January 18 2017

Cuomo wants to spend big on life sciences, a growing industry in Albany

Albany Business Review

By: Michael DeMasi

Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to spend $150 million on a “life sciences laboratory public health initiative,” part of a broader push at supporting an industry that attracts $2 billion in federal research grants to New York — third-highest of any state — but translates into relatively little venture capital funding and commercialization.

There were no details in Cuomo’s proposed 2017-18 budget briefing about where the laboratory would be built. The president of the Center for Economic Growth in Albany is advocating the money be spent in the Capital Region.

“We have a strategic plan, which is tied into health sciences and life sciences and these longstanding biotech partnerships,” Andrew Kennedy said.

He pointed to the University at Albany’s newly named Health Sciences Campus in Rensselaer, which includes the School of Public Health, state Department of Health, and private firms such as Regeneron, Albany Molecular Research and Taconic, and a dozen startup and biomedical organizations.

There’s also Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and Albany Medical College.

“There was a plan a few years back for a consolidated state lab,” Kennedy said. “I wonder if this has gotten legs again. Whatever it is, that’s something we need to continue to make sure it’s in the Capital Region.”

The governor’s 2017-18 budget briefing — released late Tuesday — said the laboratory would “develop life science research, innovation and infrastructure through a joint effort between Empire State Development and the Department of Health.”

A spokesman for the state Budget Division, Morris Peters, said it’s premature to answer any questions about the proposed $150 million in spending.

“The process is only beginning,” Peters said. “There’s going to be a process for making all decisions relative to the lab.”

Six years ago, the University at Albany proposed building a $150 million Biomedical and Information Innovation Research Plaza as part of the NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant Program. The 300,000-square-foot facility never came to be.

The university instead received funding that was put toward building the $184 million College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity on the Harriman state office campus.

“We don’t have any further information on the $150 million life sciences laboratory public health initiative, but we’re excited about a life sciences initiative being proposed in the budget and look forward to learning more details,” said Karl Luntta, university spokesman.

The $150 million is on top of a multi-year, $650 million plan Cuomo wants to spend to attract and retain life sciences firms and encourage commercialization of their research. The strategy includes three tax incentives worth $250 million over 10 years.

New York generated only 6 cents of venture capital for every $1 it received in grants from the National Institutes of Health in 2015, compared to $1.32 for every $1 in federal research grants in Massachusetts, according to a report by Partnership for NYC.

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