UNCW Selected For Partnership in $250 Million Program to Boost Development of New Biopharmaceuticals

Monday, January 09, 2017

The University of North Carolina Wilmington is part of a $250 million public-private national initiative to bring safe drugs to market faster and educate a new biopharmaceutical workforce. The National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals, based at the University of Delaware, will involve more than 150 companies, educational institutions, nonprofits and government partners.

“This initiative is designed to bring new biotherapeutic drugs to the market by developing and implementing new USA-based manufacturing processes,” said Dan Baden, executive principal of MARBIONC (Marine Biotechnology in North Carolina), a UNCW-based economic development program that promotes discovery and marketing of products and technologies derived from the sea. “At the same time, it will demonstrate the translational value of university research to the public through industry partnership.”

Biopharmaceuticals are prescription drugs made with living cells. UNCW is currently researching the therapeutic properties and potential pharmaceutical applications of microalgae found in the world’s oceans.

The university’s participation was bolstered by both its investment in marine biotechnology and its regional commitment to developing a marine and life science cluster in Southeastern North Carolina through a statewide initiative known as InnovateNC. Baden is co-chair of the local InnovateNC committee. Construction of the MARBIONC facility was funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and was another factor in securing UNCW’s selection.

The federal government will contribute $70 million to NIIMBL, with private industry providing the remainder of the expected $250 million investment. The goal is to build a network of public and private institutions that work together to develop new biological products and identify new manufacturing methods to get them to market. The network will connect companies with universities doing research in that area, opening an efficient pipeline to take products from the discovery stage to manufacturing production, Baden said.

The initiative incorporates many of the goals outlined in UNCW’s strategic plan, including commitments to providing a rigorous, relevant educational experience; preparing students to compete in a global economy; and employing the university’s research capabilities to address current and future societal needs.

“Partnership in this innovative and advanced manufacturing institute will continue to build on our considerable strengths in the marine and life sciences,” said Ron Vetter, associate provost for research and dean of the Graduate School. “UNCW will not only serve as a location for new technology development, but it will also support the institute’s education and training activities that will help produce the next generation of highly skilled workers for the biopharmaceutical industry and beyond.”

NIIMBL, whose formation was announced in December by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, is supported by NIST and is the nation’s 11th Manufacturing USA Institute. The institutes were established to promote innovation in manufacturing as a means to strengthen the U.S. economy and industrial base.

-- Tricia Vance