May 1, 2019

Massachusetts Life Sciences Center Awards Funding to Projects to Enable Biomanufacturing Innovation

Life Sciences Center awards $2.82 million to capital projects that support biomanufacturing innovation; Capital call part of robust, collaborative effort to improve efficiency and effectiveness of delivering therapies to patients

WORCESTER— Today, the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) announced $2.82 million in funding through a new capital program focused on supporting the life sciences ecosystem in Massachusetts by catalyzing biomanufacturing innovation. Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy made the announcement during remarks at the 4th Annual Advanced Biomanufacturing Symposium held at WPI.

The “Building Breakthroughs” capital program will fund four projects led respectively by Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), UMass Lowell, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Each institution will receive funding to collaborate with industry stakeholders to take a cross-disciplinary approach to improve the biomanufacturing process for much-needed drugs, therapies, and other treatment pathways for patients around the world.

“As a life science innovation hub, home to innumerable partners in industry and academia, we know that Massachusetts needs to and will take the lead in enabling and supporting biomanufacturing,” said Secretary Kennealy. “We are pleased to provide this new funding and capital program to encourage the partnerships that will improve the biomanufacturing process for much-needed drugs, therapies, and other treatment pathways for patients around the world.”

“As an investment agency focused on economic and workforce development on behalf of the Commonwealth, we do not shy away from the tough questions and challenges facing the industry,” said MLSC President and CEO Travis McCready. “We are excited by the potential these proposals offer in reducing costs and avoiding drug and treatment shortages. The collaborative nature of these efforts positions Massachusetts to be the leader in developing these critical biomanufacturing innovations.”

Manufacturing a biological product, or biomanufacturing, involves making products, such as vaccines, enzymes, and therapeutic antibodies, from living cells. More recently, cell and gene therapy have also demonstrated newfound potential in treating or curing diseases by transferring, removing, or changing living cells in a patient’s body or altering a patient’s genetic code. All of these processes have a manufacturing component in order to bring a specific product to market for patients to access. This involves producing and purifying very large quantities of the product for commercial use, which has historically produced a number of challenges related to quality, consistency, and cost effectiveness—creating a bottleneck of getting much needed therapies and treatments to patients in need.

“WPI has played a vital role in spearheading biomanufacturing efforts across Massachusetts and throughout the region, and we’re confident that this funding from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center will further those activities,” said Bogdan Vernescu, vice provost for research at WPI. “The support from MLSC will be instrumental in enabling WPI researchers to develop techniques that promise to revolutionize the industrial manufacture of gene therapies, which will drive growth and create jobs in the Massachusetts biotechnology sector and provide residents access to critical treatments.”

Vernescu noted that the WPI research will be led by Eric Young, assistant professor of chemical engineering, who will be collaborating with Intellia Therapeutics of Cambridge, Mass.

“MIT appreciates this investment by the Commonwealth in the capital required for breakthroughs in manufacturing biologics that are part of the new generations of medicines,” says Krystyn J. Van Vliet, associate provost and director of manufacturing innovation at MIT. “Our faculty, research staff, and students working on this research to solve technology challenges for production of antibodies and vectors – spanning multiple academic departments in science, engineering, and management with MIT’s Biomanufacturing Program (BioMAN) in the Center for Biomedical Innovation – look forward to bending the curve on how the world can make and use such biological products through this investment.”

“UMass Lowell is grateful to the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center for this latest investment in our research and industry partnerships through the university’s Massachusetts BioManufacturing Center. Through this grant, UMass Lowell will work with companies to develop new technology for use in biopharmaceutical manufacturing that will address a key challenge for the industry,” said UMass Lowell Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Julie Chen.

The “Building Breakthroughs” capital program is part of a robust, collaborative effort by the MLSC and its partners to encourage cross-sector leadership in the area of biomanufacturing. In 2016, the MLSC announced its partnership in the nation’s first biomanufacturing innovation institute, known as the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL). The Center serves as the anchor to the northeastern sector for the biopharmaceutical manufacturing project. Since 2016, the MLSC has committed more than $4.4 million to leverage continued investment to accelerate biomanufacturing innovation, support the development of standards that enable more efficient and rapid manufacturing capabilities, and educate and train a world-leading manufacturing workforce.

