BY JOHN L. KOMINICKI // Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory plans a $75 million therapeutic research center that would help speed to market treatments for cancer, autism and other diseases without waiting for the pharmaceutical industry to “catch up,” lab director Bruce Stillman said Tuesday.
The center, which would rely on a $25 million grant from New York State and $50 million from the National Institutes of Health, would help cure a persistent problem with commercializing lab research: Big Pharma doesn’t always get it.
Case in point is a just-released Pfizer cancer drug, based on an enzyme isolated by CSHL in 1994. While it took the drug maker 25 years to realize the importance of the work, “we knew it then,” Stillman said.
“We really want to fill the gap between research and the start of commercialization,” he said. “With the therapeutic research center, we can speed up the process and, with it, I think we can also definitely bring down the cost of drugs.”
Stillman pitched the center as part of a presentation on the lab’s local economic impact, the subject of a report released today. While impressive, the numbers don’t measure the significant recent strides CSHL has made in collaborating with the North Shore-LIJ Health System, Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Lab to form the foundation of a Long Island innovation economy.
“We always considered ourselves an international institution and never really gave Long Island much thought,” Stillman conceded. “But that’s changing. There’s a new collaborative spirit.”
One sign of that spirit is a new partnership with North Shore-LIJ that will put Cold Spring Harbor cancer researchers inside the hospital system’s oncology center, allowing doctors and scientists to work side by side. Lab research and clinical testing results would then move to the therapeutic center to begin the march to market via product patents and eventual licensing deals.
“You used to be able to start a company with an idea, but those days are gone,” Stillman said. “Today, you need a product. We hope to create a pipeline to market, rather than just publishing the research material and waiting for the pharmaceutical industry to catch up. We’re becoming a little more aggressive.”
Stillman sees additional opportunities in the partnerships, including collaboration in Stony Brook’s strengths in computer science, mathematics and, with BNL, clean energy. “These can be major components of the Long Island economy,” he said.
One major hurdle: The shortage of entrepreneurs willing to head down the traditionally long road to commercializing the biosciences.
“We need technology executives with vision who are willing to take our research and make it commercially successful. You see that in Silicon Valley and along Route 128 in Boston, but that’s what’s missing on Long Island,” he said.
“If we can solve that problem, I think the sky’s the limit.”
Long Island Association chief Kevin Law, who also co-chairs the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, said the proposed CSHL center could be funded from the $550 million earmarked in this year’s state budget for Long Island capital projects.
“I believe the cancer therapeutic building proposed for CSHL would be a very worthwhile project to be funded from that appropriation and thus I will be advocating for its inclusion,” Law told Innovate LI.
Other takeaways from Stillman’s presentation:
- Federal funding for research has been cut 25 percent in the last decade, and U.S. researchers now have just a 1 in 8 chance of getting a grant from the NIH. And the competition is fierce: “In the top 30 percent, you can’t distinguish the quality of the research. It’s all very, very good.”
- Of the lab’s recent doctoral graduating class of 12, three are heading to the private sector. “The opportunities in commercial medical research right now are extraordinary, especially in cancer,” Stillman said. And the United States is losing scientists to foreign countries, with China topping the list. “This should be a reason for all of you to tell your elected officials to spend some of that money we’re sending to Washington on research. Because every study shows that $1 spent on research brings back enormous returns.”
- Researchers are making significant strides in developing treatments that target the underlying genetics of several forms of cancer. “Cancer will become a chronic disease,” predicted Stillman, who also runs the lab’s cancer research center. “Many cancers will be cured. I’m very optimistic about that.”
- CSHL’s annual economic impact in New York is $150 million annually, including a $60 million payroll for more than 1,600 employees.
- The lab made more than $10 million last year in licensing fees and spun out five startups.
The full report: