The University of Delaware broke ground Monday on an ambitious STAR Campus project that officials hope will propel UD and the state of Delaware to the forefront of biopharmaceutical research.
The $156 million project involves a six-story, 200,000-square-foot building that will be home to the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL), a UD-led coalition of 150 companies, educational institutions, nonprofits and state governments.
The building, which will also house amphitheaters for teaching and other UD programs, is slated to open in January 2020.
“It will be a hub of innovation and discovery to advance both the science and the manufacturing of these biopharmaceuticals of the future and make them available to people,” UD President Dennis Assanis said.
Biopharmaceuticals are prescription drugs made with living cells.
“The kinds of medicines we’re focused on are actually more complicated to manufacture than some of the tablets and pills people find,” said Kelvin Lee, a UD professor who directs NIIMBL. “We’re focused on things like vaccines, proteins, antibodies and even some of the next-generation treatments – cell therapies, gene therapies that are found to treat cancer.”
The institute’s first projects will be announced soon, Lee added.
Assanis said UD is well-positioned to excel in biopharmaceuticals because of the university’s strengths in chemical engineering, biomedical engineering, materials science and related fields.
“If we took the faculty members who work in those fields and we count the citations they produce in their technical work, and if we declared a department of biopharmaceutical science, we would be ranked No. 1 in the world,” he said.
Once completed, the new Biopharmaceutical Innovation Building will join a growing number of structures on the sprawling 272-acre STAR Campus, which UD bought from Chrysler in 2009.
“This initiative will catapult the development of the STAR Campus and help form a neighborhood,” Assanis said.
The new building will be constructed to the southwest of the 10-story STAR Tower, which is slated to open next summer and house part of the health science program as well as several undisclosed commercial tenants. The STAR Campus already features Bloom Energy, the UD health sciences complex, the technology company SevOne and a business incubator.
While the STAR Campus is still in its infancy, UD officials envision a future for the site as an urban-inspired campus centered around a new transportation hub and featuring research and development space surrounded by parks, restaurants, residential units, retail stores and a hotel.
The biopharmaceutical project could generate more than 1,000 jobs and attract other companies that want to locate near it, Assanis said. UD also plans to develop new courses and degree programs in biopharmaceutical science.
Students, ranging from undergraduates to Ph.D. candidates, will have opportunities to work with NIIMBL and associated companies.
“You can imagine this taking off now and becoming a real neighborhood of innovation,” Assanis said. “Our students will be right at the center of it. That’s why it’s so amazing.”
Unlike the other STAR buildings so far, which have been built by a private developer and partially leased back to the university, UD will fully fund the Biopharmaceutical Innovation Building. Approximately one-third of the $156 million cost will come from donations, while the remaining two-thirds will be funded through debt financing. This is the first time UD has taken on debt for an academic building, officials said.
On Nov. 10, the university will kick off a new donation campaign, with the Biopharmaceutical Innovation Building taking center stage, Assanis said.
State officials lauded the project as a step toward positioning Delaware to succeed in a changing economy and replace jobs that have been lost, such as the thousands of autoworker jobs that once existed at the site of the STAR Campus.
“Today is one of those critical moments where we can see the bending of the arch of history in a direction where the University of Delaware, the town of Newark, Del., and this state play a central role in a brighter and stronger future for manufacturing and innovation in Delaware and the world for the 21st century,” Sen. Chris Coons said. “That, folks, is a big deal.”