(Times Union (Albany, NY) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Jun. 5--ALBANY -- The University at Albany's announcement Friday of the creation of The RNA Institute, a new $12.5 million biomedical research center, was just as much about job creation as it was about science discoveries.
The university attracted top RNA scientist and entrepreneur Paul Agris from North Carolina State University to head the new institute, which is building a new 15,000-square-foot lab inside UAlbany's Life Sciences building.
RNA is a hot topic in the biotech world because it is a molecule that can turn genes and critical proteins in the body on and off.
Scientists believe RNA research can hold great promise in treating high-profile disease such as drug-resistant bacterial infections, HIV and cancer.
Large pharmaceutical companies such as Merck & Co. and GlaxoSmithKline have spent billions of dollars acquiring or partnering with companies working on RNA drugs, some of those companies small start-ups.
And Agris himself has founded two companies back in North Carolina focusing on RNA drugs. The RNA Institute is partnering with more than 35 research entities, including corporate, government and academic labs. Those combined entities have a total of 200 employees in the Capital Region. About 60 will be working at the UAlbany campus and are bringing in $12 million a year in federal grant money for RNA research, some of it from stimulus funding.
One of the first companies to announce plans to collaborate with the institute is Thermo Fisher Scientific, a major lab equipment supplier and consulting firm headquartered outside Boston.
"The environment we are creating is very much like what you would find in a pharmaceutical company," Agris said. "It's a stimulus in itself to create this institute."
Agris would have tried to bring one of his start-up companies with him to UAlbany, but current state law prohibits businesses from leasing space from state universities.
He said that back at North Carolina State, there are no such restrictions, and companies like Bayer and the software company Red Hat have a presence on the school's Centennial Campus.
Changes could be coming. State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, who attended Friday's event, supports Gov. David Paterson's Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act that would allow state schools to lease space to businesses doing research.
UAlbany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering is able to lease space to companies like IBM and the Sematech computer chip research consortium because its real estate is owned by a separate nonprofit.
"If SUNY is to create an economic engine, then it needs to have this type of legislation," Agris said.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, also attended the ceremonies. He said federal stimulus funds coming into the new center will help create jobs.
"The innovation that can come as a boost to our economy is a driving force," Tonko said. "We know it is going to open doors for good opportunities."
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