A strong collaboration between industry and academia insures a well-trained workforce, says Mirandes. In 1994, the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez (UPRM) started a five-year bachelor’s of science degree in industrial biotechnology. The curriculum includes classes in fermentation, thermodynamics, and bioremediation of hazardous substances.
The Industrial Biotechnology Learning Center at UPRM contains a 2,000-square-foot laboratory with bioreactors and chromatography columns. In addition to serving as a classroom for the students in the industrial biotechnology program, workers from the pharmaceutical industry are retrained in bioprocessing methods during intensive 40-hour sessions. Then the retrained workers are matched with the needs of biotechnology companies at a follow-up job fair.
Construction is under way on a 28,750-sq-ft Biotechnology Center for Research and Training in Bioprocessing, located at the Guanajibo Industrial Park near UPRM. The $125-million facility will house a pilot plant with suites for mammalian cell culture and microbial cell fermentation. The new Center will train workers from biotechnology companies and provide space for business incubation and contract production. The facility resulted from “the government and university asking biotechnology companies on the island what they needed to support their activities,” Mirandes says.
At the main campus of UPR in San Juan, ground was broken in June 2006 for a 152,000-square-foot molecular sciences complex, which will house faculty in interrelated disciplines, including molecular biology, proteomics, genomics, nanotechnology, and pharmacogenomics. The incubator space will hopefully encourage the spin-off of new biotechnology companies. “We hope to attract state-side scientists,” says Mirandes, some of whom may have left the island for better opportunities. The new complex links the medical campus of UPR with the new Puerto Rico Cancer Center, also under construction. The 20,000-square-foot facility is a joint venture of UPR and the University of Texas’ M.D. Anderson Cancer Center of Houston.
The biotechnology industry generally starts with small, research-and-development companies that grow to need manufacturing space. In contrast, manufacturing launched the industry in Puerto Rico, yet there are no biotechnology startups, even though top-notch researchers work at Puerto Rico’s universities.
PRIDCO is addressing this challenge by hosting venture capital forums to encourage researchers to commercialize their innovations. A $25-million venture capital program is available to fund initiatives.
“We’re creating the infrastructure for scientists to commercialize their research,” says Mirandes, who is certain that “we will have some success stories soon.”