Region gets $54M boost
By: Robert Downen
Albany – Federal health research funding for Capital Region institutions increased significantly last year, a welcome sign for the area’s growing medical and technology sectors.
All told, area companies, academic institutions and nonprofits received $54 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, with Albany Medical College, the state-run Wadsworth Center and SUNY Polytechnic Institute, among others, seeing notable upticks.
Tom Begley, a SUNY Poly nanobioscience professor, received $1.7 million to study how molecular signals respond when exposed to different pharmaceuticals. Begley and others attributed the funding injection at least in part to the area’s collaborative approach to bioscience and technology.
“The Capital District and New York state in general have made a lot of wise decisions with regards to infrastructure and technology,” he said. “That’s allowed us to be highly competitive at the national level.”
Though the $54 million is a small slice of the more than $32 billion invested nationally by NIH in 2016, the growing national interest in local institutions is a good sign for a region that has targeted biotechnology and research and development, for its long-term regional economic growth.
“There’s no question it’s growing,” said Jonathan Dordick, vice president of research at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.”If you look around the country at the places where biotech has grown significantly, there’s one specific commonality and that’s a very high level of active research funding.”
That “critical mass of research funding,” he said, drives innovation and attracts the private- and public-sector talent needed to sustain growing industries.
Economic development officials are also encouraged by the influx of NIH funding for the region’s gaming sector. Troy-based 1st Playable Productions received $600,000 for an interactive stationary bicycling game to help prevent dementia and cognitive decline; and another $375,000 to develop an interactive educational biotics game kit. The funding comes amid a growth in the area’s gaming and software development industries, spearheaded by companies like Ilium and Velan Studios, the new Troy-based venture that founders Guha and Karthik Bala hope will turn the area into a world-class gaming hub.
Having a successful software industry will be crucial as the marriage between bioscience and technology strengthens, said Andrew Kennedy, CEO of the Center for Economic Growth. What started decades ago with RPI’s supercomputer has now grown a local infrastructure that’s “rooted in tech,” he said. The new NIH funds are a “recognition that this is a field that can have a tremendous impact on the economy.”