Initiative Will Help Bring Medicines from the Lab to the Patients Faster

New biopharmaceutical institute

With funding from the new National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals, UMass Lowell will be able to support about 30 to 40 doctoral students per year.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

The U.S. Dept. of Commerce, through the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), has recently awarded $70 million to the newly formed National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL) to advance U.S. leadership in the biopharmaceutical industry, foster economic development, improve medical treatments and ensure a qualified workforce by collaborating with educational institutions to develop new training programs to match the skill needs of the biopharmaceutical industry.

The University of Delaware is the project’s overall lead, with UMass and MIT as major partners. UMass is spearheaded by UMass Lowell and UMass Medical School’s MassBiologics. Assoc. Prof. Seongkyu Yoon heads the effort for UMass Lowell, with help from Assoc. Prof. Carl Lawton, both of the Department of Chemical Engineering and the Massachusetts Biomanufacturing Center on North Campus. Other participating schools include Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, Maryland and Purdue.

NIIMBL is supported by an initial private investment of $129 million from a consortium of 150 companies, academic institutions, research centers, state governments, non-profits and manufacturing extension partnerships across the country. The consortium established on March 1 a new non-profit organization called USA Bio LLC to administer the cooperative agreement with NIST.

“The institute will accelerate innovation in biopharmaceutical manufacturing, support the development of industry standards and measures that enable more efficient and rapid manufacturing capabilities, and educate and train a world-leading biopharmaceutical manufacturing workforce to advance the country’s competitiveness in this industry,” says Yoon.

A Continuous Pipeline of Skilled Workers

Unlike other conventional medicines, biopharmaceutical drugs are manufactured in or extracted from living biological cells, requiring complex manufacturing processes. Biopharmaceuticals treat and prevent some of the most prevalent and debilitating diseases that affect human health, including cancer, diabetes, neurological and autoimmune disorders, and bacterial and viral infections. 

New biopharmaceutical institute

The global market for biopharmaceuticals is expected to reach $300 billion by 2020.

“This industry also plays a crucial role in America’s homeland security by developing flexible, rapid manufacturing capabilities to help drug makers to quickly respond to outbreaks of pandemic diseases like Ebola, bird flu and other biological threats and treat U.S. soldiers, first responders and healthcare workers,” notes Yoon.

Beyond its research and development efforts, the institute’s collaborating colleges and universities will work closely with industry to provide education and training programs, curriculum development and certification standards that will ensure a continuous pipeline of highly skilled workers.

According to a 2016 report by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the biopharmaceutical sector produced about 854,000 jobs. If you include indirect and induced jobs, the total number of jobs created is more than 4.4 million.

“We need to create a well-trained workforce for the field’s high-paying jobs, many of which are currently unfilled,” says Yoon. “And this need will continue to grow as the country’s population ages and the need for health maintenance increases.”

He adds: “With funding from NIIMBL, UMass Lowell is planning to start new biomanufacturing training programs as well conduct research projects with industry partners. We will also be able to support about 30 to 40 Ph.D. students per year.”