Chemical Engineers Advance Battlefield Biomanufacturing Technology Survey

Rensselaer professors seek to develop new chemical separations technologies for purification of biological therapeutics

Two chemical engineering professors at Rensselaer are contributing to a collaboration among academia, industry, and the federal government to develop a method for rapidly manufacturing biologic drugs.

The project, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), aims to provide front-line military medics with the ability to produce high-purity, high-potency drugs in as little as 24 hours. This capability would enable medics to be significantly more responsive to emergency situations and battlefield settings, where resources are often limited.

Steve Cramer

Steven Cramer

Pankaj Karande

Pankaj Karande

Professors Steven Cramer and Pankaj Karande are among the academic research collaborators working on the project, which is led by MIT Professor J. Christopher Love, and funded with a $10.4 million grant as part of DARPA’s Biologically-derived Medicines On Demand (BioMOD) program.

“In this project, we are looking at ways of significantly simplifying and condensing several key steps of drug manufacturing and quality control. Our goal is to be able to create a small, easy-to-carry system that can synthesize needed drugs in 24 hours, instead of the six to 12 months it usually takes to create the same drugs in an industrial setting,” said Cramer, the William Weightman Walker Professor of Polymer Engineering.

“The potential implications of this technology are far-reaching, as it will provide rapid access to drugs in remote settings, and have a direct effect in saving lives,” said Karande, assistant professor in the Howard P. Isermann Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

Cramer and Karande, with their synergistic expertise in the areas of bioseparations, bioprocessing, peptide engineering, and drug discovery, will help work on the design of a new generation of specialized biomaterials that are highly selective and only bind with specific proteins. Combined with new advanced bioprocessing techniques, these advanced biomaterials are expected to help significantly reduce the number of processing steps required for purifying biologics secreted from host systems such as yeast.

The advances made in this project have the potential to change industrial downstream bioprocessing, as well as introduce new kinds of biomaterials with a broad range of applications in drug manufacturing, discovery, and development, the researchers said. Much of their research will take place in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies.

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