I recently spoke with Ben Woodard, Director of the Bioprocess Scale-Up Facility on Science Exchange. They help take research to the next level, literally. They scale up existing scientific procedures to make them ready for commercial production. Check out more on their interesting and unique niche below!
Q: What is your role with BREP?
Ben: I’m the Director of the Biotechnology Research and Education program (BREP) at the University of Maryland. The program encompasses two core facilities including the Bioprocess Scale-Up Facility that focuses on yeast and bacteria processes and the Biopharmaceuticals Advancement Facility that focuses on adherent or suspension-adapted cell lines such as HEK293, CHO, Sf9, NSO, and MSCs.
Q: How did the Program come into existence?
Ben: The program began with just the Scale-Up Facility. In 1985 the University and my department, then The Engineering Research Center, felt that there was a need for a laboratory that would enable collaborative research between academics and industry.
The faculty had great ideas, but they didn’t know how to commercialize them, they didn’t know how to take a product to market. The industry had challenges with their processes that needed the expertise of the academics. So the Facility was created to link these two groups together. When it began in ‘85 it was one of the only contract research facilities on the East Coast, it was pretty novel at the time.
We were created to spark economic development for the State while providing small start-ups, faculty researchers, and student researchers with a knowledge base that would help them create novel and new technologies. Ultimately trying foster growth in the Maryland biotech sector.
Q: What are the most popular experiments?
Ben: Cell culture and fermentation projects, protein expression and purification. We specialize in taking a cell line that’s been modified and scaling up its production for pre-clinical research. Additionally, we have fantastic training and workforce development program that has trained over 200 technicians and researchers for the biotech industry.
Q: What are some of the major projects you worked on?
Ben: A major success was a product called Synagis, a top selling biopharmaceutical. It’s used to treat respiratory syncytial virus, a virus that prevents proper lung development in premature babies.
A second major project was our work with Martek and their product LifesDHA. It’s a fatty acid that’s been linked to brain and eye development in children. DHA is naturally found in breast milk, but Martek, with the help of our facility, was able to optimize its production in algae. Just about every child in North America under the age of 14 has consumed their product.
Our service isn’t to identify proteins or antibodies such as these, it’s to provide research, optimization, scale-up, and the like, to support the efforts of the biotech community. We provide services that are crucial to the long term growth of a biotech product.
A parallel would be if you make a Duncan Heinz cake for your office. You get an egg, you mix it up with the mix and a little oil, bake it and you can feed 5 or 6 people. Now make that cake and feed the entire Northern hemisphere. Do you add 1 million times more eggs? Bake at a different temperature? You can’t just multiply the number of eggs by the anticipated number of servings. You have to change variables such as temperature, the size of the pan, and the ratio of oil to mix, in order for the cake to bake correctly.
Now for us, a researcher or clinician may have an idea that they’ve researched in small scale and found they can produce a small amount, a few milligrams of a protein or antibody, perhaps enough to treat a mouse. Now how do you scale-up that product to treat 4 or 5 million people? That’s where we come in.
Our mission is three-fold: do contract service work, help workforce development, and support education and research opportunities for undergraduate students.
Q: How did you end up working there?
Ben: I started as an undergraduate student in 1994 in the fermentation facility. I was working on workforce development project for MedImmune, training over 100 of their employees, and I really enjoyed the work in and the interaction with other. I’ve been involved with the BREP since.
Q: How has your experience been using Science Exchange?
Ben: It’s been great. It’s been a unique opportunity to expand our reach outside Maryland. Being a state university we don’t spend a lot of money on marketing, but with Science Exchange we can utilize equipment that’s normally stagnant. Science Exchange allows researchers from other institutions to access equipment that would’ve been idle. Working with Science Exchange has really been a great source of opportunities for us to make our equipment operate at a higher volume.
Check out more on the Bioprocess Scale-Up Facility at their Science Exchange storefront.