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scientist and entrepreneur James Burton was looking for a place to
locate his fledgling business, he first looked all around his hometown
on the University at Albanys East Campus, however, did he find
what he wanted, and his new company, Psyche Pharmaceuticals, Inc.,
became a part of the unusual synergistic mix of academe and business
that characterizes the campus.
a sense of community here. Theres a very comfortable sense that
if there is anything you need, there is someone you can ask,
says Burton, whose firm is developing a new process for making pharmaceutical
drugs. This community makes working possible.
Pharmaceuticals is one of 14 companies located on the East Campus,
along with the Universitys School of Public Health, University
research centers, and such other specialized facilities as UAlbanys
new laboratory used to train students in forensic molecular biology.
of the companies on the East Campus are biotechnology or pharmaceutical-related
businesses in the so-called incubator stage, and while
University-sponsored incubators are not unusual, the setup of the
East Campus definitely is.
our East Campus and also at our Center for Environmental Sciences
and Technology Management (CESTM), we put research faculty, academic
programs and private research-driven companies right in the same buildings,
not just on the same campus or in an adjacent technology park. This
approach creates a remarkable synergy, says Eugene Schuler,
UAlbanys director of technology development.
that synergy was a major goal in 1996 when the University acquired
a 58-acre parcel of the former Sterling Winthrop property in East
Greenbush, ten miles east of UAlbanys main campus. That year
the University moved its School of Public Health to the site renamed
as the East Campus, began its business incubation program there, and
began developing plans for research facilities to build University
and regional strength in biotechnology.
the campus is home to UAlbanys research programs in genomics
and biomedical sciences. It boasts state-of-the-art core research
facilities, over 600 people are employed at the campus, and state
funding has enabled UAlbany to purchase an additional 29 acres of
land at the site to further advance East Campus growth as a biomedical
and biotechnology center. Existing space is almost fully occupied.
in all, in Burtons view, its the ideal environment for
supporting what he wants to do: namely, chemical synthesis of proteins,
particularly pharmaceutical proteins.
key thing about the space here its designed for chemists.
A lot of the space in Boston and Worcester is designed for biologists.
Theres something very comfortable about being in this lab for
a chemist, says Burton.
that, he found such vital high-tech equipment as a mass spectrometer
and such essential low-tech tools as dishwashing equipment
available for him to share. And, he says, he found a welcoming
environment, people really willing to cooperate.
President) Karen Hitchcocks ability to look outside is very
unusual. Not many university presidents get involved, as she does,
in helping outside companies and in enriching their universities by
recruiting outside companies, he says.
moved into his lab space on the East Campus in 2001, and most every
day that is where you will find him. He has a grant from the National
Institutes of Health under the Small Business Innovative Research
(SBIR) program our $225,000 grant was about three times
the average SBIR, he notes and he is working to demonstrate
the economic feasibility of synthesizing proteins through chemical
pharmaceutical proteins, such as insulin, TPA, EPO-gen, and Embrel,
are made by cloning through biological techniques. The DNA that
specifies a particular protein is put into either E. coli cells or
what are called Cho (Chinese hamster ovary) cells, and the cells grow
up and make the protein. All pharmaceutical proteins are made that
way, explains Burton.
techniques, however, hold great promise for the next generation of
pharmaceutical proteins, he says.
now, when you make a protein, all proteins are pretty much what nature
gives us. You cant modify them because theres not enough
variability in the amino acids. You only have a set of 20 amino acids
you can use to make a protein. Thats all you can put in with
biological techniques, says Burton. But with chemical
techniques you can put in thousands of modifications. So if you want
something that changes the activity a little bit or makes it a little
more stable or gives it a little longer half-life, you can do that
Burton said there are three or four areas in which he can apply this technology. One possibility is we could synthesize proteins for pharmaceutical companies. The market for pharmaceutical proteins is $25 billion and grows at 15 percent or more each year, so there is a lot of potential there. We could do drug design. Probably the most interesting possibility is the development of ways to attach proteins to chips. Which one we come down on is where we will need the business communitys help, he said.