University of Rochester to Purchase Wyeth Research Building

120 researchers will move to facility to establish new research center for heart disease

August 30, 2004

The University of Rochester has signed an agreement to purchase the Henrietta research facility formerly occupied by Wyeth-Lederle Vaccines and Pediatrics. 

The University’s Board of Trustees has approved the purchase, and closing is planned for mid-September. 

The University intends to re-outfit the 84,000 square-foot facility and establish a new research center there for the study of cardiovascular disease.  More than 120 scientists and technicians from the UR Medical Center will be relocated to the facility, making it one of the largest centers for heart research in the U.S. 

Minor renovations to the facility will begin this fall, and researchers will begin moving in in early 2005.

“Establishing this research facility is an important step toward making Rochester one of the nation’s premier centers for the study of cardiovascular disease,” said C. McCollister Evarts, M.D., CEO of the University of Rochester Medical Center and Strong Health.  “Our goal is to make discoveries that will open the door to new treatments for heart disease, and to bring that work to the clinic so that patients in Rochester are the first to benefit.”     

When the University of Rochester Medical Center announced the second phase of a half-billion-dollar expansion of its medical research programs in 1999, it selected cardiovascular disease as one of six areas of research that it would seek to bolster by investing in new facilities and recruiting scientists.  Bradford C. Berk, M.D., Ph.D., a Rochester native and 1981 graduate of UR’s medical school, was named to head the newly established Center for Cardiovascular Research in the Aab Institute of Biomedical Sciences.  Since his appointment in 1999, Berk has recruited 13 researchers and tripled to more than $15 million the amount of grant funding the medical school receives annually for cardiovascular research from the National Institutes of Health. 

These expanded research programs, which are currently housed across several buildings on the Medical Center’s Elmwood Avenue campus, will be brought together under one roof at the Henrietta facility.  Researchers at the Medical Center are currently conducting more than 100 research projects to gain new understanding of cardiovascular disease, ranging from clinical trials to test the effectiveness of new heart medications, to laboratory studies of how plaque builds up in the coronary arteries, a process known as atherosclerosis.

In addition, Mark Taubman, M.D., Paul N. Yu Professor of Cardiology and chief of the Cardiology Unit, leads a research group studying the formation of blood clots – also called thrombosis – and the link between atherosclerosis and thrombosis in heart disease.  A third research area, led by Arthur J. Moss, M.D., professor of Medicine, is electrophysiology, or the study of the electrical signals that regulate the heart beat.

Researchers in the new facility will study these aspects of heart disease using the latest scientific tools – including microarrays that can reveal which genes are turned on inside a cell at a given moment, and a powerful two-photon microscope that lets researchers watch the inner workings of living cells.  These and other tools will help researchers in their central task:  identifying molecules that cause heart disease. 

“As we identify the molecules involved in heart disease, we can begin targeting them with drugs,” says Berk. 

That scientific hunt – for the molecular culprits of heart disease and for new drugs that target them – may have economic implications locally.  The University recently has filed several patent applications related to discoveries made by its cardiovascular researchers.  If those discoveries lead to successful therapies, new local companies may be created to develop them.  

That path from university research to product development led to the construction of the Wyeth building more than a decade ago.  The facility was built in 1993 by American Cyanamid to continue the commercial development of the vaccine against Haemophilus influenza type b, or “Hib,” that had been pioneered by two UR scientists, David Smith and Porter Anderson. 

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Christopher DiFrancesco
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