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NIIMBL gets $15M in federal earmarks for expansion

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NIIMBL National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals Kelvin Lee

(L-R) NIIMBL Director Kelvin Lee talks with Sen. Tom Carper, NIST Director Laurie Locascio, Sen. Chris Coons, UD President Dennis Assanis and his wife, Eleni, during a September tour of the Ammon Pinizzotto Biopharmaceutical Innovation Center. The federal delegation recently secured $15 million for NIIMBL. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

NEWARK – The National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL) received $15 million in total federal earmarks last month to support its planned expansion on the University of Delaware’s STAR Campus.

Delaware’s federal delegation, including Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, lobbied support for the congressionally directed spending in the latest omnibus appropriations bill to support the public-private entity that advances the nation’s biopharmaceutical manufacturing capabilities.

NIIMBL already operates research labs and offices out of the Ammon Pinizzotto Biopharmaceutical Innovation Center on the STAR Campus, but it will next build the SABRE Center, which is an acronym for Securing American Bio-Manufacturing Research and Education. It will be located on an empty plot of land just to the north of the Pinizzotto labs, officials announced in September, and be a so-called current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) facility that would support biopharmaceutical innovation for clinical research in preparation for future public health emergencies.

University officials have said the SABRE Center project would be a space for research in the manufacturing sector as well as workforce training and development around vaccines, therapeutics and biopharmaceuticals – a burgeoning industry in northern Delaware. While essentially a R&D and training facility, it would also be a fully functioning manufacturing plant that could pitch in to help scale the production of vaccines or other drugs for clinical trials or in response to outbreaks.

The federal delegation secured $5 million total in the last appropriations bill to begin design on the SABRE Center, with $3 million more supporting equipment acquisition. In the latest funding, $10 million is allocated to construct the facility with $5 million more for equipment.

“With this funding, we’re one step closer to seeing NIIMBL’s vision at the University of Delaware realized. That means major investments in the research and development of life-saving medicines, the creation of good-paying jobs, the training to perform these jobs, and the economic vitality of our state,” Blunt Rochester said in a statement.

NIIMBL Director Kelvin Lee said the SABRE Center was still in the design phase and a construction timeline was not yet available, but he thanked the elected officials for advancing the financial support.

“We are so grateful for the very hard work that our entire federal delegation does to support our work and vision. These Congressionally-directed projects and initiatives create important opportunities for innovation and job growth in ways that will support NIIMBL’s mission as well as economic development in the state,” he said.

Coons, who has championed NIIMBL through the federal Manufacturing USA network that he helped design, said the SABRE Center would be important to advancing bioscience in the country.

“NIIMBL, with a GMP testbed facility, would be a real hub for both demonstrating new cutting-edge manufacturing processes and training Delawareans in how to use them. Then my hope is that it would generate several new spinoff companies or attract new companies from around the world,” he told Delaware Business Times, noting it has already helped land one major prospect in WuXi STA Pharmaceutical. “The complex in Middletown could ultimately be thousands of jobs, and across the NIIMBL network nationally workforce development is a key goal.”

In another important distinction, Coons secured an amendment in the annual National Defense Authorization Act that would allow NIIMBL’s federal sponsor agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), to directly support Manufacturing USA projects without the need for congressional earmarks.

“That means NIST can now directly support the construction of the good manufacturing practices facility at NIIMBL,” Coons explained.

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