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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI celebrates opening of biotech manufacturing training lab at Feinstein Providence Campus

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

Lab funded, equipped by state and biotech companies

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- September 20, 2004 -- The University of Rhode Island officially opened it's biotechnology manufacturing training laboratory at its Feinstein Providence Campus today with a ribbon-cutting ceremony to thank the legislators and biotech companies that funded and equipped the facility.

The lab is a key element in an economic development strategy aimed at providing trained workers to the state's growing biotechnology industry. It is the first visible sign of the University's biotechnology initiative, which was launched in 2003 and which will include a $50 million Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences on the Kingston Campus, pending voter approval of bond referendum 13 on Nov. 2.

"This state-of-the-art biotech training lab is a key component of our efforts to meet the needs of this rapidly growing, diverse sector by ensuring that we have a highly trained workforce," said Governor Donald Carcieri. "It will enable students to discover a host of opportunities within the biotech field and develop the necessary skills to succeed on the job. Companies seek employees who have the knowledge and training to help grow their business. By giving students hands-on experience, we are ensuring that they have the tools they need to meet the challenges of this industry."

“Our undergraduate program in biotechnology manufacturing is a critical part of the workforce training system that Rhode Island’s educational institutions provide for biotech companies in the state,” said Jeffrey Seemann, dean of the URI College of the Environment and Life Sciences. “We’re positioning our students to be competitive for some of the best paying and most available jobs in the state.”

The lab, which was used by the first class of 12 students in the program last spring, is where students learn the fundamental principles of pharmaceutical production and manufacturing.

The facility houses a wide range of state-of-the-art technologies, including bioreactors used to grow cell cultures in quantity, a shaking incubator to aerate liquid cultures, a centrifuge to aid in collecting cultured cells, and other tools of molecular biology. Also included are protein separation and purification equipment, a laminar flow hood, autoclave, ultra-low temperature freezer, organic carbon analyzer, and two kinds of microscopes. (See attached fact sheet for descriptions of all lab equipment.)

At the end of their first year of study, students trained in this sophisticated lab will understand many of the technologies employed by the biotech industry. After their freshman year and a summer internship with a biotechnology company, most students in the program will likely go to work full-time in the industry and complete their bachelor’s degrees as part-time students. Eight students in the first class are already working full time, and two are continuing their education full time.

"This is the perfect program for the adult learner who one day discovers his or her professional skills are outdated, such as I did, or who just wants to explore a new direction in life," said Jeff Dunham of Harrisville, one of the program's first students who is now employed at Nephros Therapeutics Inc. "There should be more educational programs like this one that provide students with highly desirable skills after their first year of classes to make them in high demand, yet allow us the opportunity to complete our degree at our own pace."

According to Seemann, the lab is just the first step in URI's comprehensive biotechnology initiative. "Our next phase will make us an even bigger player in the future of the biotech industry in Rhode Island," he said. "We not only want to have a major role in work force development for the industry, but we also want to support the industry through research and education as well. That's where our new Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences comes in. And this step will require voters to support referendum 13 in this year's election."

Funding for the lab was provided by a $100,000 grant from the R.I. Human Resource Investment Council, a $150,000 appropriation from the General Assembly, $150,000 from the governor's discretionary fund, and a $25,000 donation from Amgen, Inc., the state's largest biotechnology company. In addition, two commercial-sized bioreactors, each valued at $50,000, were donated by Pfizer, Inc., an organic carbon analyzer valued at $30,000 was donated by Amgen, and a $3,200 purification system was donated by Pall Scientific Corp.

The Amgen Foundation has also supported URI's biotechnology initiative by providing a $98,000 grant to Associate Professor Albert Kausch to fund an introductory biotechnology class this fall and spring that is open to the public for free and which will be broadcast on public access television.

Biotechnology companies that hosted student interns from the program last summer are: Amgen of West Greenwich, eMembrane, Inc. of Providence, Hybrigene, Inc. of West Kingston, and Nephros Therapeutics Inc. and Neurotech USA, Inc., both of Lincoln. Spherics, Inc. of Lincoln assisted with curriculum development.