Focused on the Future

University of Delaware leadership, members of the UD Board of Trustees and elected officials break ground for the SABRE Center on UD’s STAR Campus.

UD marks milestone with SABRE Center groundbreaking

Article by Karen B. Roberts
Photos by Evan Krape

April 26, 2024

University of Delaware leaders, Delaware’s Congressional delegation and members of the life sciences industry gathered Monday, April 22, to mark the next chapter in the development of the Securing American Biomanufacturing Research and Education (SABRE) Center.

Despite the chilly breeze, there were smiles all around at the event, held on the University’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus.

The groundbreaking kicks off the construction phase of the SABRE Center, a pilot scale biopharmaceutical manufacturing facility that will sit adjacent to the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL), which is housed in UD’s Ammon Pinizzotto Biopharmaceutical Innovation Center. The SABRE Center will complement the biopharmaceutical research and development activities of NIIMBL and the larger biopharmaceutical industry in Delaware and the broader region.

The project is supported with federal and state funding and directly aligns with the State of Delaware’s priority of economic growth in the biopharmaceutical industry, and the larger life sciences sector. Together, SABRE and NIIMBL will provide Delaware with a unique position in the region of having resources to support research and development, pilot scale production and workforce training.

While still in the design phase, the SABRE Center is envisioned as a place to scale up and mature manufacturing innovations and technologies that are essential to ensuring broad access to novel biopharmaceutical medicines. It also is viewed as a place to design, develop and disseminate best practices and workforce training programs for people who want to develop the skills necessary to work in a biomanufacturing environment.

“I personally believe that the SABRE Center is going to mark an inflection point in our national competitiveness in this advanced manufacturing industry and to our resilience in the face of future public health threats,” said Kelvin Lee, UD interim vice president for research, scholarship and innovation and NIIMBL director, in opening remarks. “I also believe that the SABRE Center marks our local region’s journey moving from having a strong biotech community to ultimately being recognized as a home to a vibrant industrial ecosystem.”

UD President Dennis Assanis thanked the Congressional delegation and other dignitaries in the audience for their contributions to UD and the instrumental role they have played in fostering the biopharmaceutical ecosystem in Delaware. Groundbreaking ceremonies, he added, signal hope and the promise of new endeavors and exciting achievements to come, from the development and manufacturing of new products that can save lives and advance wellness to the creation of new manufacturing jobs that don’t yet exist.

“Through the SABRE Center, NIIMBL and many other public and private entities in the life science industry, Delaware is well on its way to becoming a unique and vibrant hub for biopharma research and manufacturing … a place where brilliant ideas become realities,” Assanis said.

UD President Dennis Assanis, joined by Delaware’s Congressional delegation, addresses UD leaders, members of the life sciences industry and other guests.

20 years in the making

Delaware’s strategic investment into the life sciences sector began about two decades ago, with the recruitment of private-sector investment to the state and higher education institutions with the goal of establishing a biotech community. One early outcome of that strategy was the formation of the Delaware Biotechnology Institute.

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper reflected on the bold and promising new direction that is developing on the STAR Campus to provide access to medicines and biopharmaceuticals that can help people lead healthier lives.

“Today’s groundbreaking builds upon all the years of work that have gone into transforming the once-shuttered Chrysler plant into the research and development hub it is today,” Carper said. “This facility will be a training center for our future biopharmaceutical workforce, as well as a testing center for biopharma companies to test their products in an FDA-regulated environment — giving us a competitive advantage to attract companies and researchers to the First State. I’m so proud of the different ways Delaware is continuing to be a force in R&D. Here, we have a vibrant research community at the University of Delaware, especially in the life sciences, thanks in large part to the Delaware Biotechnology Institute. This has served as a great model for collaboration among education, and the private and public sector.”

In 2017, UD launched NIIMBL, a national-scale public-private partnership focused on biopharmaceutical manufacturing and innovation to advance new technologies, to secure domestic supply chains and to train the biomanufacturing workforce.

A passionate advocate for economic growth, social justice and innovation, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons remarked on the more than 200 companies that are part of NIIMBL and the over $230 million in federal investment that already has been devoted to creating a biopharmaceutical ecosystem and the additional $350 million in private sector co-investment.

“But the potential is far greater. We’re about to do a groundbreaking for what is the next phase of this project. It’s not a manufacturing facility, but a test bed, a place where the new techniques of manufacturing are going to be tried out, proven out and demonstrated,” Coons said. “Spinning out from that will be a remarkable next generation of opportunities for Delawareans to work in biotech and manufacturing, for companies to be launched here and regionally and for [Delaware] to continue to be not just regional or national but global leaders in innovation.”

Kelvin Lee, UD interim vice president for Research, Scholarship and Innovation and director of NIIMBL, said the SABRE Center will mark “an inflection point” in national competitiveness in the advanced manufacturing industry.

Turning vision into reality

U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, a leading voice on issues related to the economy and the future of work, pointed to the SABRE Center’s planned 70,000 square feet of research space and modern technology that will one day train Delaware workers in manufacturing biopharmaceuticals.

“This is about turning vision into reality for our health, our economy and our future,” Blunt Rochester said. “It’s about safety and effectiveness. It is about the jobs of today and [the jobs] of the future. It’s about strengthening our supply chains.”

The need to create more domestic capacity for manufacturing is a reality that came into sharp focus during the coronavirus pandemic. Bringing lifesaving technologies and products to market is challenging. It requires infrastructure, investment and intentionality. Collaboration is key. These activities can be bolstered by marrying academia with the private and public sectors, Blunt Rochester said.

Designed as a current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) environment, the SABRE Center will serve as both a testbed for new technologies and a hands-on training facility on STAR Campus, helping to bring lifesaving or life-enhancing medicines and vaccines to scale and ultimately into the market. In this way, the SABRE Center will support the innovation and R&D happening at NIIMBL, while filling the gap between developing new technology in a lab setting and commercializing it in a full-scale manufacturing facility.

“SABRE exemplifies the power of state and federal investments that support jobs and nurture innovation. This project, located right in a bioscience ecosystem, supports the First State’s student pipeline and ever-growing biopharmaceutical workforce,” added Lt. Governor Bethany Hall-Long, the state of Delaware’s representative on NIIMBL and a professor of nursing at UD. “I’m competitive, so I want Delaware to excel regionally, be a destination and provide the best quality of life for our residents. SABRE is a solution to sustain and create jobs for the state as well as respond to industry and global challenges. As a research scientist and STEM champion, this is a big deal.”

Additionally, the UD STAR Campus’ location along the I-95 corridor and proximity to other biopharmaceutical activity nearby from New York to Greater Washington, D.C., is a tremendous opportunity for Delaware to add capacity in a key location along the East Coast.

Delaware Gov. John Carney, who was unable to attend the groundbreaking, is a long-standing champion of UD research and helped to secure funding support for the SABRE Center and NIIMBL, among other projects. In a statement, Carney illustrated the value of supporting such programs and the partnerships and collaboration necessary to bring them to fruition.

“Our partnerships with institutions of higher education have never been more important,” Carney said. “We need to support programs that build the future workforce and encourage businesses to land and grow in the First State. SABRE will complement the nationally recognized work in biosciences happening at NIIMBL and the University of Delaware. I look forward to SABRE’s contribution in Delaware’s science and technology sector.”

This article was originally posted on the University of Delaware website at:

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