URI Providence Campus completes new biotech training lab for workforce development

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New center established with $100,000 gift from Lonza Biologics

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – March 4, 2009 – The University of Rhode Island’s Feinstein Providence Campus has completed construction of a new biotechnology training lab that will provide workforce training for biotechnology companies in the region.

The 2,400-square foot facility includes a 20-seat lecture room and laboratory workspace to enable participants to gain hands-on experience in a wide range of processes and equipment used in biopharmaceutical manufacturing.

“With the range of expertise we have here at URI, we can teach new hires from dozens of biotech firms about any number of processes they need to learn, from chromatography and membrane filtration to protein purification and regulatory compliance issues,” explained Andrew Mazurkie, coordinator of the URI Biotechnology Training Initiative. “And we can do it cheaper than the companies can do it themselves using our state-of-the-art equipment.”

The new $250,000 training lab was constructed with the help of a $100,000 gift from Lonza Biologics, Inc., a Hopkinton, Mass.-based supplier of contract biopharmaceutical development and manufacturing services. Lonza helps small biotechnology companies manufacture enough of their products to commercialize them, so they frequently need to train their workers on new processes, depending on the needs of their clients.

“This new facility is critical to the growth of the biotechnology industry in this region, which will need the ongoing workforce training capacity that the lab provides,” said Jeff Seemann, dean of the URI College of the Environment and Life Sciences. “By doing this, we will have helped to reposition Rhode Island as a key player in generating the kind of workforce necessary to build a 21st century innovation economy. Together with Providence Mayor David Cicilline and researchers at Brown University and Lifespan we are helping to revitalize the economy of the city by turning it into an incubator for biotech start-up companies while supporting the needs of the biomanufacturing community. Undoubtedly, these activities will positively impact our state’s economy — and image — for decades to come.”

URI has been training Lonza employees on a regular basis for six months using the University’s biotechnology teaching labs in Providence, but the new facility will be dedicated to industry training and will therefore avoid the scheduling conflicts that often arose when classes and other activities were scheduled in the teaching labs.

Mazurkie said that Lonza expects to schedule two-week training sessions in the new facility every six or seven weeks. Three times a year URI will also offer four regularly scheduled training units open to anyone in the industry on such topics as membrane filtration, column chromatography, genomics and proteomics, and biomanufacturing practices. Each of these sessions provides participants with both lecture and hands-on lab experience.

“This lab is the next step in the evolution of the biotechnology programs here at the Providence campus,” said John O’Leary, director of special programs at URI. “We started with the undergraduate program in biotechnology manufacturing, which continues to be a popular way for older students to transition into the biotech industry. That evolved into our first steps into workforce training with our Biotech Training Initiative. And this year we also opened our first research laboratory, where new vaccines are being developed under the direction of Dr. Annie De Groot.”

Biotechnology companies interested in learning more about workforce training opportunities at the URI Feinstein Providence Campus should contact Andrew Mazurkie at asmasurkie@mail.uri.edu or 401-874-2648.