ARMI's Launch Draws Leading Researchers and Politicians
Updated: Jun 10, 2020
Over a year after the initial proposal, an assemblage of the most innovative bioengineering researchers, industry leaders and dignitaries materialized at the newly launched Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute on July 28.
Inventor Dean Kamen introduced the crowd of over 300 attendees in the Manchester Millyard to the launch of the 12th Manufacturing USA Institute, supported with $80 million over five years from the U.S. Department of Defense and over $200 million in public-private investment from medical research institutions, universities and other industry players. The federal grant is intended to spur a regenerative medicine industry to treat injured service members, and the general population through the commercial marketplace.
In one row alone sat Governor Chris Sununu, Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, the CEO of Rockwell Automation and a DOD official.
“We do build rockets and electronic radars and the like, but much of the challenges we face in the department are in areas that are either adjacent to the battlefield or not on the battlefield itself and that’s why this institute is so important,” said Jerry McGinn, principal deputy director for the DOD’s office of manufacturing and industrial base policy. “We’re focused on advanced manufacturing and its critical function to transform the discovery and invention of promising technologies into real products.”
“I think this is the beginning of an industry,” Kamen, founder of DEKA Research and Development Corp., told NH Business Review after the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “I think we have more major companies, universities, medical schools, prestigious government institutions here than I’ve ever seen in one room at one time and I think they understand how big this opportunity is.”
“This project has the potential to be transformative [for the city],” said Michael Skelton, president and CEO of the Greater Manchester Chamber. “All of the positive trends in the last 10 years — this has been throwing logs on the fire.”
“Of all the other manufacturing institutes and initiatives going on, I think this is probably one of the more exciting ones,” said Jeremy Hitchcock, former CEO of internet performance management firm Dyn.
Hitchcock noted the vast representation of university partners, including Hitchcock’s alma mater Worcester Polytechnic Institute, demonstrated this is where cutting-edge science is happening.
“And you have research up at Dartmouth, you have [the] Boston life sciences [industry], and so I think this is going to be a place where people are going to congregate,” said Hitchcock, standing in the networking area behind the auditorium-style seating.
Down the hallway, as part of Gov. Chris Sununu’s tour of ARMI, Michael Golway, president and CEO of Louisville, Ky.-based Advanced Solutions, presented the BioAssemblyBot, or as he called her, BAB.
“We’re bringing forward 60 years of innovation,” said Golway. “The first industrial robot was invented in 1954. It’s only in 2017 that it’s gotten small enough, capable enough [so] we can put it in a box and teach it to print human tissues.”
With patient-specific data, the company can build a 3-D model of a tissue using a computer-aided design program, select the biomaterials and let the printer automate the rest.
Dr. James Hoying and Michael Golway of Kentucky-based Advanced Solutions explain how tissue can be built using BioAssemblyBot.
“At [BAB’s] wrist we can actually connect different tool types and now she brings a workflow capability to building organs,” said Golway. “From the wrist down, we have the ability to engineer and design whatever tool we need, either to print or to pick and place or to assemble.”
However, it’s unlikely that the system would build an organ from scratch and print it all in one go, said Dr. James Hoying. Instead, like a car engine, each part of an organ would be printed separately and assembled later. To build these subassemblies, Advanced Solutions will leverage the potential of the platform that allows them to swap out different tool types, said Dr. Hoying.
From fat cells, Dr. Hoying has extracted a vascular network, meaning while tissue is being printed, microvessels will connect and form just as they do in the human body.
“We think the biology is smarter than we are. It knows what to do,” said Dr. Hoying. “Our task is not to place individual vessels in specific places, but to create an environment where all the blood vessels can rearrange and do what it needs to do to meet the needs of the tissue, to the point where we know we can take our vessels from fat, and turn those fat vessels, in the right environment, into brain vessels, for example, or kidney vessels or heart vessels.”
“Our strategy is to use our platform and the vast expertise the ARMI initiative really provides us is to define those environments and let the biology do its thing. It will always do better than we will,” said Dr. Hoying.
Operating in New Hampshire
Sununu, who met over 100 out-of-state businesses in his first 100 days in office to convince them to move to New Hampshire, enthusiastically stepped forward to greet Dr. Hoying, after the announcement was made to the tour group that Advanced Solutions was considering moving its life sciences lab to the area.
