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Innovation Delaware Q&A: Kelvin Lee, director of the NIIMBL

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Kelvin Lee, Chemical Engineering.

One of the main reasons that the University of Delaware continues to grow in national stature is Kelvin Lee, Ph.D., Gore Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and director of the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL).

A decorated scientist who spent several years at the Biotechnology Institute in Zurich, Lee spearheaded NIIMBL’s application and was able to create a consortium of education and business leaders in support of the bid. Here, he talks about the work NIIMBL hopes to accomplish.

What is the mission of NIIMBL?

Each of the institutions addresses a different industry sector. Ours is dedicated to biopharmaceutical manufacturing. What many people aren’t aware of is that there are two categories of medications: those manufactured using chemistry, which include most pills and tablets, and those manufactured using biology, which is used in vaccines and cell therapies. That’s our area.

How does that work help patients?

Biology can be used to help manufacture a product that can create more complicated medications that are more targeted.

How does technology play a role in all of this?

This is about trying to develop innovations needed to manufacture new medications. Advanced technology is needed to do that, and we need a workforce that can do that. It must work in highly controlled environments that are highly regulated by the FDA. We will be providing skills to those workers.

What does this mean for the University of Delaware?

It’s exciting for a lot of different reasons. It does leverage some of the existing strengths of the university, such as chemical engineering and biotechnology. It also creates new opportunities for the region to be seen as a leading biopharmaceutical manufacturer. Companies will want to recruit people from the area and also want to place their manufacturing facilities here.

How will UD students be able to take part?

There are a lot of different opportunities. To the extent that NIIMBL is going to execute technical projects, I can imagine graduate students working on those projects and getting hands-on training. I can imagine community college students getting skills to be plant operators. And non-traditional students can get training to handle a piece of equipment.

This article appeared in the premiere issue of Delaware Innovation Magazine, an overview of the state’s cutting edge industries and the people leading them. See the whole issue here.

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