University presidents: NY must act on stem cell research

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.

"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," said Kenneth L. Davis, MD, President and CEO, The Mount Sinai Medical Center and Dean, Mount Sinai School of 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."

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.

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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, The Mount 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 www.rochester.edu/stemcellwhitepaper


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