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Tech firms all-in for biofabrication with launch of Kamen's Manchester ARMI project

By MARK HAYWARD
New Hampshire Sunday News

July 30. 2017 1:30AM

Project Manager Stephanie Robichaud (holding the clipboard) leads a tour group at the ARMI BioFabUSA launch event in the Millyard in Manchester on Friday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER - Collaboration was the buzzword Friday when scientists, tech company owners and government officials flocked to the Manchester Millyard for what Gov. Chris Sununu called "the birth of an entire new industry."

If Manchester inventor Dean Kamen and New Hampshire political leaders have their way, that collaboration will bring the the country's biofabrication industry to the banks of the Merrimack River.

"These are the kinds of investments we need to be making for the future of this city," Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., told a crowd of nearly 400. The crowd gathered for the official launch of Kamen's latest endeavor - the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute, or ARMI, and its BioFabUSA subsidiary.

ARMI is a military-backed endeavor that hopes to make the manufacture of human body parts as streamlined as the production of iPhones.

But it remained unclear last week how far the $294 million in government and private investment will translate into jobs and economic growth in Manchester.

Several people who attended the event had high praise for the collaboration that will flow from BioFab-USA. But physical proximity is not as important in this age of connectivity and instant communication, they said.

"Being physically co-located is not really necessary," said Rohan Shirwaiker, an associate professor and director of 3D tissue manufacturing research at North Carolina State University.

During tours, Shirwaiker demonstrated his research, which measures the electrical charges generated by cells to safely indicate cell health. The equipment could be used to measure the performance of stem cells used to generate human tissue.

North Carolina State University was one of 50 organizations on hand for the launch. They represent only a fraction of the regenerative medicine industry, which numbers about 700 companies, according to research cited in a 2017 National Academy of Medicine article.

The same article said the industry is expected to grow to $67.6 billion by 2020.

"We know that some (of the 50) are already making plans to move here or open operations to the state," said Gray Chynoweth, chief membership officer for ARMI.

For example, Kamen announced Friday that ARMI has hired the head of the biologics group at the Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Richard MacFarland now lives in a Millyard loft, Kamen said.

Tour groups criss-cross through the labs at the ARMI BioFabUSA launch event at the Millyard in Manchester on Friday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

But ARMI officials could point to only one company that has publicly said it was locating an operation in Manchester. Michael Golway, the president and chief executive of Advanced Solutions Inc. in Louisville, Ky., said he is moving a laboratory to Manchester.

"It will only accelerate our ability to learn quickly. We can grow faster here," said Dr. James Hoying, a researcher and division chief at Advanced Solutions. He said six or seven people will be part of the move. 

His company has applied for patents for a six-axis BioAssemblyBot, or BAB for short, a human tissue 3D printer.

All sorts of details have to be worked out for tissue regenerations, such as the creation of hair-thin blood vessels to supply the organs, Hoying said. That hasn't happened yet, and that's why the collaboration at ARMI will be important, he said.

Others see ARMI as a way to take their research from the laboratory to the factory floor.

"We can manufacture only up to a certain level. DEKA (Kamen's Millyard company) has the ability to scale up that; frankly, we don't have," said Melanie Rodrigues, an instructor of surgery at Stanford University. Stanford is affiliated with TauTona Group, a venture capital/incubator organization in the biotech industry.

TauTona has had success in the laboratory with stem cell bandages, which would be applied to large wounds, burns and other injuries suffered in combat. It would also be helpful for diabetics, the elderly and people with blood-borne genetic disorders.

The stem cells are derived from fat cells obtained through liposuction, Rodrigues said.

She said ARMI has several advantages: the ability to automate a Defense Department connection, and Kamen. 

"Dean Kamen is a genius," Rodrigues said. 

She said it's too early to say where production of the product would take place, but she didn't rule out southern New Hampshire.

Other firms said ARMI amounts to a networking opportunity.

South Florida-based Akron Biotech joined ARMI to understand where the industry is going in terms of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, said Ezequiel Zylberberg, a company representative who passed out literature at the event.

Akron Biotech, a small company that manufactures biotech raw materials such as growth factors and purified proteins, hopes to supply those to companies working on ARMI-supported projects, he said. He said Akron is satisfied with South Florida at this point, and interconnectivity makes it easy to supply material to customers far away.

"For us it's just being at the table," Zylberberg said. "We don't have to be physically present."

mhayward@unionleader.com


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