“I think the best thing that the state can do is provide an atmosphere that makes it easy for businesses to come in and partner — because that’s what this is: a public-private partnership,” Sununu told NH Business Review.
“To get [Dr. Hoying] to move from Kentucky is a very tough thing, so it underscores the huge potential here and just how much excitement we have for the vision,” said Golway.
Sununu spoke with NH Business Review about the opportunity ARMI presents for the state.
“I think the best thing that the state can do is provide an atmosphere that makes it easy for businesses to come in and partner — because that’s what this is: a public-private partnership,” said Sununu. “Whether it’s breaking down business taxes, throwing out regulations, meeting with industries one-on-one [or] making sure they understand their access to government and access to elected officials that can open up pathways for them is there. This is a state where most people have my cell phone number, and that’s an incredibly powerful thing in the process of driving businesses.”
Earlier in the day, Kamen had reflected on the competitiveness of the ARMI contract, with larger states offering million-dollar commitments if awarded the contract.
During the process, Kamen asked Senators Shaheen and Ayotte and then-Gov. Maggie Hassan to write a letter of support to the DOD.
“We were very excited to do that,” Sen. Hassan told NH Business Review. They wrote the DOD, “saying that even though we won’t put up a lot of cash like the big states, we had something different and more special, which was a spirit of entrepreneurship and getting things done here in New Hampshire and efficiently with Dean Kamen.”
As governor, Sen. Maggie Hassan, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and then-Senator Kelly Ayotte wrote the DOD, “saying that even though we won’t put up a lot of cash like the big states, we had something different and more special, which was a spirit of entrepreneurship and getting things done here in New Hampshire and efficiently with Dean Kamen,” Hassan told NH Business Review.
“I absolutely believe we have state support,” said Kamen. “Now one of the issues is, this is such a huge opportunity and this is such a relatively small and frugal state, we have to come up with innovative ways to make sure the state can keep up with the scale of this opportunity, but I really do believe we will be able to keep up with this opportunity and we will not lose it.”
Essential to the growth of ARMI is a skilled workforce, and that’s a struggle across each sectors right now.
At ARMI’s launch, Sununu argued in favor of long-term solutions, including promoting robotics to children, like Kamen’s robotics competition FIRST, and visiting with university systems and public schools to create workforce pathways.
To prove to the DOD that there was an available workforce to scale the regenerative medicine industry, Kamen formed a partnership with the University of New Hampshire and hired UNH provost and vice president of academic affairs, Nancy Targett, to administer ARMI education and workforce development.
During the legislative session, the University System of New Hampshire initially requested $30 million from the capital budget and then lowered its request to $10 million, for renovating its teaching lab space in Durham, to reinvigorate its biotechnology program. Within ARMI, UNH-Manchester, led by Dean Mike Decelle, has a carved-out space for labs and classrooms where ARMI faculty will interact with students.
The governor did not include any capital budget funds or additional operational funding to the university system in his proposed 2018-2019 budget.
Dr. Richard McFarland, then former director of research with the FDA’s Office of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, has been examining this question of how the FDA would regulate regenerative organs for the last 17 years. Now with ARMI, McFarland will be a guest lecturer at UNH Manchester.
“I took that $10 million and created the first-of-its-kind scholarship program for New Hampshire high school students,” said Sununu. “That’s 21st century school choice, allowing kids and parents to have the pathways and the choices within public schools to create the best decision and pathway for their career. It’s just, kind of taking that old school thinking of plowing money into one institution to the new age, the 21st century way of thinking, where we have to broaden peoples’ opportunities and choices in terms of finding that pathway.”
Mary Ann Pacelli, manager of workforce development at the Manufacturing Extension Partnership that supports Manufacturing USA institutes, argued the main workforce issue in the manufacturing industry is teaching students about job possibilities in the industry and bringing technology in the classroom up to scale. That will require introducing faculty to work environments so they’re familiar with the types of jobs their students could fill.
“[Employers] want to have experienced people right out of school,” says Kathleen Green, workforce director at the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals, a Manufacturing USA institute in Delaware. “They want to have people who can come in, hit the ground running with new technologies, understand the technologies and understand what it’s like to work in — not only the workplace — but also a regulated environment. Because this is highly regulated and it needs to be.”
Liisa Rajala can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.