Earlier this week, the MLSC announced more than $30 million in capital grant funding to support Massachusetts life sciences sector through the sixth round of the Center’s Competitive Capital Program. Among the projects funded were two proposals with a biomanufacturing component from Quincy College and Northeastern University, with a specific aim of supporting workforce development in the biomanufacturing field. Quincy College will upgrade and expand laboratory equipment used in their Certificate Program for Biotechnology and Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) and their Associate Degree program to provide training in new biomanufacturing modalities, such as integrated continuous bioprocessing. Funding provided to Northeastern will allow them to build out a mock GMP suite and biomanufacturing suite at their Burlington campus to support their training programs in manufacturing, analysis and quality control. Collectively, the new facilities and equipment purchased with MLSC funding are helping to establish a next generation of the life sciences workforce by providing curriculum and hands-on training to both students and educators across the Commonwealth.

Massachusetts recognizes that as new innovative therapeutic modalities are being developed, currently marketed and future products can benefit from biomanufacturing innovation to reduce costs and avoid drug shortages. This past June, Governor Baker signed An Act providing continued investment in the life sciences industry in the Commonwealth to invest up to $623 million in bond authorization and tax credits over five years in education, research and development and workforce training. This legislation reinforces the Baker-Polito Administration’s commitment to ensuring Massachusetts’ leadership in the life sciences sector.

Overview of ‘Building Breakthroughs’ Proposals:

Worcester Polytechnic Institute – $580,500

Researchers at WPI are collaborating with Intellia Therapeutics to eliminate an existing bottleneck in manufacturing for the gene therapy industry. With a convergence approach, combining the areas of biology and manufacturing, the team will work toward increasing the production of recombinant adeno-associated virus (rAAV) using modified yeast cells. These rAAV vectors are critical for gene therapy treatments, and this technology could impact both supply and cost constraints.

UMass Lowell – $746,118

The UMass Lowell research team will partner with several industry companies, including Versatope Therapeutics in Lowell and Valerion Therapeutics in Concord, to develop a new “off-the-shelf” monitoring technology for use in continuous biopharmaceutical manufacturing. This novel technology will allow for increased quality control by measuring the concentrations of various components, such as cell density, glucose concentration, or antibody titer, during the manufacturing process. In so many cases, it is very difficult and cost prohibitive for those involved in gene, cell, and microbiome therapies to monitor their product in real-time to ensure quality and avoid contamination.

MIT – $750,000

Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) based drugs are a main source of growth in the biotechnology sector given their application in the treatment of certain cancers and autoimmune diseases, but are also among the most expensive drugs on the market. Massachusetts is home to many large mAb manufacturers, which regularly face time and resource challenges to produce these type of drugs. Researchers at MIT will partner with Chromatan and Takeda to explore technology that will de-risk new processes for purifying and formulating these drugs for large scale production.

MIT – $750,000

Viral vectors are considered the vehicle of choice in gene therapies and gene-modified cell therapies to deliver genetic material into a specific cell. However, viral vector production can represent up to 40 percent of the cost of goods of gene-modified cell therapies.  Additionally, during current production processes, it is greatly inconsistent how many virus capsids actually get filled with the proper vector DNA material, rendering many of the viral capsids with no therapeutic value. The ratio of empty to full capsids has been reported to be as high as 5 to 1. MIT will collaborate with MilliporeSigma, Sanofi and Artemis Biosystems on improving vector production and purification, which is needed to enable large-scale adoption of these types of therapies.

About the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center

The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) is an economic development investment agency dedicated to supporting the growth and development of the life sciences in Massachusetts, home to the most verdant and productive life sciences ecosystem in the world.  Through public-private funding initiatives, the MLSC supports innovation, research and development, commercialization, and manufacturing activities in the fields of biopharma, medical device, diagnostics and digital health.  Since its creation in 2007, the MLSC has strategically deployed over $700 million in Massachusetts, through a combination of grants, loans, capital infrastructure investments, tax incentives and workforce programs.  These investments have created thousands of jobs and propelled the development of new therapies, devices and scientific advancements that are improving patient health and well-being in Massachusetts and beyond.