Strengthening University-Industry Biopharmaceutical Partnerships

Biopharmaceuticals products are manufactured to treat and prevent prevalent and debilitating diseases that affect human health, including cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and bacterial and viral infections. Unlike totally synthesized medicines, biopharmaceuticals are manufactured in, extracted from, or otherwise derived from biological sources and require complex manufacturing processes. In recent years, and particularly during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increased demand for talent to address the opportunities and challenges in the biopharmaceutical manufacturing industry.

Institutes such as the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL) have been assets to the growing biopharmaceutical manufacturing community. The institute aims to accelerate biopharmaceutical innovation, support the development of standards that enable more efficient and rapid manufacturing capabilities, and educate the next workforce generation. A part of Manufacturing USA®, the organization receives both federal and private funding, and its membership is extensive, including both biopharmaceutical companies and academic institutes.

Strengthening the biopharmaceutical manufacturing workforce has been one of NIIMBL’s core missions during the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 28th, 2021, NIIMBL hosted ‘Virtual Education and Talent Resource Fair’ a unique one-of-a-kind virtual networking event. Unlike regular networking events, this event was not aimed at students and recent graduates. NIIMBL used this pilot program to strengthen talent acquisition efforts nationally by enhancing relationships between the industry and NIIMBL member universities/community colleges (a list of participants from the event can be found here).

The representatives from the latter included instructors, academic advisors, career service professionals, business development, and industry relations personnel. One of NIIMBL’s goals for this event was to increase awareness among biopharmaceutical industries of the relevant education programs and training at various academic institutes.

The event drew strong participation from industry partners and academic institutes from all across the country. Over 35 biopharmaceutical companies attended the event, including major players such as GlaxoSmithKline, Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly and Company, Biogen, etc.

Through information sharing and personalized networking, industry representatives from talent acquisition, recruiting, human resources shared information and answered questions about current and future biopharmaceutical manufacturing needs, recruiting strategies, and internship opportunities for students and recent graduates. Many cross-country connections and partnerships were established between industry members and universities, and community colleges engaged in biopharmaceutical manufacturing education and training.

As highlighted by John Balchunas, Workforce Director at NIIMBL, such initiatives could help the biopharmaceutical industry recruit talent from diverse geographical and educational programs.

“Amongst our industry members, there is a universal consensus we will experience a pinch point for talent in the biopharmaceutical industry in the near future. Moreover, despite their best intention to seek talent from a wide geographical range, many companies end up recruiting graduates from local universities. One of NIIMBL’s goals is to expand the biopharmaceutical network and connect the academic and industry stakeholders,” he said.

Maria Chacon, Director of Marketing and Communications at NIIMBL believes that the NIIMBL will continue to leverage the online platforms to expand its workforce and talent development strategy.

“Face-to-face communication might be the preferred method for networking. However, there is a valuable space and need for expanding online events such as these. Even post-pandemic, there will be factors, such as geographical and time constraints, that could limit the success of in-person national networking events. NIIMBL will continue to strengthen biopharmaceutical partnerships through various channels, including the online platforms.”

Beyond strengthening the workforce talent, NIIMBL also funds several new technology and talent development projects designed to advance biopharmaceutical manufacturing in the U.S. The institute focuses on education training: providing relevant skills to companies and service members seeking a career transition into biopharmaceutical manufacturing. Additionally, it focuses on optimizing collaboration between institutes and universities to drive the next generation of training.

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Nivedita Uday Hegdekar

Nivedita is a student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, pursuing a PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology and an MS in law (patent law). She is passionate about science writing and communication, and is actively involved with the Maryland biotech scene through her work with Women in Bio- Capital Region , AWIS (Baltimore Chapter) and BioBuzz.