Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will be part of a new $200 million public-private partnership to advance U.S. leadership in biopharmaceuticals. A $70 million award from the U.S. Commerce Department will establish the new National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL), complementing an initial private investment of at least $129 million from a consortium of more than 150 companies, educational institutions, nonprofits, and state governments.

NIIMBL, led by the University of Delaware, will advance U.S. leadership in the biopharmaceutical industry, foster economic development, improve medical treatments, and ensure a qualified workforce by collaborating with educational institutions to develop new training programs matched to specific biopharma skill needs.

“This is a powerful new partnership that is uniquely positioned to have a profound impact on the state of the art in biomanufacturing of protein biologics, and cell and gene therapeutics,” said Jonathan Dordick, vice president of research and the Howard P. Isermann ‘42 Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Rensselaer. “Rensselaer has a long and distinguished history of important contributions to the field of biomanufacturing, and as a key member of NIIMBL, we expect that Rensselaer researchers will play a significant role in many aspects of this institute.”

While traditional pharmaceutical production relies on chemistry to create medical treatments, biopharmaceutical production relies on biology—living cells produce the treatments or their components—which requires a complex manufacturing process. Biomanufacturing is used to produce many widely used treatments for a growing number of health conditions such as cancer, autoimmune disorders, and infectious diseases—and generates billions of dollars in revenue worldwide. However, innovation is needed to allow more rapid and flexible production to meet healthcare demands and ensure U.S. leadership in the industry.

The institute will focus on bringing safe drugs to market faster and on developing workforce training. The biopharmaceutical field has a negative unemployment rate, with more jobs available than there are qualified workers.

Rensselaer is a “Tier 1” partner in the new NIIMBL and will play a large role in research projects, both in terms of defining national needs and performing research in collaboration with industry and other universities. Rensselaer will hold a seat on the NIIMBL Institute’s Governance Board, the only New York state-based university in that position.

“NIIMBL will play a seminal role in transforming biomanufacturing, including areas such as the development of novel therapeutic modalities, integrated biomanufacturing processes, and novel biosensor systems,” said Steven Cramer, Rensselaer lead investigator and the William Weightman Walker Professor of Polymer Engineering at Rensselaer. “We are extremely excited about the new opportunities this institute will present for the community of scholars in academia, industry, and the government who work in this critical technology area.”

Rensselaer’s expertise derives from its growth in biotechnology and the life sciences within the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS).

“CBIS serves as the hub for basic and translational research in the biomanufacturing of protein pharmaceuticals, as well as in the design of new genetic and cellular systems that are making their way toward clinical studies,” said Deepak Vashishth, CBIS director.

“This new partnership will help provide the necessary resources to advance America’s manufacturing industry and help ensure our country remains globally competitive,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “NIIMBL has the potential to substantially enhance our domestic competitiveness in biopharmaceutical manufacturing and remains critical to our economy. I wrote to the Secretary of Commerce urging for this funding because the global biomanufacturing industry is poised for significant growth and job creation. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is one of New York’s best manufacturing institutions and it is well positioned to lead this consortium to help spark more growth in high-tech manufacturing sectors, jumpstart new businesses, and help create good-paying jobs right here at home.”

NIIMBL is the 11th institute in the Manufacturing USA network, public-private partnerships each with a distinct technology focus areas and working toward a common goal—to secure America’s future through manufacturing innovation, education, and collaboration. It is the first institute with a focus area proposed by industry and the first funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC).

“In communities from coast to coast, the Manufacturing USA network is breaking down silos between the U.S. private sector and academia to take industry-relevant technologies from lab to market,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, during an announcement on December 16. “The institute announced today is a resource that will spread the risks and share the benefits across the biopharmaceutical industry of developing and gaining approval for innovative processes. The innovations created here will make it easier for industry to scale up production and provide the most ground-breaking new therapies to more patients sooner.”

“Rensselaer is a great source of pride for our area and plays a large role in cementing the Capital Region’s reputation of sitting on the cutting edge of innovation and technology,” said U.S. Representative Paul Tonko. “This will help RPI to continue to play that role in a larger capacity. I thank Dr. Dordick and his team for their tireless efforts to make announcements like this possible. I was proud to support this funding opportunity in a letter to Secretary Pritzker, and I look forward to seeing the enhanced workforce training and job development this support will bring to our communities.”

This manufacturing innovation institute was awarded under the 2014 bipartisan Revitalize America Manufacturing Innovation Act. It is the first Manufacturing USA “open topic” competition, in which industry was invited to propose institutes dedicated to any advanced manufacturing area not already addressed by another institute.

While government does not steer which new technologies get developed or how universities undertake research, the government does have a critical role to play as a catalyst and a convener. In recognition of this, the Commerce Department-funded institute was chosen from technology areas proposed by industry. Following broad dissemination of a Federal Funding Opportunity announcement, applications to establish the new institute were solicited by National Institutes of Standards and Technology and rigorously evaluated against written criteria by an expert panel to make the final selection.

The institute will foster collaborative technology development to benefit the industry as a whole, reducing risk for individual companies and lowering barriers for small and medium-sized companies. Its programs will focus on advancing current manufacturing platforms as well as creating new ones for emerging products.

The institute also will seek to develop flexible, rapid manufacturing capabilities that will help to ensure that manufacturers can quickly respond to pandemics and other biological threats. Beyond its research efforts, the institute will support the development of standards that enable advances in biopharmaceutical manufacturing. Collaborating colleges and universities will work with industry to provide education and training programs, curriculum development, and certification standards that will ensure a pipeline of skilled workers.

At Rensselaer, this initiative is enabled by the vision of The New Polytechnic, an emerging paradigm for higher education which recognizes that global challenges and opportunities are so great they cannot be adequately addressed by even the most talented person working alone. Rensselaer serves as a crossroads for collaboration — working with partners across disciplines, sectors, and geographic regions — to address complex global challenges, using the most advanced tools and technologies, many of which are developed at Rensselaer. Research at Rensselaer addresses some of the world’s most pressing technological challenges — from energy security and sustainable development to biotechnology and human health. The New Polytechnic is transformative in the global impact of research, in its innovative pedagogy, and in the lives of students at Rensselaer.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is America’s first technological research university. For nearly 200 years, Rensselaer has been defining the scientific and technological advances of our world. Rensselaer faculty and alumni represent 84 members of the National Academy of Engineering, 17 members of the National Academy of Science, 25 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 8 members of the Institute of Medicine, 7 members of the National Academy of Inventors, and 4 members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, as well as a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With 7,000 students and nearly 100,000 living alumni, Rensselaer is addressing the global challenges facing the 21st century—to change lives, to advance society, and to change the world. To learn more, go to www.rpi.edu.