/ CBET Updates

Aims to keep CBET at the forefront of technology and become a key partner to industry.

January 11, 2022

By Justin Dawes – Reporter, Albany Business Review
Jan 26, 2022, 4:52pm EST

Michelle Lewis has never lived anywhere with single-digit temperatures, but she’s slowly getting used to it as she walks her dog each morning in the snow.

Lewis and her family moved from Georgia so she could begin her role on Jan. 3 as the new executive director for the Stack Family Center for Biopharmaceutical Education and Training at the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. The center is at the Albany NanoTech Complex. Lewis grew up in Kentucky and has spent the last seven years as assistant director of the Bioexpression and Fermentation Facility at the University of Georgia, which produces biological products for various academic and industrial clients. She was contacted by a recruiter following the retirement of Kamal Rashid, CBET’s founding director.

Between the creation of a talent pipeline and the contract manufacturing services CBET offers, leaders have previously said the center could lead to more biopharma startups settling in the Capital Region to access those resources down the road.

The Business Review spoke with Lewis about her interest in the new role and her vision for CBET. What sparked your interest in CBET and led to you ultimately accepting the director
position? I think what brought me here was the people, and Dr. Dewey [president of ACPHS] was a visionary when it comes to his outlook for the center and for the college. The Stack Center was funded through donors, all gifted over $10 million. It takes a lot of energy to raise that much money. And so after meeting them and hearing their vision, it was easy to buy into it.

Dr. Rashid, who preceded me, put a lot of thought into the selection of the staff. They have the latest equipment, cutting-edge equipment. And the model is to lease the equipment for five years, so it’s continually being renewed and keeping the center at the forefront of the technology. I think, right now, it’s in an early stage, and I have the opportunity to come right now and mold it and leave my footprint here, so to speak, and carry it to the next phase, the expansion phase. And I’m starting with a really solid base.

How do you think your work with the contract manufacturing model in Georgia will
translate at CBET? After we roll out the training programs, phase two of the center would be to
look to the contract manufacturing operations. And that helps further the vision of training because then you’re working with industrial partners. All the students are integrated in these agreements where they’re getting hands-on training with clients. I think that’s a really important model.

It’s a very diverse set of clients that I’ve interacted with before. You have your standard
pharmaceutical companies as startups; they’re looking for biologicals like antibody therapeutics, for example. But there’s also a big expansion in other areas, particularly manufactured foods. When you go to the grocery store now, you have these meat substitutes. All of those products rely on biologically producing hormones and other ingredients to make the artificial food substitutes. That food-based research is expanding rapidly, and that could be a partnership as well. And then you have your traditional small molecule pharmaceuticals that become drugs. Even in cosmetics, the industry is just booming. In cosmetics, you have a lot of ingredients that are derived from growth hormones that improve your complexion, the quality of the skin. All of those are biologically derived. In the diagnostics industry, the Covid tests use molecules that are made from biomanufacturing. So you think there’s potential for these other types of companies to set up here? A lot of times, startup companies don’t have the funding to get the latest, greatest equipment. And that is something that CBET has dedicated a lot of money to.

CBET has become a center and a nucleus for this expanding biotech in the Albany area. Albany is perfectly positioned from NYC and Boston, within a couple of hours. But real estate in those areas is at a premium, so people can start looking to Albany. We have a lot of space.