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Leading the Way in Biopharmaceuticals

Thought leaders explore emerging area of biotherapeutics

by | October 11, 2019

Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson
speakers biopharmaceutical symposium

University of Delaware Provost Robin Morgan (far left) and Delaware Biotechnology Institute Director John Koh (far right) join the speakers at the recent biopharmaceutical symposium at UD’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus.

The tremendous potential of the emerging class of medicines known as biotherapeutics — medicines produced from living cells — is exciting new terrain for researchers, industry and health care professionals.

Getting new drugs from the lab to the market remains a significant challenge, however. The discovery is difficult because, despite new biological insights and technological advances, the mechanisms of disease are still poorly understood. The delivery is formidable because complex diseases often require complex therapies. They must be effective, affordable to patients and a worthwhile investment for manufacturers.

Ensuring safe, reliable manufacturing is a big problem that drives the high cost of these therapies.

Thought leaders working at this nexus of discovery and delivery recently gathered at the University of Delaware’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus to discuss how academia and industry can better partner to advance solutions to disease. The event was hosted by the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI), a public-private initiative based at UD that offers expertise and facilities in bioinformatics, bio-imaging, DNA sequencing and genotyping.

UD Provost Robin Morgan called the University an “ideal place to have this conversation and do this work,” noting DBI’s long history of interdisciplinary science and UD’s strong commitment to biopharmaceuticals as the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals, or NIIMBL, which is a national partnership of 120 universities, community colleges, corporations, government agencies and nonprofit organizations. NIIMBL is one of 14 Manufacturing USA institutes focused on fundamentally advancing U.S. competitiveness in key industries.

The meeting was designed to expedite the connection between researchers and industry, inspire future collaboration and give students access to front-line leaders in this growing field. Participants heard from pioneering researchers and leaders from major pharmaceutical firms, with ample time for questions.

Biopharmaceuticals hold great promise in treating cancers and autoimmune or inflammatory disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease.

“Biotechnology has made the impossible possible for patients,” said Gail Wasserman, senior vice president at AstraZeneca. She noted  that the industry has long been focused on treating disease, but with biologic drugs, now is shifting to curing disease.

And the use of these drugs is expanding quickly. Irene Rombel, senior director and head of strategic analysis at Janssen Pharmaceuticals, said seven of the 10 top-selling drugs in 2018 were biologic medicines.