Biomanufacturing research at University of Delaware gets $8 million federal boost

At the announcement of the $8 million federal grant at the University of Delawares’ Science Technology and Advanced Research Campus. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

At the announcement of the $8 million federal grant at the University of Delawares’ Science Technology and Advanced Research Campus. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

The University of Delaware will get $8 million in federal funding to invest in biomanufacturing efforts and expand its life sciences workforce on the school’s Science Technology and Advanced Research Campus.

The federal funding consists of $5 million from the Department of Health and Human Services to build a biomanufacturing facility and $3 million from the National Institute of Standards and Technology to create the Biomanufacturing TestBed. These funds will support efforts to scale up innovation and manufacturing as well as workforce development.

With this funding, the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL), which is headquartered near the Newark campus, will be able to demonstrate modular state-of-the-art manufacturing at scale. That work is designed to help everyone get fully prepared to respond to the next pandemic.

“There is a lot of need for innovation in this country, particularly in biopharmaceuticals,” said NIIMBL director Kelvin Lee. Lee, who also serves as interim vice president for research, scholarship, and innovation at the University of Delaware. Lee added these investments will benefit the country’s future and help bio-manufacturers respond to future pandemics.

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Lee was joined for the funding announcement Tuesday morning by Delaware’s U.S. senators Chris Coons and Tom Carper who toured the STAR Campus alongside UD president Dennis Assanis.

“The $8 million that we were reviewing, how it will be spent here is a key part of buying new equipment, building out lab space, and designing what will go into the so-called field of dreams immediately next door,” Coons said. “These funds, in my view, are taxpayer dollars well-spent.”

Senator Chris Coons, Tom Carper, and University President Dennis Assanis at the University’s laboratory. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

Specifically, the money will help fund research to improve the production of “buffers.” Buffers are used in biomanufacturing to make medicines safer for people. According to Lee, a typical facility may require one to two million liters of buffers annually, hence they are focusing on finding a faster technology to produce buffers. In an eight-hour shift, one worker may complete 2,000 buffers. “We’ve been able to demonstrate by working collaboratively across the industry a new technology that can make 2,000 liters of buffer in about 55 minutes,” Lee said.

These developments, according to Carper and Laurie Locascio, directors of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Secretary of Commerce, will open up opportunities for workforce development that could lead to better jobs and a higher standard of living for Americans for many generations to come.

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“One of the roles of the government is to provide what I describe as a nurturing environment for job creation, job preservation. We don’t create jobs in government. We help create a nurturing environment which includes providing space,” Carper said. “A place to build and make things, including training a workforce, making sure that we can export some of the products that we manufacture.”

Carper said the investment continues the legacy of manufacturing at the site that the STAR Campus now occupies. The site was once used to build tanks for use in World War II. The production facilities eventually transformed into a Chrysler manufacturing plant which employed thousands and cranked out millions of cars.

Coons and Carper said they’re confident these new investments will lead to continued success. “We are going to build pharmaceuticals, make pharmaceuticals. They’ll be sold around the world. And we’re going to do it in a way that involves continuous manufacturing.”

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