NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) - Leaders of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Stony Brook (NY) University, and Brookhaven National Laboratory are pursuing $30 million in annual operating funds from the state of New York, as well as philanthropic donations, for a research alliance intended to build upon years of close ties between the institutions and grow the life sciences industry on Long Island.
Bruce Stillman, president of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, told GenomeWeb Daily News on Wednesday that the alliance would specialize in advancing research in four specialties on which the institutions have focused: cancer research, neuroscience, quantitative biology, and biofuels.
"In the initial discussions, we decided that we should focus on our strengths," Stillman said in a telephone interview from Australia. "We want to pick some key areas and try and become the best in the world in these key areas."
He said that the three institutions have agreed to form a joint steering committee that "will decide on the strategic initiatives of the alliance, and drill down a little bit more than that into the specific areas." He said that they would try to recruit new faculty, build up existing programs, and seek more federal funding in those particular areas.
Another step toward drawing together will come at Cold Spring Harbor Lab's next board meeting, when trustees will consider adding Stony Brook University's new President, Samuel Stanley, to the board.
Stanley disclosed the alliance-building effort during his inaugural address. He said the alliance "will change the game for research on Long Island, in New York, and nationally."
"By collaborating together, leveraging current programs and infrastructure, identifying economies of scale, developing strategic hiring practices, and creating joint proposals for funding agencies that build on the unique capabilities of each institution, we will create a powerhouse," Stanley said in his Oct. 23 inaugural address.
"Stay tuned in the next few weeks for a further announcement about the alliance," he said.
That announcement is likely to spell out details of the alliance that are now under discussion by the steering committee. According to Stillman, these include the number of new faculty members to be recruited by the institutions; any additional new critical areas of research the alliance would address; the extent of funding needed; and how much will be raised from the state and federal governments, and from private philanthropic sources.
"The goal is really to develop very strategic initiatives in faculty recruitment, in program recruitment, and in federal funding initiatives," Lauren Sheprow, a spokeswoman for the university, told GWDN.
While the university shares some faculty with CSHL, no formal relationship has been developed. "The joint recruitment of faculty members to pursue specific programs and initiatives is something that really hasn't been done before. So that's one of the things that have been discussed, to elevate the status of that relationship," Sheprow said.
Stillman said the alliance would help its member institutions complement each other, and would not preclude collaborations with researchers from other universities and institutes worldwide.
"Since Cold Spring Harbor is a major center for cancer research, but we don't have a clinical center, we would be very interested in interacting with an expanded and beefed-up clinical center at Stony Brook," Stillman said. "That's something that I've talked to Sam a lot about. And him being an MD and a physician, as well as being president of Stony Brook, I think there's a lot we can do if funds were available to really focus."
The alliance could also mesh CSHL's established genetics and genomics programs with Stony Brook's planned Louis and Beatrice Laufer Center for Computational Biology and Genome Sciences, an interdisciplinary research center to focus on quantitative biology, including computational molecular biology, computational genomics, and systems biology. A director for the center has yet to be announced.
The alliance also would build upon longstanding ties between the institutions. One example: half of the 110 graduate students who carry out doctoral research at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory are Stony Brook students in the university's graduate programs in genetics, molecular and cellular biology, molecular genetics and microbiology, and neurobiology and behavior. The three institutions are also involved in high school education programs.
"We've all got our own research agendas at the moment," said Stillman. "Those are becoming more and more integrated. But having an operating budget for the alliance will definitely accelerate that. We are talking to each other, and I think we're influencing each other's individual decisions quite significantly."
Stillman acknowledged that the alliance's ability to achieve all of those goals will depend on how much funding it can raise from government and private sources.
"The institutions are really raring to go on this, and there's a lot to do," he said. "There are lots of opportunities for exploring innovative ways to get funding beyond individual faculty applying for individual grants."
The alliance effort won a $250,000 planning grant from the state last year, a grant proposed by Gov. David Paterson's predecessor, Eliot Spitzer. "The economic benefit for Long Island will be tremendous. The chance for New York to lead the world will be unparalleled," Spitzer said of the alliance in his 2008 State of the State address.
Specifics of that benefit are being examined as part of a study that the alliance is now conducting on the economic impact of each of the three institutions individually, and projected impact collectively through the alliance. The study is scheduled to be completed in December and is expected to offer more detail on the collaborations between the alliance's institutions, which Stillman said have increased in recent years due to increased dialogue.
In his address, Stanley said Stony Brook and Cold Spring Harbor combined have more than $750 million in annual external funding.
"I see the state funds as a seed for building up the larger research environment that will bring in more federal dollars," said Stillman.
Spitzer also proposed that the state award $5 million to Cold Spring Harbor Lab and $10 million to Stony Brook University for new equipment in connection with the alliance. Stillman said Cold Spring Harbor Lab ultimately did receive $5 million for equipment, but for use in its new $100 million Hillside Laboratories, a complex of six research buildings formally opened at a June ribbon-cutting ceremony.
For Hillside, Cold Spring Harbor secured $20 million through the state Senate's $225 million Gen*NY*sis program, designed to promote life sciences research throughout New York. That money paid for infrastructure associated with the development
"That investment enabled us to go out and raise $200 million to support this initiative" through a successful capital campaign that surpassed its goal last year, Stillman said. "We're still raising more funds for that initiative. That's the type of ratio, I think, that the state can expect to benefit from if they invest in research."