NIIMBL knows; cheaper medication means lives saved

Kelvin Lee
Kelvin Lee

In the fast-moving world of biopharmaceuticals, the University of Delaware is preparing to demonstrate the importance of being NIIMBL.

Launched at UD’s Delaware Biotechnology Institute last year, the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL) is moving from its startup and organizational phase into working on developing new technology, says Kelvin Lee, the institute’s director and Gore Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at UD.

NIIMBL’s mission isn’t to create new medicines. Rather, Lee says, it is to develop technology that will help biopharmaceutical manufacturers produce drugs more reliably and get them to the patient faster.

He mentions advances in development of “personalized treatments” for cancer — a single, customized dose that could put a patient’s cancer in remission for years. However, he says, it can take several weeks to create these custom medications, and often that’s longer than the patient’s life expectancy. NIIMBL will be looking for ways to accelerate the process so the medication gets to the patient before it’s too late.

NIIMBL currently has a team of 24, and is looking to hire a few more. Most work at the institute’s site at the Delaware Technology Park, but three are based at North Carolina State University. UD students will eventually get involved in the research projects, and some should have opportunities to work as interns or apprentices with biopharmaceutical manufacturers.

Ultimately, Lee says, there are several ways NIIMBL’s work could make for a healthier nation.

“Look at public health threats, especially flu vaccines and man-made threats,” he says. “How can we quickly respond, and have manufacturing technologies ready to meet these challenges?”

Biopharmaceuticals, he adds, are among the most expensive medicines to make. “If we can reduce the costs of the goods needed to make these medicines, then the medicines can become more available.”

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