University Presidents: NY Must Act on Stem Cell Research

February 08, 2006

Leaders of New York’s major research universities and institutions today called upon lawmakers in Albany to act quickly and establish a state fund to support stem cell research.  

Presidents and chancellors representing 17 New York universities and institutions with substantial biomedical and life sciences research programs today released a comprehensive analysis of the scientific, therapeutic, and economic issues related to stem cell research.  The study, titled “New York and Stem Cell Research,” details the competitive research environment that has emerged in past several years and its implications for the state’s biomedical research community and economy. 

Federal funding restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research have prompted several states to establish state-based research funds aimed at capturing the scientific and commercial potential of this new field of medicine.  The most prominent example is California, where last year voters approved an initiative to establish a 10-year, $3 billion stem cell research fund.  Several other states, including New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts, and Maryland in the Northeast, have or are in the process of establishing similar funds. 

While New York’s research institutions are widely acknowledged to possess the scientific talent that would enable the state to be a major international player in the emerging field of stem cell research, the fear is that these researchers will be recruited away to institutions in other states where they would have access to more resources to pursue their research.  The loss of these scientists will have a significant negative ripple effect on a university’s entire research enterprise as research grants, junior scientists, biotech companies, and venture capital will similarly migrate to those institutions that are perceived to be on the cutting edge of biomedical research.

A decline in the fortunes of New York’s biomedical research community would have significant economic consequences for the entire state. New York’s State universities, teaching hospitals, and research laboratories contribute significantly to the state’s economy through employment, through spending and through the development of innovative products and concepts for the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.  The academic medical community contributes an estimated $30 billion per year to the state’s economy and generates more than 459,000 jobs.  The biotech and pharmaceutical sectors are responsible for $18.1 billion in economic activity and 110,000 jobs.

There are several proposals related to biomedical research pending consideration in the New York legislature.  Two bills, introduced last year by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Sen. Nicholas Spano, would establish multi-year stem cell research funds of $300 and $125 million respectively.  The Assembly passed its version of the bill on January 10, by a vote of 96-35.  On January 26, Governor George Pataki and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno announced a $200 million public-private initiative to support biomedical research and biotech business development.

Signatories to the study include:

James J. Barba, President, Albany Medical Center

Lee C. Bollinger, J.D., President, Columbia University

Nancy Cantor, Ph.D., Chancellor, Syracuse University

Kenneth L. Davis, M.D., President, Mt. Sinai Medical Center

Gregory L. Eastwood, M.D., President, SUNY Upstate Medical University

David C. Hohn, M.D., President, Roswell Park Cancer Institute

Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Richard M. Joel, J.D., President, Yeshiva University

Shirley Strum Kenny, Ph.D., President, Stony Brook University

John C. LaRosa, M.D., President, SUNY Downstate Medical Center

Paul Nurse, Ph.D., President, Rockefeller University

Hunter R. Rawlings III, Ph.D., President, Cornell University

Joel Seligman, J.D., President   , University of Rochester

John E. Sexton, J.D., Ph.D., President, New York University

Albert J. Simone, Ph.D., President, Rochester Institute of Technology

John B. Simpson, Ph.D. President, University at Buffalo

Harold Varmus, M.D., President, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

A copy of the white paper, titled “New York and Stem Cell Research: A Scientific, Therapeutic, Economic, and Policy Analysis,” can be downloaded from http://www.rochester.edu/news/pdfs/stemcellwhitepaper.pdf

Recognizing the enormous potential of stem cells Mount Sinai School of Medicine has, with a generous philanthropic gift, created the Black Family Stem Cell Institute to establish a world-class research program in stem cell biology and medicine.  There is no question as to whether or not leading scientists and institutions will pursue this critical area of research. However, philanthropic support and the efforts of individual institutions will not be sufficient to attract and retain scientists who are leaders in this field.  If New York is to be counted among the elite group of leaders in biomedical research in the years to come, a large-scale, centralized effort is needed today or we risk losing our intellectual capital, and, thus, our potential.” -- Kenneth Davis, M.D., President and CEO, Mount Sinai Medical Center

Debra Kaplan, Mount Sinai Medical Center, 212 659-9045, Debra.kaplan@mssm.edu

“Stem cell research has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of human biology and lead to treatments for some of the most debilitating diseases, like Parkinson's, ALS, and juvenile diabetes.  Current federal policy has severely restricted the funding available for this important work, and, in the absence of leadership from Washington, states must assume a major role.  New York State has some of the finest medical schools, teaching hospitals, and other research institutions in the world.  If we do not act, we risk being left behind.  At Columbia, we are doing exciting work with adult and human embryonic stem cells.  State support for stem cell research will help New York remain a leader in this field, and in all biomedical research, as we should be.” -- Gerald D. Fischbach, M.D., Executive Vice President for Health and Biomedical Sciences and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Columbia University Medical Center

Craig LeMoult, Columbia University Medical Center, 212 305-0820, cel2113@columbia.edu

 “If universities in New York are to remain at the forefront of health innovation and discovery, we must move forward, within an ethical framework and with adequate controls, to realize the full potential of this new frontier of biomedical research that promises to address some of our most pressing health concerns,” said Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson. “We need to send a clear message to the global research community that New York State will be a leader in stem cell research, including embryonic stem cell research.” – Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Tiffany Lohwater, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 518-276-6542, lohwat@rpi.edu

