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NIIMBL unveils next STAR Campus center

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(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. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

NEWARK – Federal and state officials gathered Tuesday morning to unveil the next National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL) center coming to the University of Delaware STAR Campus, which will focus on manufacturing improvements and education.

Funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as well as dues from its roughly 180 members, NIIMBL is a member of Manufacturing USA, a diverse network of federally sponsored manufacturing innovation institutes. The 5-year-old, public-private partnership tasked with accelerating biopharmaceutical innovation, supporting more efficient manufacturing, and educating a biopharmaceutical manufacturing workforce, gained prominence during the pandemic for its multifaceted role in the response.

The National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL) will build its next project on this plot of land to the north of the Pinizzotto labs on STAR Campus. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

NIIMBL already operates research labs and offices out of the Ammon Pinizzotto Biopharmaceutical Innovation Center on the STAR Campus, but it will now break ground on 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 a press conference, referring to it as a “field of dreams.”

“[The SABRE Center] will allow NIIMBL to actually demonstrate at scale, the modern, state-of-the-art manufacturing that will allow the United States to not just remain at the cutting edge of research and development in biopharmaceuticals, but at the very cutting edge of manufacturing too,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who has championed NIIMBL since its inception.

The SABRE Center – which was first identified by Delaware Business Times in March – will 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. Delaware’s Democratic congressional delegation secured $5 million in earmarks for engineering, design and build funding and $3 million in equipment funding in the federal Appropriations Bill earlier this year.

Coons noted that while $230 million has been invested by the federal government in the organization, it has also raised $380 million from private companies and other public entities.

NIST Director Laurie Locascio thanks NIIMBL leadership on its projects to date. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

“That metric is an incredible testament to your success, and it shows that NIIMBL actually works and delivers returns,” said Laurie Locascio, the director of NIST, the federal agency that oversees NIIMBL. “The work you lead helps make sure that breakthrough inventions don’t get stuck in labs and don’t get made overseas, but they get manufactured here in the United States, where we need them and need good jobs.”

UD President Dennis Assanis noted that the university sees NIIMBL as a “key part of its vision” for the STAR Campus, having invested more than $200 million into the Pinizzotto labs and hiring faculty to staff the facility and teach a new generation of students.

“We’re well on our way to making this a billion-dollar project,” he said, referring to the combined investments. “Who would have thought that we started in 2017?”

UD President Dennis Assanis predicted that investment in NIIMBL would approach $1 billion one day. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

University officials have said the 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.

Led by director Kelvin Lee, NIIMBL has seen an increase in federal support following the pandemic, culminating in $153 million in new funding from its federal partners last summer, including $83 million specifically to work on coronavirus-related projects.

The SABRE Center would join a STAR Campus that is increasingly being redeveloped from its former Chrysler factory past, with Chemours’ Discovery Center, Bloom Energy’s factory, the Tower@STAR office building, the STAR Health Sciences Complex and a new Amtrak station already open on the site. The newest building, the FinTech Center, is nearing an opening as well, while a proposal is being considered to add residential units to the front of the property.

The SABRE Center won’t join the other facilities just yet, as no construction timelines have been established. Design work has begun, after which more details on buildout and the potential workforce at the center would be available, according to Lee.

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