More Economic Activity In Store For Buffalo from Genomics Project

2014-01-10 20:20:58

Up to 600 jobs in Buffalo promised by genomics project.

Author: Stephen T. Watson | Buffalo News

Date: January 9, 2014

The $105 million genomic medicine and supercomputing project announced Wednesday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for Buffalo and Manhattan could create up to 600 jobs here as the initiative draws two out-of-state companies to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

While details about key aspects of the project weren’t available Thursday, officials involved in the initiative expressed confidence in its potential to generate medical advances and high-tech jobs.

“I believe what transpired was the governor connected the dots, the governor’s staff connected the dots, and said, all this stuff links together. We’re going to invest money in the State of New York to enhance genomics,” said Dr. Donald L. Trump, president and CEO of Roswell Park.

The Buffalo region will get $50 million of the state money, largely to add capacity to UB’s Center for Computational Research. But project leaders aren’t releasing a precise breakdown of how the money will be spent or where the jobs will be created.

The two out-of-town companies, which expect to move their first employees to the medical campus by March, complement the two local companies taking part in the project because all four focus on the data-intensive field of genomic, or personalized, medicine.

“I think this is very visionary to leverage a core resource, which is its expertise,” Michael Paul, CEO and president of Salt Lake City-based Lineagen, said of the public-private partnership jump-started by the state funding.

The genome research project ties together the planning work performed by the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, which identified the life sciences as a promising area of economic focus; the governor’s “Buffalo Billion” economic-development pledge, which has funded this and other initiatives; and the assets of UB and Roswell Park, including high-tech research centers and talented scientists.

“It all fits together with an extraordinary, concentrated focus on turning around the Western New York economy,” said Howard Zemsky, a Cuomo adviser and co-chairman of the regional council.

UB has sought to add capacity to its Center for Computational Research, now largely used for federally funded academic research, to give it a greater ability to perform computing tasks for companies, said Marnie LaVigne, UB’s associate vice president for economic development.

UB also runs an Institute for Healthcare Informatics, a center devoted to advancing electronic medical records.

“We feel like we still had many more assets that just were not properly tied together,” LaVigne said.

The officials putting together the project decided it made sense to add UB and Roswell Park, which has a Center for Personalized Medicine, to the consortium behind the New York Genome Center. It formed three years ago with 11 original research institutions in the New York City area to establish a center for genome research.

Local scientists and economic-development officials had been in contact with the two out-of-state companies, AESKU Diagnostics and Lineagen, for months prior to the governor’s State of the State, and executives with the companies say the region’s high-tech resources and the support of the governor’s office drew them here.

AESKU, which is based in Germany, has operations in Oakland, Calif., and in Georgia. The company develops tests and instruments to help in the diagnosis of celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.

The company was looking to establish a research and manufacturing center in the United States, and conversations with Vijay Kumar, an associate research professor in UB’s department of microbiology and dermatology, led them to look at Buffalo, said Bruno Larida, AESKU’s vice president for commercial operations in the United States.

“We were extremely impressed,” he said.

The company would develop and manufacture testing kits here, and expects to have 50 employees here within five years. The first employees would move into UB laboratory space on the medical campus by March 1, said Larida.

Lineagen performs testing of children who have displayed clinical symptoms of autism and other forms of development delay, said Paul.

It evaluates DNA taken from a cheek swab, which is less invasive than a blood draw, Paul said, and the company is looking to expand its genetic evaluation services and further develop testing for multiple sclerosis.

The company has received a $250,000 grant from the New York Power Authority and plans to create eight positions in Buffalo as part of a $5 million investment on the medical campus, with the initial employees arriving in the first quarter of this year.

A Lineagen investor, Archipel Capital, has offices in Buffalo and convinced Lineagen to look at the region. Lineagen also is considering a collaboration with Empire Genomics.

Empire Genomics said this project builds on a partnership announced last summer among the startup company, UB and Life Technologies, which provided UB and Empire Genomics with advanced genome-sequencing equipment.

The research accelerated by the two projects "could really revolutionize health care here in Western New York and across our entire state," said Anthony Johnson, Empire Genomics' President and CEO. He couldn’t say how many employees would be added as part of the project, but said the company has seven open positions.

James R. Boldt, the CEO of Computer Task Group, was traveling Thursday and wasn’t available to discuss the company’s role in the project.

The fifth company named as a partner in the initiative, Personalized Medicine Pathways, was identified as a startup medical diagnostics company formed by Roswell Park and CTG.

But Roswell Park on Thursday said it was premature to include the company in the coalition because Personalized Medicine Pathways at this point in its existence is a “straw name” for a company the cancer center eventually will form to commercialize its genomics research.

LaVigne said she couldn’t provide a detailed breakdown of the expected 600 jobs or the $50 million going to the region, money that is coming from the “Buffalo Billion” pot.

But she said most of the $50 million is going to expand capacity and infrastructure in the Center for Computational Research, with other portions going to shared lab resources and operating capital to hire data analysts.

The New York City partners will receive $55 million, matched by the same amount raised through other sources, and expect to create at least 500 jobs of their own.

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