Answering our ‘pent-up need’ for new industry

A proposed research center for bioelectronic medicine would be built adjacent to the revamped Nassau Coliseum, as envisioned here by SHoP Architects.

By JOHN L. KOMINICKI // A proposed $300 million center on bioelectronic research would get a $50 million jolt if Albany follows recommendations made this week by a group of business and government leaders.

The group, which includes both country executives, Long Island Association chief Kevin Law and five other members, was formed to suggest ways to spend $550 million in state funding that has been earmarked for “transformative” projects downstate. Topping their list was a $275 million investment in the Nassau Hub, the long-discussed but never realized plan to revitalize the sea of parking lots surrounding the Nassau Coliseum.

“This investment will create jobs and a new economy for Long Island,” Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano told Innovate LI.

The bioelectronic center would be the chef d’oeuvre of Kevin Tracey, the head of the Feinstein Institute research center at North Shore-LIJ and the world’s foremost expert on stimulating the body’s vagus nerves to control such afflictions as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s Disease. Bioelectronics are also being considered as a way to manage dozens of other functions, from blood clotting to the gastric system, with Feinstein researchers leading the way. Additional study is underway at NYIT’s Old Westbury campus.

Feinstein Institute CEO Kevin Tracey pioneered bioelectronics.

Feinstein Institute CEO Kevin Tracey pioneered bioelectronics.

“The potential for treating diseases is extensive,” Tracey told Innovate LI earlier this year. “These are big, big markets.”

The Feinstein CEO envisions a $300 million center that would be home to 50 laboratories and medical-engineering shops filling as much as 250,000 square feet. The center would combine neuroscience, molecular biology and biomechanical engineering, with the goal of reducing medicine’s reliance on pharmaceuticals.

It would also be a major economic boost for the Island, employing hundreds of researchers and significantly expanding the region’s nascent biotechnology sector.

“There’s a pent-up need on Long Island and in New York to launch a scalable new industry like this,” Tracey said. “This is a major opportunity.”

“Long Island offers several significant advantages,” he added, including “proximity to the Feinstein Institute and to the campuses of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Hofstra, as well as Stony Brook (University) and Brookhaven (National Laboratory), plus a population of young people interested in technology.”

While Albany expects significant private investment to follow its appropriation, that might not be much of a stretch for the proposed bioelectronic center. Tracey has been out seeking major financial commitments for months, and Big Pharma is almost certainly a player. Bioelectronic treatments could soon replace drug therapies that earn pharmceutical companies billions of dollars a year, and top players like GlaxoSmithKline are already repositioning themselves for the future.

“The response from chip companies and from medical device companies and potential partners in pharma has been tremendous,” Tracey said. “We look forward to building it here.”

In addition to the Coliseum-area projects, the group also recommended spending $225 million on Suffolk County’s mixed-use Ronkonkoma Hub development, as well as funding 16 other projects, including a data center at Stony Brook University and a rapid bus transit system championed by County Executive Steve Bellone that would connect Stony Brook University, Suffolk County Community College, MacArthur Airport, the Ronkonkoma project and Patchogue Village.

What’s next? Some heavy lifting by the Island’s delegation to Albany. The proposed projects total almost $1 billion, meaning the state would have to make significant additional appropriations to fund them all. And only $150 million of the $550 million is specifically earmarked for Long Island — about enough to build a proposed Nassau Hub parking garage — with the remainder intended for projects both here and in New York City. Lawmakers and state economic development brass will have to sort it all out.

The state’s Transformative Investment Program is designed to “fund projects that attract private investment, generate economic opportunities, and deliver jobs, in a big way,” said Jason Conwall, a spokesman for Empire State Development. “ESD will engage with local elected officials, regional business leaders and other key stakeholders to review their recommendations.”