Penn State's industrial biotechnology ecosystem continues to bloom

April 08, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State officially named the Sartorius Cell Culture Facility — a new facility to study the normal physiology and biochemistry of cells, the fundamental molecules of life — in a ceremony held April 7 on the University Park campus.

A leading international partner of the biopharmaceutical industry and the research sector, Sartorius committed $1.5 million to launch the Sartorius Cell Culture Facility at Penn State, in January.

A new era begins

The new era of Penn State’s industrial biotechnology ecosystem officially began in March 2017, when CSL Behring gave $4.92 million establishing the Center of Excellence in Industrial Biotechnology (CoEIB) and the CSL Behring Fermentation Facility. Supplementing this gift was a $435,000 equipment donation from Sartorius to set-up the Sartorius Fermentation Gallery.

Since then, students have spent 3,500 hours gaining industry-relevant experience and 96 external customers conducted early-stage research in the fermentation facility, while the CoEIB sponsored $176,000 in graduate and undergraduate student experiences and funded $157,000 in faculty research.

The importance of industry collaboration

Located in Chandlee Laboratory at University Park, the Sartorius Cell Culture Facility is the next component of Penn State’s collaborative industrial biotechnology ecosystem, joining the CoEIB and the CSL Behring Fermentation Facility.

While the progression of this biotech ecosystem is another example of how Penn State, already a top-25 research university, is continuing to provide students with unique, career-defining opportunities, it also speaks to the importance of continuing to spark change through discussions with industry leaders to discover "what’s next."

A rapidly evolving industry

“Technology is always evolving, and bioprocessing must keep pace,” said Jay Newman, CSL Behring’s executive director of chemistry manufacturing and controls. “Partnering with leading academic institutions, such as Penn State, better prepare not only CSL Behring but the entire industry, to address the known technological challenges of today and the unknown technological challenges of tomorrow.”

Tour of CSL Behring Fermentation Facility While Under Construction in 2017

From left, Brian Fehler, CSL Behring vice president, talent; Mark Signs, co-director of the CSL Behring Fermentation Facility; Ali Demirci, professor in charge of the CSL Behring Fermentation Facility; Karen Etchberger, CSL Behring head of digital transformation and execution systems; and Elizabeth Walker, CSL Behring executive vice president, chief human resources officer, toured the CSL Behring Fermentation Facility while under construction in 2017.

IMAGE: Center of Excellence in Industrial Biotechnology, Penn State

In 2017, while touring the construction site of the fermentation facility, Paul Perreault, CEO and managing director of CSL Limited, asked Penn State research leaders what they thought was next for Penn State’s biotechnology ecosystem. Their response overwhelmingly pointed in one direction — cell culture.

“While fermentation remains key to developing and delivering lifesaving medicine for patients, cell culture enables the production of more complex proteins, like monoclonal antibodies,” Perreault said. “Incorporating cell culture within the Center of Excellence in Industrial Biotechnology at Penn State mirrors the industry’s growth in many ways.”

Moving toward the future

The new space, The Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences’ 12th core and second named facility, not only will significantly benefit faculty and external researchers, but also create new learning and working opportunities for Penn State students.

Elijah Yudt, a junior at Penn State majoring in biotechnology and president of the Society for Industrial Biotechnology (SIB) is one of the many Penn State students expecting to take advantage of the new facility. 

“The CSL Behring Fermentation Facility is a shining example of the research facilities found at Penn State,” Yudt said. “The facility leaders have opened their doors to students and provided me with the opportunity to gain operational experience that I will use in my career. As the field of biotechnology evolves, we are once again being given the chance to learn and experience more in the new Sartorius Cell Culture Facility — a lab that will provide opportunities for students for years to come.”

It’s this ongoing mission of workforce development that will continue to drive both the center and its company partners, like CSL Behring, for years to come.

“Gaining practical experience in cell culture provides a unique opportunity to link bioprocessing theory to the unique practical challenges encountered in developing processes and therapies at CSL,” said Vanessa Sandford, senior director of drug product and bioanalytic product development at CSL Behring. “Early exposure to relevant equipment and experimental techniques can certainly help focus and kick start your career in the biologics, and cell and gene therapy industry.”

In just 30 months and despite facing a global pandemic, Penn State and collaborating companies such as CSL Behring and Sartorius, have established and advanced the industrial biotechnology ecosystem and talent pipeline at the University. But the work is far from being over.

About The Center of Excellence in Industrial Biotechnology

For more information about The Center of Excellence in Industrial Biotechnology, visit the website. Keep up to date with the center's ventures, follow on LinkedInTwitter and Facebook.

Last Updated April 12, 2021