By From the Lowell Sun
By David Perry
LOWELL -- Carl Lawton pulled aside a blue curtain and walked into a small room to cut the ribbon, trailed by a few dignitaries.
The shiny, new, stainless-steel bioreactor -- which looks like a cross between a beer brewer's vat and modern scientific sculpture -- is the showpiece for UMass Lowell's new BioManufacturing Pilot Plant.
It could someday help bring about cures for disease, but yesterday, the unveiling marked a coming together of the university and corporate partners -- Invensys Process Systems of Foxboro, Wyeth Biotech of Andover, Dakota Systems of Dracut and Millipore of Billerica -- that together contributed $600,000 to the project. Equipment donated by Millipore will help harvest and purify biopharmaceuticals in an adjoining lab.
Everybody wins, said one official after another.
Students get real-world, state-of-the-art training in biotechnology, and corporate partners get a pathway to production of new products and well-trained prospective members of a growing biotech work force.
As industrial manufacturing jobs disappear, "the area we're seeing growth in is biomanufacturing," said state Sen. Steve Panagiotakos.
"Research is important, not just for quality-of-life issues, but also for the Massachusetts economy," he added.
Lawton, director of the Massachusetts BioManufacturing Center at UMass Lowell, noted that the Greater Boston area is a "supercluster" for biotechnology.
Biopharmaceuticals are not the pills used to treat symptoms of illness, but they are used to attempt to find cures for the illness.
In the belly of the bioreactor will thrive a biologically active environment, used by students, professors and professionals to help bring closer to commercial production new biopharmaceuticals.
"This is the type of equipment you see working in companies that make biopharmaceuticals," Lawton said.
Not only will students have the chance to move "bumplessly from academia into industry, said Don Clark, Invensys' vice president of Global Industry Solutions, "but we're producing little secret agents," who may remember they worked on the company's equipment and "it was really cool."