UB Gets $25 Million in NYSTAR Funds

Funding for three projects constitutes one-quarter of total funding for state

Release Date: May 7, 2001

BUFFALO, N.Y. - By themselves, any one of the research awards to the University at Buffalo announced on May 3 by Governor George E. Pataki would have been significant.

But the purpose of the Governor's return to Buffalo on Thursday -- after his visit on Monday to announce $1 million in funding for the Center for Advanced Biomedical and Bioengineering Technologies -- was to award three major, peer-reviewed grants totaling $25 million from the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research (NYSTAR) to UB and its research partners.

Pataki announced the grants at a press conference held in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Calling the funding one of the largest high-technology/biotechnology-related investments ever made by the state in the Buffalo area, Pataki said the amount constituted one-fourth of the total funding awarded throughout the state under the NYSTAR program.

"This new STAR center in Buffalo represents a major milestone in our efforts to foster the growth of high-tech and biotechnology research and economic development throughout New York State," Pataki said.

"This new center - when combined with our $1 billion Centers of Excellence plan - will generate significant new research funding and spur the establishment of spin-off enterprises, bringing new jobs and economic opportunities to Western New York."

UB President William R. Greiner called the announcement "a tremendous boost to Western New York efforts to create a biomedical-industrial complex."

He added: "Governor, the nature of your commitments to Western New York is that they are strong and they are deep."

The most substantial of the three competitive awards granted was $15.3 million allocated for the establishment of the new Strategically Targeted Academic Research (STAR) Center for Disease Modeling and Therapy Discovery. The center is a partnership between UB, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute and Kaleida Health. IBM Life Sciences Division is its corporate partner. Bruce Holm, senior associate vice president for health affairs, is principal investigator.

An additional $8 million in NYSTAR funding was awarded to UB's Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics, under the direction of Paras Prasad, Ph.D., SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Department of Chemistry, as part of a $14 million information technology research center awarded to Rochester Institute of Technology. UB researchers led by Robert E. Baier, Ph.D., professor of oral diagnostic sciences and director of the Industry/University Center on Biosurfaces, and George Lopos, dean of Millard Fillmore College, also received funding proposed at $1.5 million as part of the New York Environmental Quality Systems Center established at Syracuse University. See related article on both grants.

The Center for Disease Modeling and Therapy Discovery is designed to make Western New York a world-class player in a broad range of new scientific fields made possible by the sequencing of the human genome. Its ultimate purpose is to discover and develop new drugs and clinical therapies using the tools made possible by the genomics revolution and to bring them to the marketplace.

"It's a win-win situation for UB, its partners and the entire Western New York community, which will benefit greatly from new job creation in the biomedical field," said Jaylan Turkkan, Ph.D., UB vice president for research. "Through our plans for virtual collaboratories and academic/industry co-location, our researchers will be integrated with industry in a way they never have been before."

"The fact that this grant was awarded, based on a peer-review process, demonstrates that the quality of science already being done in Western New York meets a particularly good standard," said Holm. "We are optimistic that with this funding and with the plan that actually formulated the funded proposal, we will be able to accelerate both the academic science and the corporate science in Western New York."

The strategy involves developing an academia-industry co-locator facility in the vacant, 50,000-square-foot Westwood Squibb Pharmaceutical building at 100 Forest Avenue in Buffalo. The co-locator will facilitate prototyping of new products and commercialization of research by providing laboratory and business incubation space to a multidisciplinary group of scientists from academic and industry as well as UB Business Alliance staff.

The center will forge numerous links with partners -- not just locally, but throughout the state -- through establishment of a "virtual collaboratory" with the IBM Life Sciences Computational Biology Division. The virtual collaboratory is an innovative informatics concept developed and prototyped by UB faculty, which makes possible ubiquitous telecommunications between all participating institutions. An additional economic engine for Western New York, this concept has already resulted in the formation of a spin-off company, Visual Design Systems.

The virtual collaboratory concept means that for the first time in Western New York, different institutions will be linked through Internet 2, the high-bandwidth portion of the Internet reserved for research and education.

Already functioning on and between UB's North and South campuses, Internet 2 communications require the installation of so-called "dark fiber" connections, funding for which will be provided by the NYSTAR award.

"This will connect not only institutions in Western New York, but all across the state," said Holm, who added that that aspect of the plan has been especially important in recruiting new researchers to the region.

"Our experience in the last six months has been that even just the possibility of having this type of connection has clearly turned heads," he said. "To connect not only to faculty in the region, but to have access to the intellectual capital all across the state has been a very strong draw."

UB researchers now are working with IBM to design a commercialized version of this virtual collaboratory.

"We've been moving forward as though this was going to happen," said Holm. "This was something we needed to do from a strategic perspective. It just turns out we can actually now do it at the level that we had hoped."

According to Holm, the center is expected to begin operations in advance of receipt of the actual flow of money from the state. Negotiations with Bristol-Myers Squibb, which owns the property at 100 Forest Ave., are progressing well, he said, and researchers in strategic areas are being identified.

"We've had more interest from researchers than we have space," he said.

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