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Hoboken Hotbed

Hoboken Hotbed

Stevens Institute of Technology is molding tomorrow’s biotechnology innovators in a pioneering, creative environment

New Jersey is home to a number of world-class academic institutions that radiate with industry know-how and are helping to shape the futures of next-generation life science professionals. One example is Stevens Institute of Technology, a hotbed for innovation, where recent advancements range from inkjet-printed antibiotics and infection-resistant medical implants to technology that fully regrows nerves and restores function in damaged limbs, eliminating the need for amputation. The university, located in Hoboken, also boasts an impressive track record for job placement after graduation. In 2015, 95% of the Stevens graduating class secured permanent employment or post-graduate enrollment within six months of graduation. In addition, Stevens was ranked third in the nation for the best 20-year return on investment for graduates, according to the 2015 PayScale College ROI Report. “Students get to see what the outside world is interested in, and they engage in specific projects, which often leads to introductions and eventually placements in life science companies that we partner with,” says Peter Tolias, professor and director of the Center for Healthcare Innovation at Stevens.

On the biotech front, four years ago Tolias recognized “a big need for more granularity and understanding when it came to drug development,” and urged Stevens to make headway down that path. He fervently believed the university should implement a stronger focus on developing drugs that are more specific and targeted with fewer side effects. That motivation, along with an interest in pursuing projects on other subjects, such as tissue engineering, inspired the launch of the school’s Biotechnology and Drug Discovery Laboratory, which is part of the Center for Healthcare Innovation. Today, the lab provides students with a complete preclinical infrastructure for drug discovery. “What we’ve built here is a really unique center, offering students comprehensive training across the gamut of preclinical drug discovery,” he explains.

Established with support from Roche, Merck and the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the Biotechnology and Drug Discovery Laboratory is operated by a dozen scientists with extensive experience in biotech and drug development, all formerly employed at companies including Roche, Merck and Novartis. While the lab affords students an opportunity to gain practical experience, it provides the local workforce with an academic partner for training and research. In the lab, students and faculty explore topics such as protein structure–based and in silico drug screening and discovery, assay development and robotic drug screening, preclinical gene cloning and purification of therapeutic proteins.

In keeping with New Jersey’s traditional role as a hub for biotech innovation, Stevens is also taking steps to integrate the concept of entrepreneurship into its curricula. “Exposure to entrepreneurial thinking is invaluable,” says Peter Koen, professor of a course at Stevens called Introduction to Entrepreneurship. “An increasing volume of research shows that entrepreneurial thinking, even within large organizations, can and does transform those organizations’ strategies and success in innovating new ideas and products.” Furthermore, beginning in late 2016, a new program called IDEaS (Innovation Design & Entrepreneurship at Stevens) will feature an “innovation spine that focuses on problem definition–based customer research, identification of entrepreneurial and business value proposition for research and design projects, and elements of starting up businesses,” says Edward Stukane, vice president of communications and marketing at Stevens.

Stukane explains that an unwavering commitment to discovery, collaboration and mentorship drives the academic culture at Stevens. Meanwhile, that same unwavering commitment to discovery, collaboration and mentorship—ingrained into Stevens students throughout their academic experiences—helps power the life science culture in New Jersey and far beyond, as these next-generation leaders go on to inspire innovation around the globe.

Illustration by Greg Betza

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