President Obama used a small part of his State of the Union address to cite research into the human brain as an example of how the government should “invest in the best ideas.” That statement and plans for a decade-long scientific effort to map the brain are welcome news to those behind the start of a biotech cluster in Buffalo.
The administration is reportedly looking to unveil as early as March a project that will include federal agencies, private foundations and teams of neuroscientists and nanoscientists in a study of the human brain. The work could have far-reaching implications in developing the technology to understand and treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Work would also be done on new therapies for a variety of mental illnesses.
Federal financing for the project would be more than $300 million a year for 10 years. It’s an enormous amount of money, but the payoff may be much greater. By comparison, the Human Genome Project cost $3.8 billion, but returned $140 to the economy for every dollar invested, according to the president.
Buffalo is positioned to be at the forefront of this innovative research. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in December awarded $50 million to build a life sciences innovation center on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, with Albany Molecular Research Inc. as the first tenant. That will be the first phase of the biocluster hub that is jointly owned and run by the Medical Campus, the University at Albany and the Jacobs Institute.
The innovation hub will address cutting-edge research at the interface of nanotechnology and biology.
The Obama announcement opens the door to significant additional federal funding to researchers in Buffalo.
The innovation hub will involve intellectual assets of the Jacobs Institute, the Medical Campus, the University at Buffalo and the University at Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. The goal includes commercialization of discoveries, and eventually job creation in Buffalo.
With groundwork already under way, Alain E. Kaloyeros, senior vice president and CEO of Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, said, “It was a delicious timing for the [president’s] announcement.” The innovation hub, as in Albany, would encourage profit-making businesses to locate within the hub, where they would have access to the intellectual assets already there, and use the equipment that these groups own and run.
Albany Molecular Research is the first of those, said Kaloyeros, who is also a key player in the life sciences movement in Buffalo. In addition, the state has said it has two unnamed companies ready to bring in 178 more jobs for a total private investment of $200 million.
Companies such as AMRI are basically corporate extensions of research done at universities; they do work for the big pharmaceutical companies, including much of the computer modeling in developing drugs. A lot of that work is directly relevant to the new push for research on the human brain.
As Dr. Leo Nelson “Nick” Hopkins III, head of the Jacobs Institute, said, the intersection of disciplines is where innovation is created. At the end of the day, these corporations are in the business of innovating to make money. The hub will be the place to foster that innovation and help corporate partners apply it.
In Albany Nano, Buffalo has both a working model for what it wants to do in medical technology and a great partner. The new public/private partnerships on the Medical Campus will provide new tools for neurological research into some of our most devastating diseases. The federal emphasis on that research will build on the work that is already done here and build the region’s brand as a biomedical center.