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VIEWPOINT: Delaware innovation is driving regional, global biotech collaboration

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Michael Fleming

Regional, cross-state economic development is the kind of mom-and-apple-pie-concept that everyone seems to love – but can be as rare as a Bigfoot sighting in the actual wild.

So it was notable that UD’s Clayton Hall was recently the stage for a discussion not just about theory, but about the real thing in action.

In this case, the conversation centered on an unprecedented tri-state collaboration to make our region a central technology hub for cutting edge therapies for the most debilitating and rarest diseases.

The “Regional Precision Medicine Tech Hub” will leverage the unparalleled capabilities right in our backyard (De-Phl-NJ): a thriving cell and gene therapy sector, a bubbling entrepreneurial ecosystem and a national institute investing hundreds of millions of dollars to transform the production of complex biopharmaceuticals.

Leaders from Philadelphia-based Ben Franklin Technology Partners, and a trio of Delaware organizations – Innovation Space, the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceutical (NIIMBL) and Delaware Bio/Delaware Biotechnology Institute – sketched out the progress already made and exciting opportunity ahead for this initiative at our recent Delaware’s DNA: 2024 Life Science Conference.

The Tech Hub represents more than a hundred regional organizations and businesses, spanning biotech startups and world class research institutions to patient-focused groups and top economic and workforce development players. Soon we will be learning if a $75 million federal grant will be funding the hub’s ambitious plans, but its sheer creation is a noteworthy milestone for a region that was recently ranked the 4th hottest life science mecca in the country.

The conversation dovetailed perfectly with other panel discussions at the conference highlighting the central role biotechnology plays in driving innovation and “outsized value” for society.

Industry leaders and investors agreed that advances in AI, machine learning and modalities such as cell and gene therapy poise our industry to deliver transformational changes in the way we think about and treat disease and health care more broadly.

Throughout, the power of effective collaboration – learning, sharing and leveraging strengths between industry and research institutions, and across geographies – was a consistent theme.

And that notion was certainly apparent during a recent Delaware delegation visit to Ireland for a deep-dive into that country’s remarkable emergence as a global powerhouse in biopharmaceutical manufacturing.

Led by Gov. John Carney, the group included representatives of the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL), the Delaware Prosperity Partnership (DPP), the University of Delaware, industry executives, myself and others. We met with top officials from Ireland’s National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT), the Irish Development Agency, Enterprise Ireland, the National Science Foundation, key innovation leaders at Trinity, Cork and Limerick Universities and major employers like Eli Lilly.

It was an enlightening, productive and inspiring visit. Over less than two decades Ireland has established itself as an industry force, with billions invested by global biopharma and technology firms in cutting edge facilities employing tens of thousands. One-third of the country’s exports are innovative biopharmaceuticals, the product of a concerted, coordinated effort across government, industry and universities to develop one of the world’s most skilled and sought-after workforces.

We were impressed by the concerted multi-year efforts to drive an integrated industry-government-university approach to education and training and set the stage to explore some promising collaborations.

The Irish system isn’t perfect nor is it an exact analogue to Delaware – but our state and that small country do share important characteristics that are compelling. This includes our native strength in the life sciences and advanced manufacturing, serving as the home of NIIMBL, preeminent research institutions and global businesses like AstraZeneca and Incyte.

Those assets will be fundamental to the continued success of the Delaware life science sector of course, but our sustained, long-term growth will also be ensured by smart, targeted and mutually-beneficial partnerships beyond the First State, whether it be along the I-95 corridor or across the great blue sea.

 Michael Fleming is the President of the Delaware BioScience Association.


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