UTS biotech bunker set to be an Australian first
- A cutting-edge GMP Lite (Good Manufacturing Practice) facility, buried below ground in the Vicki Sara Building, will open in 2019.
- It is set to be an Australian first for algal-based pharmaceutical production and will allow UTS to further leverage our algal-expertise.
A cutting-edge ‘biotech factory’, set to be an Australian first for algal-based pharmaceutical production, is coming to life, deep underground at UTS. Buried in a basement level of the Vicki Sara building, the new GMP Lite (Good Manufacturing Practice) facility will offer unmatched training and teaching opportunities, as well as cementing UTS as a global leader in research and development for algal biotech industries.
The pilot-scale facility will provide a space for proof of concept work, product development and research, with small-scale manufacturing of pharmaceutical, nutraceutical (food supplements) and agricultural vaccines.
The GMP Lite space will be an addition to the UTS Deep Green Biotech Hub (DGBH), which launched in 2016 through the NSW Department of Industry Boosting Business Innovation Program. While it’s housed within the Faculty of Science, it will be a collaborative space open to good ideas from all disciplines.
“We want people from across the university to have the opportunity to invent, optimise and scale up using state-of-the-art equipment,” explains Professor Peter Ralph, Executive Director of the Climate Change Cluster (C3).
“At the Deep Green Biotech Hub, we are developing exceptional expertise using algae-based biotechnology innovation. Our new GMP Lite facility will leverage that expertise, while also providing opportunities for research using traditional mammalian cell platforms, yeast and bacteria for biopharma production.”
Algae-based innovations can lead to new and more sustainable methods for developing products. Researchers at the Deep Green Biotech Hub have already collaborated with a broad range of external partners, from surfboard manufacturers and brewers to defence industries and people treating wastewater.
“When the GMP Lite facility comes online next year, it will be an Australian first for algal-based pharmaceutical production,” says Peter. “Our doors will be open to industry looking to develop or refine products using these ground-breaking processes.”
The GMP-Lite facility is being developed in partnership with GE Healthcare, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of biopharmaceutical equipment. As well as being the commercial supplier of the GMP research and production equipment, GE has committed funding for scholarships and expertise for ongoing development.
“There is a growing demand for skilled workers in the biotech field,” explains Peter. “Growth of the biopharma industry is being constrained by a lack of people with the knowledge and expertise demanded by the industry. Our new facility will give UTS students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and arm them with the skills that can help to solve the big global problems that we’re facing around sustainability. We also plan to offer training to industry, with opportunities to upskill using the latest technologies.”
The GMP facility is also vastly increasing the capacity to produce axenic (pure culture) algae at UTS – from around 25 litres to 200 litres. This provides the resources to carry out the research needed to verify that algae can sustainably provide commercial quantities of raw materials that can be used by dozens of industries, including pharmaceuticals, agrifood, human nutrition, waste remediation, plastics and fuels.
The 432m2 GMP Lite space sits three levels below Alumni Green. It will house a series of clean rooms (to avoid contamination) and containment labs (to control emissions), with glazing around the perimeter to allow visitors to view the production process. An L-shaped corridor will allow groups to ‘walk-through’ the production site from behind a containment barrier, broadening opportunities for teaching and engagement while eliminating the potential for contamination. The facility will be completed in the first quarter of 2019.
“An underground bunker is actually the perfect location for this kind of facility,” Peter laughs. “GMP needs to be contained and secure. So the lack of sunlight is a small price to pay.”