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Facilitating the next frontier of medical science

Photo by Michael Mazzanti.

Northeastern University recently hosted top researchers, advocates and industry experts earlier this month for an engaging discussion about the future of biopharmaceuticals, considered by many to be the cutting edge of medical science in America.

Biopharmaceuticals, or biologics, are created from living cells and have been used to treat — and could potentially cure — some of the world’s most severe diseases, including cancer, AIDS and arthritis.

The event, sponsored by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio), was held at Northeastern, in recognition of the University’s leadership in working with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the biotechnology industry to help inform regulatory standards for approval of biologics and their successor drugs — known as biosimilars — in the United States.

Much of Northeastern’s work in this area has taken place through the Barnett Institute of Chemical and Biological Analysis in the College of Science. Graham Jones, associate director of the Barnett Institute and a professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, presented at the event.

Jones said he expects a boom of innovation in this industry, and hopes that the work being done at Northeastern and elsewhere will keep America at the forefront of biopharmaceutical technology.

“Biological drugs are very complex, but given the phenomenal power of modern analytical technology, we are now able to analyze these agents with precision,” Jones said.

Jones and other presenters, from the Alliance for Safe Biologics, the biotechnology firm Amgen and the Arthritis Foundation, discussed the excitement of realizing the potential of biologics and biosimilars. They also stressed the importance of ensuring these next-generation drugs are properly approved and made safe for patients through rigorous clinical testing and regulation.

Bob Coughlin, MassBio president and chief executive officer, offered welcoming remarks and facilitated the day’s discussions. “It’s important that government, academia and industry all work together so we can succeed,” he said.

Biologics are much more complex than regular pharmaceutical drugs, in that they are protein based and made from living cells, rather than being chemically produced.

In March, Northeastern researchers traveled to the National Institutes of Health to train FDA members on analysis of biopharmaceuticals.

In his role as chair, Jones has also introduced the first-in-the-nation professional science master’s program in regulatory science.

The Office of Government Relations facilitated Northeastern’s hosting of the event, in alignment with the University’s focus on use-inspired research that solves global challenges in health, security and sustainability.

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