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30.11.2020 - 4 min. Read

Making the leap from classroom to biomanufacturing center: How one micro-credential is helping bridge the gap for science students

For industries that produce products for human consumption, such as food, beverages or medication, adhering to a comprehensive set of regulations is crucial. That’s why a team from Algonquin College, the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI) and BioCanRx came together to create a micro-credential tailor-made to provide training in this very specific area.  BioCanRx, a cancer biotherapeutic network that collaborates to research, develop and manufacture cancer immunotherapies, has matched support from eCampusOntario to help make this micro-credential a reality. The micro-credential, which focuses on Good Manufacturing Practices – or GMP – is part of eCampusOntario’s current set of pilots.

GMP is a system for ensuring certain products are produced in a way that complies with agency standards. Dr. Jennifer Quizi, Director of the Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre- Virus Manufacturing Facility at the OHRI, explains how GMP is used in biological manufacturing:

“All biotherapeutics are produced under GMP. GMP production is regulated by strict guidelines to ensure the product is safe and effective and is overseen by a Quality System. By being so meticulous and following these guidelines carefully while continually looking for ways to improve quality, whether it is in relation to the operation of the facility, training of the staff or the actual process itself, we are building quality into the product. This is the ultimate goal of a GMP facility.”

Algonquin College had been interested in adding micro-credentials to its offerings for a while, so when eCampusOntario put out a call in June 2020 for industry/education teams to develop pilots, they jumped at the chance to collaborate with BioCanRx and OHRI. Algonquin co-op students are often placed within the OHRI’s Canadian Partnership for Research in Immunotherapy Manufacturing Excellence (CanPRIME) program. The existing relationship made it easier for the team to co-develop a credential both reflective of Algonquin’s existing curriculum and targeted towards specific skills employers in biomanufacturing look for in new hires. Rudy Jones, Biotechnology Program Coordinator at Algonquin, explains how they learned about those industry needs:

“We arranged for a series of focus groups where we had several companies that rely on GMP, including the cannabis industry, radiopharmaceuticals and the food industry,” he says. “We sat down and had four one-hour sessions where we asked the people employing graduates about gaps they were seeing in new hires. What came across very clearly was this disconnect between the classroom and the big brain thinking required to make it in industry, to understand the perspectives of a company, the importance of quality, and to live those virtues.”

Jennifer says the micro-credential partnership was a win-win for everyone on the project team and will benefit students coming out of biotech or other science programs, looking to set themselves apart. “We thought it would be great to have this actual credential where we introduce the principles GMP ahead of time with an eye to increasing the marketability of folks coming out of the biotech program,” she says. “We are also an organization that makes products used in clinical trials, so retention is a big concern because it’s a very specialized individual interested in and skilled at doing this sort of job.”

According to Dr. Megan Mahoney, Director of Scientific Affairs and Training Programs at BioCanRx, it’s as much about filling skills gaps for individuals as it is about strengthening manufacturing capacity in Canada. “This a great opportunity to increase accessibility to individuals across Canada,” she says. “I believe once this is developed, we have an opportunity to promote this micro-credential with organizations where it would really help, including academic institutions and industry partners.”

The micro-credential is expected to be ready for learners in the spring of 2021. With campuses offering limited in-person delivery due to COVID-19, the credential’s first iteration will be delivered online, but this could be an unexpected benefit. “I think it’s a great opportunity to increase accessibility to individuals across Canada,” says Megan. “I think once this is developed, we have an opportunity to really promote this micro-credential. We’ve got organizations across Canada it would really help, including academic institutions and industry partners.”

The Government of Ontario recently announced a significant investment in micro-credential development over three years and a partnership with eCampusOntario designed to strengthen the province’s micro-credential strategy. Click this link to read more about eCampusOntario’s work with micro-credentials.