharmaceutical manufacturing project, which will be known as the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals.
The NIIMBL project will be led regionally by a consortium of small, medium and large biopharmaceutical industry partners from across the supply chain, along with UMass Lowell, MIT, Quincy College, UMass Medical School and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
NIIMBL aims to reduce the risks associated with manufacturing new cell and gene therapies, improve efficiency in order to deliver new therapies to patients more quickly and at lower cost, and increase the quality and safety of new biopharmaceutical products.
The project will also train an advanced manufacturing workforce capable of working in new biopharmaceutical manufacturing technologies.
"Education and workforce development is a big part of it, which is continuing to train the talent that makes those companies want to reside up here," Chen said.
"And the other piece is working very closely with the companies to help get these therapies to the market," she added. "It takes way too long to go from discovery to an affordable drug on the market."
The $250 million biopharmaceutical innovation institute is a national public-private partnership awarded through Manufacturing USA, a federally authorized network of manufacturing innovation institutes.
Federal matching funds for the manufacturing innovation institute will be provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology. The University of Delaware convened this Manufacturing USA team.
The state is supporting NIIMBL's collaborative research and development and workforce training efforts through a five-year, $20 million commitment from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center. The state's matching contribution leverages $70 million in federal funds awarded to the national project and additional matching funds from private sector participants.
"The University of Massachusetts is proud to leverage the Massachusetts BioManufacturing Center at Lowell and MassBiologics in Boston and Fall River as part of the NIIMBL effort," UMass President Marty Meehan, former UMass Lowell chancellor, said in a statement.
"UMass has years of experience assisting biotechnology companies in developing cGMP compliant manufacturing processes and in producing FDA-licensed therapeutics, offering solutions that improve productivity, quality and cost," he added. "NIIMBL reflects our commitment to expand these public-private partnerships that contribute to the research, innovation, economic development and workforce development needs of the commonwealth."