By GREGORY ZELLER //
There was another major advance for biochemistry Thursday at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, but this one didn’t involve gas chromatographs or infrared spectrometers or a single test tube. Just a shovel.
With Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a host of regional and state representatives on hand, the world-class scientific research facility officially broke ground on the renovation of its Demerec Laboratory, one of four CSHL laboratories being remade with a big assist from Albany.
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory announced in April 2016 the launch of its Center for Therapeutics Research, a $75 million initiative designed to leverage the lab’s biomedical expertise into new therapeutic treatments for genetic diseases.
At the time, laboratory officials noted New York State would provide $25 million for construction and equipment, with the lion’s share going to the renovation of the Demerec Laboratory. Named for Croatian-American geneticist Milislav Demerec, the lab originally opened in 1953 and has been home base for four of CSHL’s eight Nobel Prize-winning researchers.
On Thursday, Cuomo brought his checkbook, with the 25 large earmarked to both renovate the Demerec Laboratory and attract cutting-edge researchers to the 26,000-square-foot biotech mecca.
Flanked by a who’s-who of regional business-development and legislative leaders – including State Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Oyster Bay), Empire State Development Corp. Commissioner Howard Zemsky, Long Island Association President Kevin Law and County Executives Steve Bellone and Ed Mangano of Suffolk and Nassau, respectively – Cuomo called the groundbreaking “a day long coming,” noting such endeavors “take months and months of planning execution and overcoming lots of obstacles.”
Zemsky, who introduced both the governor and CSHL President and CEO Bruce Stillman, noted a “proud day on Long Island” – and another strong example of the “dramatic” changes Albany has made in its statewide economic-development model.
Thursday’s event was actually a bouquet to the state’s Regional Economic Development Council system, which Zemsky designed and Cuomo enacted. The REDC format pits 10 state economic zones in an annual competition for tens of millions of dollars in business-development funding, all focused on specific regional industries – a “more holistic vision for economic development,” according to Zemsky.
The idea, the ESD chairman noted Thursday, is for the state to invest in “certain clusters” on a region-by-region basis – and Long Island, where the focus is life sciences, has done a better job of landing REDC state funds than any other region.
“We invest in the life sciences here as part of Kevin and Stuart’s plan,” Zemsky said, referring to Law and Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz, who co-chair the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council. “And all of these anchor institutions are creating a compelling economic opportunity around life sciences.”
Stillman, for one, is grateful for Albany’s assistance. Noting the Demerec Laboratory’s “rich history” and suggesting the overhaul wouldn’t be possible “without Gov. Cuomo embracing our vision for the center” (he also thanked the numerous state Senate and Assembly representatives in attendance, “and especially our private supporters”), the president said ESD’s investment “will continue Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s leadership into the future.”
The focus of the new Demerec Laboratory will be cancer, Stillman added, with “fundamental science” lighting the way. Specifically, the renovated lab will focus on the nation’s obesity epidemic and how it contributes to some of the worst cancers, including pancreatic cancer.
“The [new laboratory] will house and expand our genetics and molecular biology research to explore nutrition, metabolism and cancer,” he said. “How our entire body responds to nutrition will be the focus of the research.
“Like all great advances in health and medicine and agriculture, these breakthroughs are grounded in basic fundamental science, and our science is driven by understanding how cells work in our body,” Stillman added. “Cancer and neuroscience research at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is at the forefront.”
Cuomo then took the podium, calling CSHL “hallowed ground for scientific research” and noting the laboratory’s discoveries have “helped countless lives.”
He also furthered the trumpet call for his “cluster economy” economic-development approach.
“A bunch of people sitting around Albany saying ‘this would be good for Long Island,’ a bunch of one-off projects … that doesn’t work anymore,” Cuomo said. “The potential we have on Long Island in the medical-technology field is unprecedented.”
Noting successful “marriages” of research and commercialization in places like Silicon Valley and Massachusetts’ Route 148 corridor, the governor noted the economic-development importance of “research for the sake of creating a product that can be commercialized and have an economic impact and help people” – and said the state’s Demerec Laboratory investment is meant specifically to build on CSHL’s history of turning science into business.
“We believe we’re going to create jobs and spin off businesses,” Cuomo said. “In many ways, the [Center for Therapeutics Research] is the focal point of this marriage.”
And that’s a big deal not just for CSHL, he noted, but for Long Island’s entire life sciences-focused economy.
“You put together Northwell (Health) and [the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research] and Hofstra and [Brookhaven National Laboratory] and Cold Spring Harbor, and you have tremendous potentiality for commercialization – an economy unto itself,” Cuomo said. “We’ve never done it purposely, organized and institutionally, and that’s one of the fundamental changes that we’ve had to make.
“If we do this right, we can own the space on biomedical research and biomedical technology,” the governor added. “All we need to do is create that connectivity and synergize the existing operations.”