Monday, September 14, 2009

Tech Across Ohio - - Economic engine built on bioresearch revs up in Akron - Economic engine built on bioresearch revs up in Akron

14 researchers recruited, veteran director on board, seed funding coming in for BioInnovation project

By Cheryl Powell
Beacon Journal medical writer

A regional effort to boost medical research and development is on its way to having a permanent headquarters in Akron and offering new services and treatments to patients.

Since officially launching almost a year ago, the BioInnovation Institute in Akron and its founding partners have recruited 14 researchers to the region, hired an executive director with international experience and secured about $70 million in seed funding.

Leaders from the five partners, along with the institute's new president and chief executive, recently met to share these and other updates about their progress in the past year.

The venture is creating ''a new economic engine for this community,'' said BioInnovation Institute Chairman William Considine, president and chief executive of Akron Children's Hospital.

''This endeavor continues to be one that's full of positive energy, a lot of excitement, and is bringing the best out of all of our organizations that are partners.''

Children's Hospital, Akron General Health System, Summa Health System, the University of Akron and the Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy (NEOUCOM) are partners in the effort to attract more research dollars and spawn new biomedical companies by working together on medical education and research.

The BioInnovation Institute pulls together the university's polymer science research knowledge, the medical college's musculoskeletal expertise and the three hospitals' strengths in orthopedics.

Within a decade, the Akron-area partnership wants to create 2,400 jobs and attract at least $50 million worth of investments annually in area
medical companies.

To start, the institute's board has approved funding for 40 positions in coming months.

Dr. Frank Douglas, the new president and chief executive of the BioInnovation Institute, said he was drawn to the job in Akron because of the hard work of clinicians and scientists from the partners ''coming together to really improve the health and economic well-being of a region.''

The partners are looking for projects that fit into what Douglas calls the ''pre-competitive space,'' or areas that benefit all the institutions, some of which usually are competitors.

Initial projects are focusing on research to grow artificial skin, cartilage and tendons; the creation of tiny ''nanoparticles'' that can be used to diagnose and treat diseases; and the development of biomaterials that can be used in humans for medical purposes.

New phase begins

The venture moves into its next phase today with an official new name: the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron, renamed in honor of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation chairman and Akron native Dr. W. Gerald Austen and his wife, Patricia.

The Knight Foundation helped jump-start the project last year with a $20 million grant.

The name change was announced Sunday night in Akron during an invitation-only dinner hosted by the Knight Foundation board for community leaders.

Along with the Knight Foundation grant, the institute has secured a combined $20 million from the five partners, $10 million from Akron-based First-Energy Corp. and about $9 million from other sources, including the state, said Aram Nerpouni, vice president of BioEnterprise, which is a facilitator for the project.

About $80 million is needed to hire the staff and convert a yet-to-be identified facility in Akron into the BioInnovation Institute's administrative headquarters, Nerpouni said.

The headquarters will be within the city's biomedical corridor, an area encircling Children's Hospital, Akron General Medical Center and Summa's Akron City Hospital. NEOUCOM also will be establishing a presence adjacent to the headquarters.

A location is expected to be announced by the end of this year.

For now, the headquarters are in the United Building at Market and Main streets in downtown Akron.

More news coming

New joint training programs still be to announced also will be launched this year on the partners' campuses, Nerpouni said.

Ultimately, a new National Polymer Innovation Center under construction at the University of Akron will serve as the research hub for the BioInnovation Institute, UA President Luis Proenza said.

About 100 representatives from the five partners have been meeting regularly in work groups in recent months to develop plans around five new ''centers of excellence'' within the institute.

Those centers include:

• The Center for Biomaterials and Medicine, which will tie together the region's strengths in biopolymers, orthopedics and wound healing to develop new medical treatments.

• The Medical Device Development Center, which will focus on helping companies and researchers design, test and manufacture new medical products.

• The Center for Clinical Trials, which will provide industry-sponsored and investigator-initiated clinical trials for potential new therapies and services.

• The Center for Health Care Training, which will offer simulation-based training for the region's medical work force.

• The Community Outreach to the Medically Underserved, which will coordinate and deliver medical care, including preventive care and disease management, to the region's underserved patients.

Helping uninsured

The partners are exploring ways to work with other organizations to help serve uninsured patients. For example, the institute recently agreed to a partnership with Access to Care, a community initiative that pairs uninsured Summit County residents with volunteer doctors and other medical providers for free care.

''We are taking novel ways of building these centers so that everyone is involved and it's patient-focused,'' Douglas said. ''We are going to form relationships not only with the partners around the table, but we will form relationships with industry.''

Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or


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