Medical Center Posts Record Growth In Research Funding

As funding leaps 18 percent, the Medical Center sees its strategy begin to pay off

November 01, 2000

In a clear sign of success for the strategy to bolster its medical research programs, the University of Rochester Medical Center has posted a record 18 percent increase in research funding from the National Institutes of Health. The Medical Center received research grants totaling $89.9 million for the fiscal year that ended September 30, 2000, up from $76.1 million the previous year.

The 18 percent funding increase more than triples the 5.4 percent increase achieved last year, and represents the largest funding boost at the Medical Center in two decades.

"We're absolutely delighted by this news," said Medical Center CEO Jay H. Stein, M.D. "This funding increase is the strongest indication yet that the efforts we've undertaken to strengthen the research program are working."

Four years ago Stein led a task force of more than 100 faculty members and administrators that developed a plan to boost the prominence of the Medical Center's research programs. Their proposal called for the construction of new, state-of-the-art research facilities and an international recruitment effort to attract top research scientists to Rochester. In June 1999 the first new research facility, the Arthur Kornberg Medical Research Building, was completed; in June of this year crews broke ground on a second research facility adjacent to it. In total, more than 100 researchers and 500 technicians and support personnel will be hired to work in the new facilities in the largest recruitment effort at the Medical Center since the School of Medicine and Dentistry was founded in 1924. More than 50 scientists have been recruited so far. The University's Board of Trustees has approved plans to spend $550 million over a 10-year period on the construction and recruitment efforts.

A key objective of the Medical Center's strategy is to bolster the Medical Center's research program in its entirety - that is, to foster growth in selected areas while boosting the quality of research being conducted throughout the institution. This year's NIH funding results indicate that that goal is being realized. Of the $13.8 million in new research funding this year, about half of it was awarded to "new recruits" - researchers in the new facility - and about half was awarded to faculty throughout the Medical Center.

"We're encouraging our faculty from across the Medical Center to collaborate with their newly recruited colleagues," said Deborah A. Cory-Slechta, Ph.D., Dean for Research and Director of the Aab Institute for Biomedical Sciences. "These synergistic collaborations offer the ability to maximize our research potential to a new level across the institution."

For example, researchers in the Center for Vaccine Biology and Immunology recently teamed up with colleagues in the division of Infectious Diseases, department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the department of Dermatology to devise a collaborative research program aimed at understanding the body's immune response to human palillomavirus, believed to cause nearly all cases of cervical cancer. Understanding the immunology of the disease, the researchers predict, will be a stepping stone to creating an effective vaccine or treatment for it. The team applied to the National Institutes of Health for a grant to fund the project, and were awarded $2.2 million - one of the largest research grants awarded to the Medical Center this year.

"This collaborative approach was one of the key reasons we got the grant," said Tim Mosmann, Ph.D., director of the Center for Vaccine Biology and Immunology and the principal investigator for the project. "If the researchers in my Center alone had applied for a grant like this, we wouldn't have been successful. If the people in the Infectious Diseases or Microbiology and Immunology had applied on their own, they probably wouldn't have been successful either. But by combining our strengths we were able to put together a program that the NIH reviewers found convincing."

New Study Forecasts Economic Impact of Medical Center's Expanded Research Efforts

As Rochester's third largest employer, the success that is emerging from the University's medical research strategy has vital implications for the Rochester economy. A study released this week by the Center for Governmental Research reports that:

  • The number of full-time employees at the University has increased 13 percent since 1997, to nearly 12,000, because of job growth in the Medical Center.
  • The Medical Center's expanded research program will add 600 full-time jobs at the Medical Center and will contribute $90 million annually to the Rochester economy.
  • The construction of the second research building will provide the equivalent of one year of full-time employment to 370 people and generate employee compensation of nearly $11 million.

The nearly $90 million in NIH research funding received over the past year is especially significant for the Rochester economy because it represents export dollars - money from outside the region that is infused into the Rochester economy - that are vital to the economic base of the region.

The report also addresses the potential economic benefits that may result from new companies that are likely to be spun-off by the Medical Center's research enterprise. "Rochester's growing biotech/pharmaceutical industry is anchored by the University of Rochester Medical Center," said study author Kent Gardner, Ph.D., of the Center for Governmental Research. To date five companies in the Rochester area have been established to commercially develop inventions and innovations made by researchers at the Medical Center - among them Wyeth Vaccines, located in Henrietta. The firm employs approximately 160 people and contributes $20 million annually to the Rochester economy. Last year the University formed an advisory board, chaired by Paychex founder and CEO B. Thomas Golisano, to advise the institution in its efforts to commercially develop high-tech inventions and innovations made by its researchers.

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Christopher DiFrancesco
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