Responding to the significant need for an expanded, well-trained workforce to help their industry grow, Abbott Laboratories, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Shire Human Genetic Therapies (HGT) have signed on as inaugural partners for Worcester Polytechnic Institute's (WPI) Biomanufacturing Education and Training Center (BETC), a first-of-its-kind facility in the Northeast now under construction at WPI's Gateway Park.
Funded in part by a grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, the BETC (www.wpi.edu/+biomanufacturing) will be a fully functional biomanufacturing pilot plant, providing hands-on training and educational opportunities for the multilayered workforce needed to produce medicines and research compounds using engineered living cells. Experts from the inaugural partners are working closely with WPI faculty and staff at every step of the BETC's development, from facility planning to curriculum design. They will also help deliver programs and mentor students when the center is operational.
"We are pleased to have these world-class partners working with us to establish the BETC as the vanguard for biomanufacturing workforce development," said Stephen Flavin, WPI's vice president for academic and corporate development. "This blending of academic and industrial expertise will make the BETC a dynamic facility to serve students and life sciences companies throughout the region."
Biopharmaceuticals are medicines produced by living cells, then isolated, purified, and packaged for patients. Now the fastest-growing segment of the therapeutics industry, biopharmaceutical companies have produced new medicines to treat cancer and inflammatory and infectious diseases. Increasingly, however, the biomanufacturing industry is limited by a lack of qualified employees at every level: from equipment operators, to quality control lab analysts, to senior-level scientists. WPI is investing in the BETC to fill that critical gap today and to foster the development of life science leaders and entrepreneurs for generations to come.
"Education and workforce development are essential components to supporting our communities and stimulating and sustaining local economies," said Bill Ciambrone, senior vice president of technical operations at Shire Human Genetic Therapies (HGT). "Partnering with institutions like WPI to provide hands-on training helps ensure that the industry will have the qualified workers we rely on to deliver new, innovative therapies to patients."
The BETC will have industry-standard process areas of equipment preparation, buffer and media preparation, fermentation and cell culture, product capture, purification, and analytics. Content-rich programs in the BETC will give graduate and undergraduate students the chance to work on projects that are relevant to the industry, while learning the real-world business practices and workflows of life sciences companies. Biomanufacturing companies will use the BETC as a training center for new or existing employees, thereby avoiding the capital and productivity costs typically associated with in-house training programs.
"We are so pleased to see the development of these partnerships between WPI and some of our leading life sciences employers in Massachusetts," said Susan Windham-Bannister, PhD, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center. "More and more companies are choosing Massachusetts as a great place to locate their biomanufacturing operations, creating job opportunities for people with a wide variety of skills. We need to ensure that the workforce needs of these companies will be met, and the BETC will play a critical role in that."
Eamonn Gould, vice president and general manager of Bristol-Meyers Squibb's new biologics manufacturing center in Devens, Mass., agreed: "This program provides a great model for private industry and educational institutions to collaborate in workforce development. Bristol-Myers Squibb is proud to have participated in this work with WPI for the past four years. Our employees lend their technical expertise in developing curriculum and facilitating courses and we support the program's continuing growth and success."
For several years, WPI has worked with industry partners to deliver an entry-level biomanufacturing certificate training program at the university's small-scale bioprocessing laboratory. In contrast, the curriculum at the new BETC will cover all elements of a biomanufacturing enterprise, in the context of a 10,000-square-foot commercial-scale pilot plant.
"Abbott has had a successful partnership with WPI for many years helping to develop, refine, and teach elements of its biomanufacturing certificate program," agreed Ralph Lambalot, Abbott's divisional vice president for biologics development and manufacturing launch. "Our close proximity in Worcester has allowed us to use Abbott's Bioresearch Center to provide real-world learning experiences and job opportunities for students."
The BETC will be located in a four-story building now under construction at Gateway Park by the O’Connell Development Group of Holyoke, Mass. Occupancy is expected in late 2012.
"Dynamic partnerships that support emerging and growing industries are core elements of WPI's mission," Flavin said. "We look forward to working closely with our inaugural partners at the BETC and others who see the significant benefits of expanding biomanufacturing."
Construction of the BETC enhances WPI's already significant presence in the life sciences; over the past seven years, the university has invested more than $100 million in life sciences education, research, and infrastructure. These investments have come in the form of outstanding new faculty, supported by the most up-to-date technology and lab space. Most notably, WPI has invested $65 million in Gateway Park, bringing to life a comprehensive urban redevelopment project that transformed a blighted and underutilized area in Worcester's core into a clean, thriving, mixed-use park that is home to a growing range of academic, research, and commercial enterprises.