Pharmaceutical Engineering Workshop Fosters Partnerships with Industry



By Simon Morrow
Photo of Sohail Murad, Mudassir Rashid, Julia Mazzoni Duarte, and Juliana Gomes de Guimarães in front of Illinois Tech banner

The Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering recently hosted a workshop that brought Illinois Institute of Technology students and faculty together with representatives from a range of pharmaceutical companies such as AbbVie, Baxter, Roche, and Pfizer, as well as companies and academic institutions from Brazil, with the aim of increasing collaboration.

Industry representatives from more than 45 organizations, including more than 20 pharmaceutical companies, participated in the pharmaceutical engineering workshop.

“We wanted to showcase some of the cutting-edge research that we’re doing in biotechnology and biopharmaceutical manufacturing processes,” says Research Assistant Professor and Director of the Pharmaceutical Engineering Program Mudassir Rashid.

Organized in collaboration with the Consulate General of Brazil in Chicago, the workshop covered the latest innovations and trends in the pharmaceutical industries of the United States and Brazil, including advances in pharmaceutical manufacturing and biotechnology.

The workshop began with an introductory presentation by Rashid, followed by opening remarks by the Consul General of Brazil in Chicago Benoni Belli and Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Kenneth Christensen.

Hyosung S. R. Cho Endowed Chair in Engineering Ali Cinar gave a keynote presentation on Illinois Tech’s Master of Pharmaceutical Engineering program, which provides students with strong multidisciplinary foundations in drug delivery, bioprocess engineering, biotechnology, entrepreneurship, and more. 

Cinar also described the interdisciplinary research and education activities in pharmaceutical engineering and basic science research spanning several departments and research centers at Illinois Tech. Innovations in digital twins of biopharmaceutical manufacturing processes, cell-free protein synthesis, virtual patients for in silico trials of novel pharmacological agents, and controlled drug delivery were highlighted. 

“Most universities don’t have pharmaceutical engineering programs. In Chicago, we are the only ones,” says Sohail Murad, chair of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. “Our graduates are highly valued by industry and some have already contributed to the development of vaccines for COVID-19.”

Cenk Ündey, vice president and global head of pharma technical development—data and digital at Roche, presented on digital transformation and Industry 4.0 for biotechnology. 

Several presentations were given by Illinois Tech alumni who have gone on to significant leadership roles at their companies.

Hamid Mehdizadeh (Ph.D. CHE ’13), director of digital manufacturing intelligence at Pfizer, presented on the use of analytics and digital technologies for advancing biomanufacturing; and Julia Mazzoni Duarte (CHE ’12, M.A.S. ITO ’18), manufacturing process owner at CSL Behring, presented on the company’s work developing plasma and blood-based therapies. 

Industry leaders and experts gave presentations that provided valuable insights and industrial perspectives on the technical and regulatory challenges faced by pharmaceutical companies.

Jie Chen, principal research scientist II and technical operations manager in the process research development section of the development sciences division of AbbVie, talked about the impacts that engineers can have on the design, manufacturing, and quality assurance of complex pharmaceutical products. 

Karina Esparza, research associate III, formulation at Baxter International Inc., talked about the multidisciplinary skills required by engineers at pharmaceutical companies.

A panel discussion also addressed workforce training, infrastructure, and regulatory challenges currently facing the industry. Finally, Illinois Tech graduate students presented their research work at a networking and poster session to share research findings and discuss novel technological solutions with experts from industry and academia.

The workshop concluded with closing remarks by the Acting Dean of Armour College of Engineering Kevin Cassel.

“At Illinois Tech we do cutting-edge basic science research but we also do translational research, so some of our research work can go from development here at Illinois Tech to actually have an impact at these pharmaceutical companies,” says Rashid. “We want our students to interact with the companies to exchange ideas and knowledge where companies can talk to us about the challenges they face and how our academic expertise could help them solve problems.”

Image: (from left) Chair of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering Sohail Murad, Research Assistant Professor Mudassir Rashid, Manager of the Science, Technology Innovation Section (SECTEC) at the Consulate General of Brazil in Chicago Juliana Gomes de Guimarães, and Manufacturing Process Owner at CSL Behring Julia Mazzoni Duarte (CHE ’12, M.A.S. ITO ’18).