Release Date: May 3, 2001
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- It's official: Buffalo's CAT is back.
After nearly a decade without a New York State Center for Advanced Technology program that supports industry/university collaborations to drive job creation and economic growth, Buffalo is once again home to a CAT, this time a joint venture between UB and Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI).
Gov. George E. Pataki announced the new Center for Advanced Biomedical and Bioengineering Technologies (CABBT) on Monday at Roswell Park with $1 million in funding for the center. There are 14 other such centers around the state, each of which receives $1 million in funding annually.
Noting that the elimination of Buffalo's CAT in the early 1990s "sent the wrong message" about UB and Western New York, Pataki said that the redesignation of the CAT will make a tremendous impact on the people of Western New York by fostering the creation of new, biotech start-up companies and by helping existing biomedical businesses to expand through new or improved product lines.
President William R. Greiner praised the two elements that had come together to make the CAT possible: leadership and partnership, particularly between UB and Roswell Park.
"We've seen too much of the old image of two ships passing in the night," he said. "This is about two ships that don't pass each other and that begin to have a partnership. Eventually, there is going to be a flotilla."
"Buffalo is doing it right," he added. "This region won't let you down."
The governor's announcement shortened the formal CAT process for UB and RPCI by several years, explained Bruce Holm, senior associate vice president for health affairs.
"We assumed we'd have to wait until 2004 to apply formally when the next round of competition for a CAT becomes available," he said. "The governor's announcement shortens the timeline by three years."
The announcement also makes UB eligible for any and all state programs available to partners of such centers, said Holm, adding, "that's why it was so important to get this formal designation."
Holm said UB researchers and administrators approached the New York State Assembly in 1999 with a proposal for funding a CAT in biomedicine and bioengineering at UB, in partnership with Roswell Park.
The proposal was funded in that year with a combination of CAT seed money and funding for an outside consultant to help put together a report for planning purposes, Holm said. The planning process continued in 2000 with an allocation of $1 million.
CABBT (pronounced "cabot") will focus on developing new products and creating new jobs in Western New York from biomedical and bioengineering research conducted at UB, RPCI and Western New York companies.
Robert J. Genco, SUNY Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Oral Biology in the School of Dental Medicine, was named director of CABBT.
Genco explained that the center will fund projects that are close to the commercialization stage.
In particular, the center is emphasizing two areas in which Buffalo researchers have traditionally excelled: the development of biopharmaceuticals, such as the PSA test for prostate cancer, lung-surfactant therapy for premature infants, photodynamic cancer therapy and interferon treatment for multiple sclerosis, and biomedical devices, such as the implantable pacemaker and the platinum coil for inoperable cranial aneurysms.
According to Genco, CABBT will take advances like these and help ensure that they not only are developed in Western New York, but produced and manufactured here, too, once they are commercialized.
He also said that the CAT would function as the science-transfer or science-accelerator arm of other new centers that are funded in Western New York, such as the proposed NYSTAR center and the proposed Center for Excellence in Bioinformatics.
Awards will be made in the range of $100,000 to $200,000 per project.
Researchers at UB and RPCI, in collaboration with New York State companies may compete for two different types of awards. Discovery Awards will be made for innovative projects that use a bioinformatics-type approach allowing researchers to "leapfrog" from the basic-science level to a development stage. Science Transfer Awards will be given for research that nearly is ready to be commercialized.
"The Discovery Awards typically will fund research that uses a genomic or bioinformatics approach," explained Genco. "Say a researcher has an idea for a diagnostic test or a treatment target; by asking a very practical question, and by doing very rapid through-put screening and analysis with the DNA microarray or on the computer, the scientist can very quickly come up with some good candidate compounds for drug targets or diagnostic tests."
The best demonstration of the enormous potential such techniques have for product development, he said, is to compare these approaches with traditional methods of developing tests.
"In developing the PSA test for prostate cancer, Roswell Park researchers worked for years to find that one biomarker, the one thing that the cancer cell produced that normal cells did not that could act as a simple diagnostic test for prostate cancer," said Genco.
"Well, it turns out there are about a dozen different markers that these cancer cells produce and using DNA microarray technology, it took just a few weeks to discover them, whereas it used to take years to discover just one."
Science Transfer Awards will be made to researchers who have something in late-stage development that requires additional testing; for example, just prior to Phase 1 human trials or during late preclinical testing in animals.
"This type of award has been the missing link for our researchers," Genco noted. "Government agencies won't fund such projects because they're not true 'discovery research' and often companies want this kind of 'proof of concept' work to have already been completed. The Science Transfer Award will facilitate the next step, which could be either solicitation from venture-capital companies or major funding from industry.
"We're particularly excited because the CAT fills that niche," said Genco.
This year, the CAT planning money has funded the following projects:
• Partial support for Phase 1 clinical trials for a promising anti-angiogenesis drug developed at RPCI based on an antibody to endoglin, a component in blood vessels that, when inhibited, turns blood vessels off, potentially starving tumors
• Development of a prototype of a dual-balloon esophageal catheter, that promises to be a cost-effective substitute for the existing catheter system
• Development of an ultrasound-imaging technology invented by Ultrascan Corp. in Amherst for footprinting of newborn infants
• To support proof of concept and prototype development of a UV radiation technology developed by FP Technologies in North Tonawanda to eliminate food-borne pathogens. Commercial applications include extending the shelf life of fresh produce.
In each of these projects, there is collaboration between scientists at UB or Roswell Park and industry, Genco said.
A new round of competitions for CAT funding will be held in July, with awards being made in September. For more information, contact Genco at 829-2854 or firstname.lastname@example.org.