Pictured at the announcement of a Golden LEAF Foundation grant that will enable ECU to prepare students to work in the pharmaceutical industry are, left to right, Dr. Maria Pharr, N.C. Community College Executive BioNetwork director; Dr. Thomas Gould, vice president of Academic Affairs at Pitt Community College; Dan Gerlach, president of the Golden LEAF Foundation; ECU Provost Dr. Ron Mitchelson; and ECU Associate Vice Chancellor Dr. Ted Morris. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)


ECU to develop unique training network for pharmaceutical industry

March 2, 2015

By Kelly Setzer
ECU News Services

East Carolina University is teaming up with Pitt Community College to develop a premier, laboratory-based education and training network for the pharmaceutical industry thanks to new funding from the Golden LEAF Foundation.

The foundation’s largest grant of its type this year, totaling $1.75 million, will be awarded to establish the Biopharmaceutical Work Force Development and Manufacturing Center of Excellence. The grant was announced during an event Monday, March 2 in downtown Greenville.

With a goal of transforming eastern North Carolina’s economy, the funds will be dispersed as $1.1 million to ECU and $650,000 to PCC. The two schools will work closely with companies including Patheon, Hospira, Mayne Pharma and others to ensure the development of technically skilled and creative students to support the region’s employment goals.

“ECU’s Department of Chemistry has partnered with industry scientists for many years to offer our graduates a leg up when looking for jobs in the pharmaceutical industry,” said Keith Holmes, grant project manager, Department of Chemistry teaching instructor and retired pharmaceutical executive. “We are proud that our work has culminated in this exciting grant and partnership, which will expand our laboratory and personnel to develop a true capstone course for scientists from many disciplines.”
Dan Gerlach, president of the Golden LEAF Foundation, speaks during the announcement of a grant to ECU and Pitt Community College to establish the Biopharmaceutical Work Force Development and Manufacturing Center of Excellence.

Regional employers are focused on expanding their expertise and operations in the form of pharmaceutical development services such as drug design and discovery; sterile formulation, packaging, development and manufacturing; analytical development and quality control/assurance; and other supporting services.

This expansion is anticipated to make Patheon’s Greenville location the company’s flagship facility and part of the world's largest contract development and manufacturing organization. The latest expansion brings significant jobs and investment to the region.

"ECU continues to play a leading role in the growth of North Carolina's advanced manufacturing industries and workforce,” said Ted Morris, associate vice chancellor, head of ECU’s Office of Innovation and Economic Development, and co-principal investigator on the project. “This latest collaboration will prepare professionals to fuel diversification, innovation and operational excellence within North Carolina's pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical industries."

According to Morris, the project has four main goals: educating students and workers for highly-regulated pharmaceutical development and manufacturing environments; enabling workers to be immediately productive in complex jobs requiring multi-disciplinary skills, knowledge and abilities; reducing initial time to productivity for new workers and associated costs of mistakes; and equipping students and workers with sufficient cultural, business and regulatory knowledge to succeed within the multi-national context of the global pharmaceutical industry.

The Pitt County Development Commission reports that more than 8,000 people are directly employed in pharmaceutical manufacturing in Johnson, Wilson, Nash and Pitt counties alone.

“The partnership we have developed between the Department of Chemistry and ECU’s Office of Innovation and Economic Development is such an effective way to meet the needs of industry,” said Allison Danell. She is the Department of Chemistry’s Interim Chair as well as grant director and lead principal investigator on the project. “We are excited to have such significant support from the Golden LEAF Foundation, which will benefit so many ECU students and workers in the region.”

Dan Gerlach, president of the Golden LEAF Foundation, underscored the importance of education in ensuring the economic success of the region as a whole. “We have made millions of dollars of grants to both Pitt Community College and ECU, and I feel confident that we’re going to talk about more in the years to come. Golden LEAF is simply doing what it should do, which is invest in its people. Our best asset is our people.”


The Golden LEAF Foundation awards grants to 501(c)(3) nonprofits and governmental entities across North Carolina. Golden LEAF's grants making focuses on three priorities: agriculture, job creation and retention, and workforce preparedness. Projects that focus on other opportunities to support and develop economic strength in tobacco-dependent, economically distressed, and/or rural communities continue to be welcomed.

Photo by Jay Clark