Research Center Trains COVID Vaccine Manufacturers
Finding effective COVID-19 vaccine formulas alone is not enough to put the global pandemic behind us.
That’s why The Texas A&M University System is collaborating with FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies Texas to train the workforce that is mass-producing two COVID-19 vaccine candidates for the federal government.
For the past nine months, a dedicated team of Texas A&M University scientists at the National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing (NCTM) has been training workers on the biomanufacturing basics needed to produce the COVID-19 vaccine candidates. The NCTM is a joint research center of the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station and Texas A&M.
With just four instructors and a handful of support staff, the team has trained more than 200 new employees of FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies Texas. The company is the Texas A&M System’s biomanufacturing subcontracting partner in the national emergency manufacturing program.
“Texas A&M is doing a great public service,” said John Sharp, Chancellor of the Texas A&M System. “By collaborating with FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies Texas to increase the vaccine supply, our team is helping save a bunch of lives.”
The NCTM employee training is arranged through the Center for Innovation and Advanced Development and Manufacturing (CIADM) in College Station, a Texas A&M System program established in 2012 by the federal government for just this kind of national emergency.
“To meet FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies Texas’ aggressive hiring pace in recent months, our team has delivered nearly nonstop training,” said Dr. Zivko Nikolov, Director of NCTM and a Professor of Bioprocess Engineering at Texas A&M. “I’m so honored to lead such a dedicated team.”
The training is a customized, intensive seven-day, hands-on curricula of various aspects of cell culture and basic molecular biology, aseptic processes and microbiology, and upstream and downstream processing of biological materials.
The team worked quickly to build the program within weeks of the federal request last July. The training began almost immediately and has continued ever since.
“The ability to respond rapidly to an emergency is the main original goal of the CIADM program,” said Dr. William Jay Treat, Director of CIADM and Chief Manufacturing Officer for Texas A&M Health Science Center. “Since its creation, NCTM has been critical to developing training programs to meet the manpower required for an emergency such as this pandemic.”
The NCTM has more than 25,000 square feet of dedicated instructional space with several million dollars’ worth of traditional stainless and single-use systems for upstream and downstream bioprocessing. It has contracted with more than 80 subject matter experts to build a catalog of training programs that serve industry, government and academia.
In the past eight years, NCTM has trained nearly 1,600 students, including new hires and employed professionals, undergraduate/graduate students, military veterans and others transitioning careers, and even high school students interested in STEM careers.
“We have never been more proud of our work than in the past nine months,” said Jenny Ligon, NCTM Assistant Director for Workforce Development, who has been with NCTM since its creation in 2012. “I’m so proud of our small but mighty team. We are happy to do our part in getting everyone vaccinated.”
“As a center of excellence for science, manufacturing and engineering, we are pleased to closely collaborate with Texas A&M to train new hires to support the manufacture of life-impacting medicines and vaccines at our College Station facility,” said Dr. Gerry Farrell, Chief Operating Officer of FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies Texas. “It is critical that we continue to train local talent to feed this growing and vibrant Texas biotech community.”