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Regional Development SUNY Buffalo: Home of the Next Biotech Hot Spot?

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Of all metropolitan areas in the US seeking to cast themselves as the next growth spot for life sciences research and business development, Buffalo may not have the easiest sell in the world. Upstate New York is, after all, better known for recent job losses than economic and population growth.

But the Buffalo area may yet have some selling points in its portfolio. Four years after New York Governor George Pataki named the State University of New York at Buffalo one of three “centers of excellence” in technology across the state, Bruce Holm, a senior vice provost at the university and executive director of the center, says Buffalo has assembled the resources required for biotech growth to take hold. In the past four years the enterprise has spawned at least eight life sciences spin-off companies.

Five years ago, Thaddeus Grasela, the former chair of the pharmaceutical sciences department at the University at Buffalo, founded Cognigen to design informatics systems for clinical trials that allow researchers to extract more useful information from the studies. Unlike more traditional contract research organizations, Holm says, Cognigen’s approach enhances the ability of scientists to mine the results of clinical trials, reducing the need for expensive new studies. Prosetta, another Buffalo spin-off, is studying the role of misfolded proteins in disease, and how to identify them as potential drug targets. The Buffalo Center of Excellence also has relationships with GE Healthcare and Invitrogen.

The Buffalo COE is also actively expanding its technology resources, says Holm, a professor of pediatrics and pharmacology whose lab helped develop lung surfactant replacement therapy in the early ’90s for premature babies. In addition to upgrading its cluster computing technology last summer, the center is working with Silicon Graphics to design a dedicated system for computational biology that relies on multiparadigm computing, an architecture that allows a highly specialized computer to optimize itself for various algorithms. In addition, Holm says Buffalo is involved in planning a medical and genomic data repository for patients in the state of New York. Such a database, he adds, would be useful for research and medical treatment, as well as serving as a means of detecting coordinated outbreaks of disease.

— John S. MacNeil

 

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