With the mission of providing state-of-the-art education and training in the fast-emerging field of biopharmaceutical processing, the Jefferson Institute for Bioprocessing (JIB) formally opened its doors May 31 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, tours and symposium.
Biologics represent about 40 percent of drugs in the pipeline with total global revenue of over $200 billion annually, but pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers are limited by the lack of trained professionals in this field.
To meet these critical workforce needs, Jefferson established the first and only North American training institute in collaboration with industry leader National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT), utilizing the GE Healthcare FlexFactory Platform to produce biopharmaceuticals.
“JIB is in the sweet spot between healthcare and innovation,” says Jefferson President Dr. Stephen K. Klasko in front of government officials and University leadership, faculty and trustees in attendance.
Today’s colleges and universities must ensure they prepare graduates for the future of work, says Dr. Mark L. Tykocinski, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Jefferson. At the same time, higher education needs to look beyond tuition and philanthropy to ensure its viability and vitality.
“The Jefferson Institute for Bioprocessing is the first example at Jefferson of an academic business unit—one that diversifies the generation of resources aimed at addressing the needs of a rapidly changing society,” says Dr. Tykocinski, the Anthony F. and Gertrude M. DePalma Dean of the Sidney Kimmel Medical College.
The growth of biologics represents a major industry shift from traditional chemical synthesis techniques. Biologic pharmaceuticals are manufactured in a living system, such as a microorganism, plant or animal cell, often using recombinant DNA technology. However, with a complex manufacturing process and lengthier regulatory approval process compared to traditional small-molecule drugs, biologics remain challenging to produce.
“It’s a personal pleasure and an honor to be here,” says Dominic Carolan, CEO of NIBRT, based in Dublin, Ireland. “This is an industry that has incredible growth. These are absolutely lifesaving products.”
JIB offers a broad range of training programs to advance the skills and knowledge of scientists, engineers and technicians who work in process development and biomanufacturing of biopharmaceuticals and biologics. Through the 25,000-square-foot flexible facility at Spring House Innovation Park in Lower Gwynedd, Pa., JIB provides tactile training by combining interactive presentations, workshops, and hands-on laboratory and pilot-scale experience.
In addition to open enrollment courses, JIB also offers customized training to meet industry needs with specialized courses developed with companies and delivered either at JIB or the company site. JIB will train approximately 2,500 bioprocessing professionals annually, with the first training session in July.
JIB’s roots began nearly three years ago when Mary Lynne Bercik ’90, fashion merchandising and management alumna and now an executive director at Merck, approached the University with the idea of working with NIBRT.
“She believed that Jefferson was perfect for this type of partnership because of the strengths that our legacy programs brought to the table—science and health on one side and design, engineering and business on the other,” says Kathy Gallagher, University chief operating officer.
Bercik’s initial meeting with Dr. Ron Kander, dean of the Kanbar College of Design Engineering and Commerce, in summer 2016 laid the groundwork, and following months of research and planning, Jefferson and NIBRT signed the formal agreement in February 2018.
Since then, Jefferson focused on hiring the JIB management team, including executive director Dr. Parviz Shamlou, and developing external partnerships with Bucks and Montgomery County Community Colleges, members the biopharmaceutical manufacturing industry and the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL).
“From K-12 STEM enrichment activities, to enhancing community college curricula and associate degree programs, to our own Jefferson undergraduate and graduate degree programs, to industry certificates and workshops for training and retraining of practicing professionals, JIB is laser-focused on the entire education, training and workforce development continuum,” Dr. Kander says.
After the ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by over 300 guests—including State Rep. Todd Stephens and State Rep. Liz Hanbidge, attendees toured the new facility. They also heard from four experts on closing the workforce gap in biomanufacturing: Killian O’Driscoll, director of projects of NIBRT; Christel Fenge, head of R&D bioprocess at GE; Barry Buckland, executive director of NIIMBL; and JIB’s Dr. Shamlou.
“Biomanufacturing is going through an unprecedented period of innovation in new products and growth in legacy therapeutics that promise many new jobs over the next decade and beyond,” Dr. Shamlou says. “Our feedback from industry is that many new entrants to the workforce do not have the right skills and knowledge and require additional training to be productive to expected levels. Even when companies are able to develop internal training programs for their employees, oftentimes, this is not what they consider the best use of their resources. JIB has responded positively, proactively and creatively to address these issues by investing in infrastructure, people and resources to create new training and education programs relevant to the needs of industry.”