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SRI International Expands Bio Activity to East Coast with Opening of Virginia Facility

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – SRI International has opened the $22 million Center for Advanced Drug Research, or CADRE, in Harrisonburg, Va., a facility that fulfills the nonprofit research and technology development institute's longtime plan to expand its biosciences division to the East Coast.

CADRE's main area of research will be applying proteomics-based technologies to understand host-vector pathogen interactions in infectious disease, "with an aim to prevent, detect, and treat some of these neglected infectious diseases," Krishna Kodukula, executive director of CADRE, told GenomeWeb Daily News earlier today.

"The center is focused on proteomics, and we apply all the other techniques that are associated with proteomics to drive any program," he added.

CADRE focuses on insect-borne viruses, respiratory and diarrheal pathogens, and diseases linked to parasitic protozoa, such as West Nile fever, dengue fever, tuberculosis, leishmaniasis, and malaria.

CADRE's recent projects include discovery of a new insecticide targeting mosquitoes, and research into antibiotic resistance in people with tuberculosis, the latter supported by a $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced in May.

The center also seeks to discover new markers, "well-characterized" targets, and therapies by identifying critical links underlying the mechanisms of antibiotic resistance, intracellular toxin transport, and vector competence. In addition, CADRE applies computational biology, mining the databases of SRI and other research partners for data on biological pathways that shape disease development.

Kodukula said CADRE's new facility will complement, and not change programs at SRI's two other facilities. SRI is headquartered in Menlo Park, Calif., where it carries out basic bioscience research and works to translate that into preclinical development of new molecules for investigational new drug applications. Also at Menlo Park, SRI focuses on oncology and neurobiology, in addition to infectious disease.

In Arlington, Va., SRI is focused on government business development and some policy research, with no labs based there.

SRI had decided on a second Virginia site when it began searching for a permanent home within the state for CADRE. That search ended in December 2006, when Gov. Tim Kaine announced the research institute had agreed to build the facility in Harrisonburg.

On Monday, Kaine led dignitaries in a dedication ceremony for the new CADRE facility, which occupies the 40,000-square-foot first building to be completed within the Rockingham Center for Research and Technology.

CADRE has moved out of the leased space it occupied since it was launched in January 2007 in Harrisonburg, within the campus of James Madison University. But SRI will continue to collaborate with JMU, whose presence Kodukula said was "a very critical factor" that drew CADRE to Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.

Other factors were the Harrisonburg site's location within the Washington, DC, metro area, its suburban quality of life, its lower cost of living compared with much of the region, its proximity to the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies, its educated workforce, and the presence within the county of Merck, which manufactures the cervical cancer vaccine Gardacil from a plant in Elkton, Va.

"These were all positive developments that made us move here," Kodukula told GWDN. "Being in the proximity of the Washington area was very important because most of our clients and partners are here. We are within driving distance to all the major pharma hubs, and also to our government clients."

Also key, according to Kodukula: The availability for long-term lease of its 25-acre parcel within the 365-acre research park, which is owned and operated by Rockingham County. SRI has rights to expand its new facility to 100,000 square feet.

"They were willing to build the facility and lease it to us long-term, on an option to acquire basis," he said.

CADRE employs 18 people now — a figure Kodukula said will rise to 24 people by year's end and 100 people by the end of 2012. "Of this, I would say about 80 percent will be researchers, investigators at different levels," Kodukula said.

He said most of the staffers at Harrisonburg are expected to be new hires, though hiring is open. While employees from the other two SRI facilities could apply for the positions, Kodukula said, he was the only one who has shifted jobs from Menlo Park.

The job growth was among conditions set for SRI by Virginia in return for $22 million in state, county, and local incentives intended to cover the development of the facility, which was designed by the architectural firm HOK, and constructed by Nielsen Builders.

In addition to developing CADRE, SRI has sought to help grow Virginia's life sciences and other tech sectors. Last year it joined with Shenandoah Valley Partnership and local business leaders to complete the Shenandoah Valley 21st Century Workforce Transitions Project, designed to assess how well local schools and training programs were meeting long-time employer needs.

SRI conducts client-sponsored R&D for government agencies, commercial businesses, foundations, and other organizations. Including a for-profit subsidiary, SRI operations generated $490 million in consolidated revenues last year.