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May 14, 2012

New UMass Accelerator to Focus on Growing Biomanufacturing

  • The University of Massachusetts (UMass) Dartmouth will break ground this week on a $28 million business accelerator in Fall River, MA, that is intended to advance the biomanufacturing segment of the state’s growing life sciences industry. The Massachusetts Accelerator for Biomanufacturing is being billed as the facility in the nation that will allow start-up companies to produce their own drugs. Companies using the facility will in return shell out license and fee-for-service payments.

    UMass agreed to pay $10 million toward creating the biomanufacturing accelerator, with another $14.6 million coming as a capital grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC), the quasi-public agency that implements the 10-year, $1 billion Massachusetts Life Sciences Act enacted in 2008 by Governor Deval Patrick. The remainder came from donations by industry.

    Gov. Patrick is expected to lead dignitaries in a groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday along with UMass president Robert L. Caret, UMass Dartmouth chancellor Jean F. MacCormack, UMass board of trustees chairman James Karam, state Sen. Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport), state Rep. David Sullivan (D-Fall River), Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan, and officials from MLSC, the UMass Building Authority, and the Greater Fall River Development Corporation.

    The biomanufacturing accelerator is expected to be completed in fall 2013. UMass says the center will be linked to its recently launched biomaterials and biomedical engineering program and collaborate with the university's other innovation centers including the main campus' 20,000 square foot inter-disciplinary research facility that includes a full cGMP facility, the Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Center located nearby, and the School for Marine Science and Technology in New Bedford.

    Paul Vigeant, the assistant chancellor for economic development at UMass Dartmouth, told The Herald News that the biomanufacturing accelerator “helps redefine this region as a great location for biomanufacturing." Vigeant said the 38,000 square foot center can host three of four companies at a time but will more often have one or two, among roughly 15 to 18 a year expected to occupy the accelerator. The facility’s selling points for startups include the availability of rental space for a few weeks at a time, he said, at a cost far less than the often-prohibitive rents charged at lab buildings in much of the Bay State.

    Other selling points: Its location is an hour’s drive from the Boston/Cambridge region as well as far cheaper utility and land costs for the center, which according to Vigeant “will have a significant and transformative effect on our region.”

    The accelerator is designed as an anchor to the SouthCoast Life Science and Technology Park, a 300 acre life science campus expected to anchor biopharma activity in southeastern Massachusetts. The accelerator will occupy 4 acres donated by the city of Fall River and house early-stage biopharma companies. More advanced companies are expected to expand into stand-alone buildings planned for 150 acres set aside for the purpose.

    The accelerator is one of two significant biomanufacturing projects under construction in the Bay State. The other is a new pilot-scale biomanufacturing training center at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). Three biopharma giants, Shire, Abbott, and Bristol-Myers Squibb, assisted WPI in facility planning and curriculum design for the $32 million Biomanufacturing Education and Training Center (BETC), a 10,000 square foot commercial-scale pilot plant now under construction at Worcester’s Gateway Park. MLSC helped fund the project with a $5.1 million capital grant.

    When BETC opens later this year, the companies will deliver programs and mentor students pursuing careers in biopharma manufacturing. All three BETC “partner” companies have manufacturing operations: Abbott’s Bioresearch Center is in Worcester, while BMS completed a $750 million bulk biologics manufacturing site in 2009.

    --
    To read the story from The Herald News, click here.


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