NEWARK – The University of Delaware and Waters Corp. announced a five-year research partnership Wednesday that will build a research lab aimed at improving drug product quality, yields, process efficiency and process control.
The Massachusetts-headquartered Waters is a more than 60-year-old specialty measurement company with expertise in chromatography, mass spectrometry, and thermal analysis – lab techniques used in the production of vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, and cell and gene therapies. It has more than 7,400 employees in 35 countries.
The partnership will create Immerse Delaware, an innovation and research lab at UD’s STAR Campus in the Ammon Pinizzotto Biopharmaceutical Innovation Center in early 2022, where company researchers, university students and faculty will tackle challenges together. The first projects announced by the partners will seek to quantify and ultimately minimize process-related impurities from uncontrolled glycosylation, which negatively impacts drug efficacy.
Levi Thompson, dean of the university’s College of Engineering, noted that over the past few years he’s had conversations with Udit Batra, the president and CEO of Waters and a UD graduate, about how his companies could collaborate with his alma mater. Those conversations accelerated during the pandemic to produce a partnership that is different from many that UD faculty are engaged in. The problems to be studied and solved are more specific to singular applications, typically in the manufacturing process.
“The expectation is that in relatively short order we’ll be able to translate the results out into a product or maybe even a spinoff company from the university,” Thompson told Delaware Business Times. “The STAR Campus would be a great place to spin off companies because there’s some real estate there and we have some laboratories that we can also make available. But you have to have something done, there has to be some work or some initiative, and I think this will just be the start of it.”
The company cited UD’s leadership in chemical and biological manufacturing research as well as its active support and close proximity to the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL) – a collaborative effort amongst industry, academia, and regulators – as among its reasons for investing in the partnership.
It’s the second such collaboration for Waters since it opened Immerse Cambridge in 2020 as a bridge to other researchers in the biopharma hotbed of the greater Boston area, as well as Boston University students.
“We strongly believe that the most difficult challenges can only be solved through collaboration across academia and industry,” Batra said in a statement. “Our partnership [with UD] eventually aspires to decouple the product from the process, which can significantly accelerate the delivery of higher quality medicines to patients.”
Thompson acknowledged that the COVID crisis helped drive the discussion about partnering in a way to help improve the development and manufacturing of vaccines and drug treatments. He echoed NIIMBL Director Kelvin Lee in saying that developing a lifesaving molecule is just step one of a process of developing a drug that the public can benefit from.
“There’s a lot more to it than the basic research that was involved in discovering a potential molecule that could help with COVID. It’s like me giving you a brick and saying I want you to build me a house,” he said, noting there are challenges in scaling the production of that molecule, inserting it into a vaccine profile and then scaling the finished vaccine for mass production.
Thompson imagines that undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral UD students would be involved in the Immerse Delaware lab, along with faculty, company researchers, and possibly even researchers from other companies and students from other universities. Engineering students of virtually all disciplines would especially be involved with the potential for other programs, like business students for a commercialized product, also participating.
Although the new Immerse Delaware lab is at the core of the partnership, Thompson noted that the UD-Waters collaborative work would also occur at other established labs on campus. Waters also joined NIIMBL.
“This is more like the tip of the iceberg,” Thompson said. “There’s a lot more going to happen, or at least it’s our hope that a lot more will happen, in that five-year window.”
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