A Fresh Look Inside Avantor’s Bridgewater Innovation Center with Dr. Ashish Kulkarni, Chief Technology Officer, and Dr. Nandu Deorkar, Vice President, R&D
In 2017, Avantor opened its Bridgewater Innovation Center in Bridgewater, New Jersey (USA). Avantor’s Dr. Ashish Kulkarni, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, and Dr. Nandu Deorkar, Vice President, R&D, recently provided an informative update on the Center’s growth, key accomplishments and plans for the future.
The Bridgewater Innovation Center has been operational for about two years now. What can you tell us about the facility and the scientists who work there?
Ashish: Avantor’s Bridgewater Innovation Center is a technology-driven research and collaboration environment where we work closely with customers to solve their bioprocessing problems. Our unique innovation framework supports solutions for science’s most difficult challenges, and our entrepreneurial-minded scientists have the drive, skill and tenacity to set science in motion and overcome obstacles to success. They are open to learning, building their skills and making things happen.
Has anything changed since the opening?
Nandu: When we first opened, we had lab-scale fermentation and cell culture capacity. Now, our capabilities have been enhanced, allowing for scale-up studies, bioanalytical characterization and simulations needed to meet evolving requirements of our biopharma customers.
Beyond life sciences, is the Bridgewater Innovation Center involved with other specialty areas?
Ashish: We now have enhanced nanometer scale filtration and purification solutions for customers in the semiconductor industry who need help dealing with ultra-high-purity materials. As they work on issues such as trace metal limits, customers expect us to stay on top of these challenges. We are able to drive state-of-the-art filtration and purification solutions for semiconductor customers.
How have customers embraced your work at Bridgewater?
Ashish: Customers actively rely on us to help solve their challenges. We’ve helped customers improve the delivery of dry materials into bioproduction systems for several important biologic drugs by solving common challenges. For example, clumping is a common problem that can not only cause delays, but also impact cost and quality of a project. Our team’s innovative thinking and our lab capabilities help customers solve problems like this every day. Currently, we have several strategic projects in the works.
Why did Avantor choose to place an innovation center in Bridgewater?
Ashish: Our Bridgewater facility is located within the New Jersey Center of Excellence, a 110-acre life sciences campus in the center of the northeast U.S. bioscience technology corridor. It’s an easy drive for many of our current and prospective customers, from start-ups to major global biopharma firms. This accessibility is crucial to our collaborative model.
Both of you are shaping the innovation process for Avantor, but also within the industry. What is required for successful innovation in biopharma?
Ashish: First, the way research is currently being conducted will change in the future, with modalities and sciences evolving very rapidly. The digitalization of science is creating many new opportunities given the amount of data being generated. That means that Avantor and the Bridgewater Center must have state-of-the-art analytical tools.
Nandu: At Bridgewater, we can collaborate with customers working on advancing cell and gene therapy programs, whether they are in the start-up stages of research and development or at the point of scaling up to commercial manufacturing. Our expertise ranges across the biopharma industry and is coupled with our offering of customizable single-use platforms, chemical packaging and other solutions. All these help these companies succeed in bringing their therapies to market.
What do you see as the main challenges facing biopharma manufacturers today?
Nandu: As far as antibody and protein-related drugs are concerned, improving productivity and managing costs will continue to be increasingly important. Simplifying processes and making changeovers easier and more efficient are clear examples of ongoing improvement efforts for biopharma manufacturers.
Ashish: Also, when we look at cell and gene therapies, we also start to look ahead for new RNA-based therapies that may help different challenges. A major challenge with these therapies is how they scale up.
We’re hearing a lot about innovations within cell and gene therapy today. What other exciting developments can we expect to see in the biopharma industry the next five to ten years?
Ashish: When thinking about the way different fields are converging, the lab of the future will look very different. It's going to be very exciting! Technologies like artificial intelligence, natural language processing and machine learning are going to change the way science can be done.
Nandu: Another field which will move from theoretical research to science fact is regenerative medicine. As your arteries weaken, you can replace them with gene-engineered arteries. In addition, the field of xenotransplants focuses on replacement organs for humans. We’re not there yet, but these various technologies are evolving due to the explosion of start-ups worldwide.
Ashish: Whatever the future brings, Avantor is ready to bring innovation to where science leads and help companies commercialize their technologies.
You can read the full interview here, where Dr. Kulkarni and Dr. Deorkar expand on other key aspects of Avantor’s Bridgewater Innovation Center, as well as the company’s Innovation Framework for the future.