 “Stem cell research can help scientists unlock the mysteries of many diseases that afflict both adults and children. When we devote resources to stem cell research, we invest in the health of people across the nation. That's an investment we can't afford not to make.” – Shirley Strum Kenny, Ph.D., President, Stony Brook University

Patrick Calabria, Stony Brook University, 631 632-4965, pcalabria@notes.cc.sunysb.edu

“Both the United States and New York State are in great danger of falling behind, for the first time, in an area of biomedical research.  Significant state level funding of stem cell research is, for the present, the only way of avoiding this danger.” – John C. LaRosa, M.D., President, SUNY Downstate Medical Center

Ellen Watson, SUNY Downstate Medical Center, 718-270-1176, Ellen.Watson@downstate.edu

“Stem cells have enormous potential to ameliorate the suffering of patients afflicted with a variety of diseases for which there are few, if any treatments. But this potential can only be realized if scientists are given the freedom to pursue their studies. Because of the limited federal funding available, it is imperative that the State of New York capitalizes on the richness of its science talent and makes the support of stem cell research a priority.” – Paul Nurse, Ph.D., President, Rockefeller University

Joseph Bonner, Rockefeller University, 212 327-8998, bonnerj@rockefeller.edu

“Never before in the history of medicine has there been such promise for treating some of the most debilitating disorders of the human condition.  This promise lies in the expectation that stem cell research will play a significant role in providing revolutionary therapies for degenerative diseases.  Stem cell research is the hope of the future.  The citizens of this great State of New York should not be denied these future benefits.” –Dominick P. Purpura, M.D., Vice President for Medical Affairs, Yeshiva University, Dean, Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Abraham Habenstreit, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, 718 430-3601, habenstr@aecom.yu.edu

“As a leader in stem cell science, Cornell University applauds Governor Pataki for recognizing the importance of biomedical research in his Executive Budget this year, and is proud to join with other prominent research universities in New York State to urge the state to support stem cell research as part of its biomedical commitment.   Stem cell research offers great promise in the treatment of life-threatening diseases and in aiding in wound healing and it carries with it tremendous economic potential, as basic research is translated into new therapies.  Researchers at the Ansary Center for Stem Cell Therapeutics at Weill Cornell Medical College, with support from private individuals and foundations, have already identified vascular stem cells in adult bone marrow that contribute to wound healing and have isolated neural progenitor cells from fetal spinal cord tissue that could one day be used to treat damaged brain and nerve tissue. While we are grateful for the tremendous private support our efforts have received, we believe that public support for stem cell research in the New York State is absolutely necessary if New York institutions and industries hope to remain on the leading edge of biomedical research and development.” – Hunter R. Rawlings III, Ph.D., President, Cornell University

Robert C. Richardson, Cornell University, 607 255-7200, vp_research@cornell.edu

“Governor Pataki, Sen. Bruno, and Speaker Silver are to be commended for their leadership and recognition that biomedical research is a critical component of New York’s 21st century economy.  This is particularly the case in upstate cities such as Rochester, which are becoming increasingly dependent upon the employment and commercial opportunities that spring from university research, especially in the field of medicine.  It is important to understand that the future of biomedical research and stem cell science are inexorably linked.  Scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center are making significant contributions to the field of stem cell science and are conducting research that has the potential to lead to new regenerative therapies for spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s, heart disease, and cancer, to name a few.  With state support, we will strengthen our universities’ leadership in the field of biomedical research, create new companies and jobs, and develop technologies that have the potential to improve the lives of millions of Americans.  However, if the state fails to act, universities will begin to lose their best and brightest scientists and our capacity to serve as engines of innovation for the state’s growing biotechnology and pharmaceutical sector will rapidly decline.” -- Joel Seligman, President, University of Rochester

Mark Michaud, Univ. of Rochester Medical Center, 585 273-4790, mark_michaud@urmc.rochester.edu

“It is critical that New York be at the cutting edge of research on new frontiers of science such as stem cells.  With the investments that the State has already made in biotechnology and biomedical science facilities, we have the necessary infrastructure to be at the forefront for new discoveries and to realize their economic potential.  It is essential that we take this next step to support the scientific needs of stem cell research.” – Albert J. Simone, Ph.D., President, Rochester Institute of Technology

Deborah M. Stendardi, Rochester Institute of Technology, 585-475-5040, dmsgrl@rit.edu

“Clearly, stem cell research is of great significance to the future of biomedical research, with major implications for treating and preventing devastating human diseases.  State support for biomedical research is vital to helping New York State’s research institutions to sustain a leading role in addressing key medical and health care issues, and to continue to serve as catalysts for economic growth and innovation throughout the state.  As we strive to build our faculty, medical, and technological resources in all areas of the life sciences, we appreciate the continued leadership and support Governor Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Bruno, Assembly Speaker Silver, and other state leaders have committed to making biomedical research a priority.” – John B. Simpson, Ph.D., President, University at Buffalo

Arthur Page, University of Buffalo, 716 645-5000 x1410, apage@buffalo.edu

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