College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences

Thriving in Interesting Times – Biomedical Solutions to COVID-19


The third in a series of virtual panel discussions related to how manufacturing is succeeding in a COVID-19 economy was held last month. Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences at Clemson University, and John Lummus, president and CEO of the Upstate SC Alliance, are partnering to host conversations with industry leaders as part of a series titled, “Thriving in Interesting Times.”

The discussions are designed to broaden engagement between Clemson engineering and science alumni and the broader University community.

Mark Johnson, the Thomas F. Hash Endowed Chair in Sustainable Development and director of Clemson University’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing, serves as the moderator for the series.

“We’re focusing on how different types of organizations are succeeding in these interesting times,” said Johnson, “and how universities in particular are working with their industrial partners to help them achieve that success.”

The third panel featured three industry leaders: Bob Kramer, president and CEO of Emergent BioSolutions Inc.; Delphine Dean, Ron and Jane Lindsay Innovation Professor at Clemson University; and John Desjardins, Robert B. and Susan B. Hambright Leadership Professor at Clemson University.

Bob Kramer received his MBA from Western Kentucky University and his BS in industrial management from Clemson University. Prior to joining Emergent in 1999, Kramer held various financial management positions at Pharmacia Corporation, which became part of Pfizer Inc. Kramer now serves as president and CEO and as a member of the Board of Directors of Emergent BioSolutions, a life sciences company with about 1,800 employees across 19 global locations dedicated to its mission – to protect and enhance life – by providing specialty products and services that address public health threats.

Delphine Dean earned her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dean is the current director of the Clemson Center for Innovative Medical Devices and Sensors, which includes Clemson’s first high complexity CLIA diagnostics lab facility. The lab can process up to 9,000 COVID-19 saliva PCR diagnostic tests per day for Clemson University and the surrounding community. For her work, Dr. Dean was recently recognized with the Class of ’39 Award for Excellence from Clemson University.

John Desjardins received his Ph.D. in Bioengineering from Clemson University in December 2006 and has worked for over 25 years as a biomechanical research engineer. Dr. Desjardins is the director of the Laboratory of Orthopaedic Design and Engineering at Clemson University and was the Frank H. Stelling and C. Dayton Riddle Orthopaedic Education and Research Laboratory at CUBEInC. He currently leads or is a co-PI on many multi-disciplinary research teams on projects funded through NASA, DoT, NSF, NIH, The Gates Foundation, biomedical industry and other regional non-profit foundations.

COVID-19 underscored the importance of the biomedical community to the economy and the health of society overall. Many biomedical technologists, entrepreneurs and industrial leaders quickly responded to the pandemic’s unprecedented challenges, seeking new ways of keeping people safe and healthy.

In this session, three inventors and innovators shared how they have worked to ensure an effective biomedical response to COVID-19, their perspectives on the past year, and their vision for the future.

The complete conversation can be found here:

The next virtual panel conversation in the “Thriving in Interesting Times” series will take place on Thursday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. (ET). In this panel, business and engineering leaders will discuss Innovation and Entrepreneurship in COVID-19. Friends of the Clemson University community are invited to attend. For more information, contact Amy Hunt, senior director of development at

Key quotes from the panel discussion:

“One of the real benefits of the U.S. government getting involved was the fact that they really drove these private-public partnerships which sometimes naturally don’t occur. But in a crisis, we’re all in this together, so those barriers get broken down quickly and people find their path where they can contribute the most. It’s been one of the good things about having the government involved, whether it was Operation Warp Speed personnel or HHS, getting those collaborations going and really knocking down some barriers to things that because of their own human nature wouldn’t occur.”

–Bob Kramer, President and CEO, Emergent BioSolutions Inc.

“We knew that we had to pivot. Our test costs about $8 to run a test in the lab compared to $100 for an NP swab (including labor). I think there were steps in the process we had learned from others. So, sure, none of us were coronavirus experts, but we had virologists who worked on sequencing and doing things with viruses before. There are cheaper ways to extract RNA than fancy cocktails of enzymes. You had to be a little nimble. I think coming from engineering and looking at the problem as someone who wasn’t just a molecular biologist doing their usual assay, it’s nice when you have different disciplines collaborate because we can find where we can help each other and make the process more efficient and more accessible to people.”

–Delphine Dean, Ron and Jane Lindsay Family Innovation Professor, Clemson University

“The collaborative framework has shifted dramatically. Having these new connections makes you rethink how you’re doing things and the specificity with which you’re thinking. Regarding new topics and new things of interest, it was always ‘How do you keep the patient from becoming infected?’… Now we’re working on ‘How do we keep the patients from infecting us?’ We’re working on redesigning operating rooms so that we better understand how infection spreads and working with entire hospital systems on how they can address those issues and transform spaces so that they can effectively deal with patients and deal with the idea of infection of their environments. There’s a lot of new ground to cover.”

–John Desjardins, Robert B. and Susan B. Hambright Leadership Professor, Clemson University

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