Advancing Initiatives in Biotech

A partnership between Penn State and global biotechnology leader CSL Behring positions the University and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for emerging leadership in the field.

Penn State’s partnership with global biotech industry leader CSL Behring highlights the University’s commitment to advancing industrial biotechnology education, research, and outreach.

In an October 2019 award presentation, Penn State named CSL Behring Corporate Partner of the Year. The partnership, which includes the company’s generous support for the University, will look to expand biotechnology research at Penn State; deliver industry-relevant student experiences, seminars, and other student engagement activities; and increase the company’s recruiting presence at the University.

CSL Behring, known globally for its cutting-edge research and development and advanced production of therapeutic proteins, provides medicines to rare-disease patients around the world. The company, which operates one of the world’s largest plasma collection networks - CSL Plasma, and its parent company, CSL Limited - employs more than 25,000 people, has an annual revenue of $8.7 billion, and delivers life-saving therapies to people in more than 70 countries.

“CSL Behring is the world’s third largest biotech company, and its promise to seeking innovative solutions to unmet medical challenges complements Penn State’s leadership role in educating students for the 21st-century workforce,” said Penn State President Eric J. Barron. “With CSL Behring’s support, Penn State is evolving industrial biotechnology education and research at the University, throughout the Commonwealth, and beyond — with enormous potential for improving human health.”

By locating its global headquarters in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, CSL Behring has advanced a vision of the commonwealth as a pioneer in biotechnology — and partnerships with Penn State have further underscored that commitment.

“Engaging with industry is a core element of our land-grant mission,” said Jeff Fortin, associate vice president for research and director of the Office of Industrial Partnerships. “It also supports a strategic priority of the University’s, which is to connect faculty and students to real-world problems. It’s important that we understand the needs of companies like CSL Behring so that we’re properly educating students and also identifying areas where our research capabilities can meet those needs.”

“With CSL Behring’s support, Penn State is evolving industrial biotechnology education and research at the University, throughout the Commonwealth, and beyond — with enormous potential for improving human health.” —Penn State President Eric J. Barron

In 2017, the company pledged a $4.92 million gift to Penn State to create the multidisciplinary Center of Excellence in Biotechnology, housed within the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, and to establish the CSL Behring Fermentation Facility, an engine for collaboration and innovation in biological training and research on the University Park campus. The fermentation facility will create unique opportunities for students who are looking to enter the biotechnology and biopharmaceutical fields.

“Biotechnology companies like CSL Behring look to hire employees who possess a strong knowledge of molecular biology and biotechnology, but who have enough engineering perspective to be able apply that knowledge in a large-scale facility and put out a product,” said Jim Marden, associate director of operations at the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences and professor of biology in the Eberly College of Science.

“Here at Penn State and within the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, we are structured in a way that allows us to work at the intersection of many different fields,” Marden continued. “Because we work across colleges and departments, we are able to respond to the needs of the company while also providing this unique opportunity to students to acquire the skills necessary to enter this field.”

The CSL Behring Fermentation Facility, which is located within Penn State’s newly renovated Agricultural Engineering building, offers state-of-the-art equipment capable of growing a wide range of microorganisms and producing microbial-derived products (recombinant proteins, industrial enzymes, biofuels, and bio-based chemical) at both the research- and pilot-scale production levels.

“Penn State students will have an incredible advantage because they’ll be using the same exact equipment that we at CSL Behring use at our leading-edge manufacturing sites around the world,” CSL Behring Head of Digital Transformation and Execution Systems, Karen Etchberger, said of the fermentation facility. 

“Because we work across colleges and departments, we are able to respond to the needs of the company while also providing this unique opportunity to students to acquire the skills necessary to enter this field.” —Jim Marden, associate director of operations, Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences

In addition to training opportunities at the Fermentation Facility, the company has also provided speakers and executive-level leaders for student initiatives and advisory board roles, participated in a virtual leadership seminar for Eberly College of Science students, and worked closely with the Smeal College of Business and the College of Agricultural Sciences on other initiatives. The partnership has also expanded into local economic development, with CSL Plasma adding a new State College facility to its plasma collection network.

“These are exciting times in biotech, and CSL Behring values this opportunity to build a lasting relationship with Penn State and meet the growing need for world-class teaching and research centers,” said CSL Limited CEO and Managing Director Paul Perreault. “At CSL, we’re driven by our promise to use the latest technologies to protect and improve the health of people around the world. Collaborating with Penn State on these efforts — and helping to educate the next generation of biotech scientists and leaders — is a natural outgrowth of our commitment to foster innovation.”