Biotech Industry Veterans to Lead WPI Biomanufacturing Education and Training Center

June 07, 2012

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Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) today announced the leadership team for the university's new Biomanufacturing Education and Training Center (BETC), which will open this fall with the mission of expanding and developing the multilayered work force needed by the growing biomanufacturing industry in the United States and around the world.

Irene Berner, a biopharmaceutical leader with more than 20 years of experience developing and managing biomanufacturing processes and programs, will serve as the BETC's director. Daniel Mardirosian, a bioprocess engineer and manufacturing manager with 18 years of industry experience, will serve as senior operations manager.

"We are very fortunate to welcome this talented and experienced team to WPI," said Stephen Flavin, vice president for academic and corporate development at WPI. "The value proposition of the BETC is to offer education and training programs that are highly relevant and targeted to meet the immediate and future needs of the biomanufacturing industry. Irene and Daniel are perfectly positioned to work with WPI faculty and our industry partners to develop and deliver these important programs."

Now under construction at WPI's Gateway Park in Worcester, Mass., the BETC will be a 10,000-square-foot facility with a fully functional biomanufacturing pilot plant. The plant, and its supporting laboratories and core facilities, will provide hands-on training and educational opportunities focused on the various processes used to produce medicines and research agents using engineered living cells. It will be a resource for companies and a portal for people looking to adapt their skills for entry into the life sciences industry. (The video above provides a virtual tour of the BETC.)

Prior to accepting the BETC director's position, Berner was director of chemistry manufacturing and controls (CMC) project management at Genzyme Corp. where her focus was one of the company’s lead enzyme replacement products. Earlier, she worked at GTC Biotherapeutics in several capacities, including director of quality control, microbiology, and director of project management, and held positions at AstraZeneca, Millenium Pharmaceuticals and Alpha Beta Technologies.

Before joining WPI, Mardirosioan served as a senior process engineer at Lonza Biologics. Prior to that, he spent seven years at Xcellerex (now part of GE Life Sciences), where he rose to become senior manager of manufacturing technical services, with responsibility for technology transfer, manufacturing management, and training. Earlier in his career Mardirosian worked at Dow Biopharmecutical and Alpha Beta Technologies.

"I am looking forward to working with the WPI team and our industry partners to develop this unique resource for the biotechnology industry," Berner said. "Having worked at biotech and pharmaceutical companies both large and small, I know there are critical needs for training and cross-training teams with a focus on quality and compliance at all levels. The fact is that many companies do not have the luxury of an in-house training center of this scope and scale, so the BETC will be a valuable resource for companies of all sizes as they look to improve and grow."

The BETC will be located in a four-story building now being built by the O'Connell Development Group of Holyoke, Mass.. Construction of the BETC and other life sciences spaces in the new building is funded, in part, by a $5.1 million capital grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC).

"Massachusetts is a leader in biomanufacturing, and WPI’s BETC is one of the unique resources that the center has funded to further strengthen that leadership," said MLCS President and CEO Susan Windham-Bannister. "The BETC helps ensure that Massachusetts continues to prepare workers with the specific skills needed by industry. We join the administration of WPI in welcoming this talented team to lead the BETC."

Abbott Laboratories, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Shire Human Genetic Therapies (HGT) have signed on as inaugural partners at the BETC. They will work with WPI to develop the curriculum and mentor students in the BETC's various programs. Pall Corporation, which is a leading manufacturer of filtration, purification, and separation systems used in biomanufacturing plants, is the first major technology provider to collaborate with the BETC. Pall will deliver chromatography liquid handling systems to the center. The systems were paid for with the help of a grant from the MLSC, which leveraged a matching 50 percent price reduction on the new equipment from Pall.

Construction of the BETC enhances WPI's already significant presence in the life sciences; over the past eight years, more than $130 million has been invested at WPI’s Gateway Park and the university's life sciences programs. These investments have come in the form of outstanding new faculty, supported by the most up-to-date technology and lab space, as well as flexible academic and corporate spaces in two buildings. The newest project at Gateway Park, construction of a residence hall, begins this summer. WPI's leadership at Gateway Park has transformed a once-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.