Loren Limberis, PhD, associate professor of engineering, coordinator of the bioprocess engineering concentration, and director of the Eastern Region Pharmaceutical Center at East Carolina University (ECU) in Greenville, NC, made time to talk about training tomorrow’s bioprocess engineers.

GEN: How would you describe ECU’s bioprocess engineering concentration?

One of the best ways to describe bioprocess engineering is to consider this discipline as the biological version of chemical engineering. Live organisms and enzymes are used in production processes rather than organic or inorganic chemicals and catalysts. Biological products—such as vaccines, insulin, and biotherapeutic drugs—cannot be produced using conventional chemical-engineering techniques. Chemical and bioprocess engineering are parallel disciplines in terms of processes for the manufacture of products, but they use different methods and conditions that are required to produce products for different purposes.

Overall, bioprocess engineering involves the design and development of equipment and processes for large-scale commercial manufacture of a variety of biological products, such as biopharmaceuticals, industrial enzymes, biofuels, biopolymers, and other materials.

Loren Limberis, PhD

GEN: Why is bioprocess engineering important?

There is a critical need for bioprocess engineers in North Carolina. Consider the explosion of growth in the past year and a half: In 2020, North Carolina recorded more than $3 billion of investments, creating more than 4,800 life sciences jobs. In 2021, so far through June, North Carolina had 15 announcements reflecting more than $2.9 billion in investment and the creation of almost 2,700 life science jobs. The bioprocess engineering concentration is ECU’s commitment to help sustain the growth, fulfill the needs in the industry, and provide opportunities for our students to engage in exciting, meaningful, and professional careers.

GEN: What are the key changes going on in bioprocess engineering and why?

Key developments in bioprocess engineering are the implementation of single-use technologies and the design and implementation of continuous biomanufacturing. Single-use technologies use pieces that are disposed of and replaced after one use. This circumvents the time, energy, and resources it would take for using traditional reusable components. Continuous biomanufacturing promotes a continuous flow of resources and materials so a product consistent in quality is constantly being produced. The motivation for continuous biomanufacturing includes reduced costs, increased productivity, improved quality, and increased manufacturing flexibility.