When the COVID-19 Pandemic Hit, JIB Stepped Into the Spotlight

The Jefferson Institute for Bioprocessing is uniquely qualified to train students and industry professionals at the time it is needed most.

When the Jefferson Institute for Bioprocessing (JIB) opened in 2019 with a mission to provide state-of-the art education and training in the booming biopharmaceutical-processing field, Jefferson President Dr. Stephen K. Klasko noted that the initiative was in “the sweet spot between health care and innovation.”

Located in Lower Gwynedd, Pa., JIB embodies the “Nexus Learning” approach to teaching and learning. It also stands as the first–and only–specialized education and training institute for biopharmaceutical processing in North America that combines fully commercial single-use technologies with advanced training courses designed specifically for current and future industry professionals.

It was also the University’s first example of an academic business unit that diversified “the generation of resources aimed at addressing the needs of a rapidly changing society,” according to Dr. Mark L. Tykocinski, University provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.

JIB’s focus is multi-fold: providing hands-on training to industry professionals through workshops and certificates, and hands-on education of new bioprocessing engineers at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Just one year after its opening, the Jefferson Institute for Bioprocessing finds its specialized, hands-on training in great demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unknown at the time, however, was how the looming COVID-19 pandemic would bring into focus the demand for training in an area of expertise with which many were not previously familiar, even in recent years. While COVID damaged the global-manufacturing world in ways that may not yet be clear, biomanufacturing remains a successful outlier.

“Nearly 5 million people work[ed] either directly or indirectly—including support industries—in biomanufacturing in the U.S., contributing nearly $1.4 trillion to the economy in 2019,” says Dr. Parviz Shamlou, JIB’s executive director. “The U.S. biomanufacturing remains at the center of the fight against COVID-19, be it vaccine or monoclonal antibody. Biomanufacturing is one of nation’s true success stories and a bit of an exception.”

Dr. Shamlou and Geoff Toner—JIB’s director of curriculum development—concur that the Institute finds itself on the cutting edge of innovative education at the perfect moment in time. This has resulted in increased enrollment as the program establishes itself in its second year of operation.

Dr. Parviz Shamlou

“We are seeing an increase in demand for our courses in bioprocessing, and are actually planning a brand-new undergraduate concentration in the engineering program which my colleague Geoff is leading, and plan to have the first cohort begin in 2022, Dr. Shamlou says. “The new coursework will open the field of study to a much wider audience, and despite the economic challenges caused by COVID-19, each of JIB’s 2020 graduating master’s students received multiple job offers and are all fully employed.

“Biomanufacturing is a highly specialized and technology-intensive sector and maintaining the nation’s lead in the current uncertain environment is a challenge. However, the U.S. biomanufacturing is proving very resilient and robust in its response to COVID-19.”

We’re preparing students to hit the ground running and become leaders within industry, and that’s really important to us. –Geoff Toner

Toner notes that biopharmaceuticals take on substantial importance due to the need to rapidly produce a cell-based COVID vaccine. Traditionally, he says, vaccines are made using eggs, but closed-environment biopharmaceutical production is needed to create and rapidly produce COVID-based spike proteins for use as a vaccine on a scale that will create enough to treat large numbers of people in a meaningful timeframe.


Geoff Toner

One of JIB’s advantages is the ability for students to train in its unique space with highly skilled and experienced staff. Another is its industry-focused coursework, with a modern biopharma vaccine-manufacturing concentration, and an MS in Biopharmaceutical Process Engineering program, each fortuitously timed to face these unexpected challenges as COVID shifted many courses to hybrid or online presentations.

“Unlike a lot of other programs or universities, we are adaptive to the environment. We are all about industry training. We’re preparing students to hit the ground running and become leaders within industry, and that’s really important to us,” Toner says. “Our graduates are in high demand. We have employers asking for recommendations as early as October.”

JIB is responding positively and aggressively to the changes brought about by the pandemic. –Kathy Gallagher

Toner notes that increased enrollment can be attributed to both high demand for the bioprocessing skillset as well as getting word out about a program that hasn’t yet been in existence for two full academic years. He notes that while enrollment numbers are down nationwide due to the pandemic, our programs are gaining momentum.

“As things change, we have the ability to respond as quickly as possible,” Toner says. “We offer a training suite that’s unmatched anywhere in the U.S. and it’s single use from end-to-end, a direction which matches what any company that’s building a new plant will create.”

University leadership agrees that JIB is uniquely positioned to thrive moving forward.

“It’s all about getting the word out about bioprocessing and biopharma as a whole,” says Ron Kander, executive dean of the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce. “Students just don’t know about the types of opportunities that are out there or the best path to take to get there. Traditionally, the industry is hard to get into without standing out. That’s the space we’re trying to tap into. The University identified this space as an area that is in great need, both now and in the future.”

The 2019 JIB ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the start of an innovative approach to teaching bioprocessing.

Kathy Gallagher, the University’s chief operating officer, agrees. She notes that the field is expected to comprise more than $50 billion of the economy by the year 2025, with more than half of the cell-and-gene therapy companies located in the country.

“It is too early to predict the long-term impact of COVID-19 on bioprocessing and biomanufacturing, but we do know that the supply chain is critically important for its success. We can contribute to the supply chain by filling its greatest need: a trained and highly skilled workforce.”

For his part, Dr. Shamlou notes that JIB has responded “positively and aggressively” to changes brought about by the pandemic, by expanding its portfolio of industry courses to include customized training online, both in person and in a hybrid form.

“The expansion into digital biomanufacturing, the growth of our legacy courses and the flexibility in the way we are now able to deliver our training are being accelerated by our responses to the pandemic,” he says. “That is helping JIB to shape ‘the next normal’ in education and training in bioprocessing and biomanufacturing.”

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