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New institute aims to attract 100 research scientists to Indiana

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The Indiana Biosciences Research Institute hopes to recruit as many as 100 research scientists in the next six years to generate new life sciences breakthroughs.
 
The $360 million initiative will be formally launched on Thursday by Gov. Mike Pence, executives of five major life sciences companies and officials of the state’s research universities. They will stage a press conference at 10 a.m. at the corporate headquarters of Eli Lilly and Co. in downtown Indianapolis.
 
As IBJ reported on May 6, the institute was awarded $25 million in start-up funding by the state Legislature. Now the group’s organizers hope to raise another $25 million in start-up funding from corporate and philanthropic donors over the next year or so.
 
That money will help the institute hire a “senior, world-class” scientist as its CEO and an initial research fellow, and help it start attracting industry funding for research projects, according to information released by BioCrossroads, the Indianapolis life sciences development group that has coordinated a year-long effort to create the institute.

“To be able to make this work, it’s got to be bold,” said Ry Wagner, the global new ventures and technology leader at Dow AgroSciences LLC, one of partners in the institute. He added that the institute will allow teams of scientists from both academia and industry to collaborate, which is more important than ever for achieving new innovations.

The institute drew an early endorsement from Pence, who added it to his platform while campaigning for governor last year, and from Lilly CEO John Lechleiter, who endorsed it in a speech in October.

In addition to Lilly, the corporations involved in launching the institute are Biomet Inc., Cook Medical Inc., Dow AgroSciences LLC, Indiana University Health, and Roche Diagnostics Corp. Indiana University, Purdue University and the University of Notre Dame are also participants.

By the end of 2019, the institute aims to recruit as many as 10 research fellows—star academics from around the nation—each of whom would likely bring a research team of eight to 10 scientists. All told, the institute could employ 100 scientists.

The funds to recruit such coveted teams of scientists would come from a $310 million endowment the institute hopes to raise between 2016 and 2019. Those scientists would then compete for industry and government research contracts to sustain their work.

The institute will aim to focus its research on key public health issues affecting Hoosiers, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and nutrition. The institute hopes its research produces new diagnostic tools to help identify patients in need of treatment, data analysis tools to help researchers and, longer-term, new drugs or ag-tech products.

Those breakthroughs could be commercialized by partner companies or spun out into new companies.

Once the institute is a decade old and fully matured, it would likely have an annual budget of $31 million, according to BioCrossroads. It expects roughly $14 million per year to come from its endowment, about $10 million from industry-sponsored research and about $7 million from federal grants for research.

An endowment and budget of that size would rank the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute among similar institutes around the country. Still, the initiative would be dwarfed by several state governments—such as California, Ohio and Texas—that have put more than $1 billion each to stimulate research and commercialization in the science and technology fields.

However, Darren Carroll, the vice president of corporate business development for Lilly, said getting the right people working on the effort will be more important than having the largest pot of money.

“I’m not sure that’s what you do when you have a healthy industry,” he said.

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  • Istitute Concept Laudable but Flawed
    Indiana's effort to increase top tier life sciences research capacity is laudable but the proposed vehicle of a free-standing research institute is fundamentally flawed. The origins, funding, structure, and goals of the Indiana Bioscience Research Institute are eerily similar to a Michigan initiative in the mid-1980s that was unsuccessful. Michigan took a bold step and founded biotechnology, robotics, and materials processing research institutes. Recommended by a panel of well-intentioned corporate, state, and university leaders, the Michigan institutes had very similar goals, structure, goals, and initial funding to Indiana's Bioscience Institutes. All faced multiple challenges throughout their existence. World-class researchers were unwilling to join because they perceived the institutes as risky ventures. Despite initial state and national corporate interest, sufficient corporate research funding never materialized. None of the institutes achieved projected goals for endowments. Michigan's leadership underestimated the reluctance of foundations and donors to support research institutes. Federal funding was also problematic. The missions of federal funding agencies did not mesh well with any of the Institute's applied research agendas. Michigan's experience does not bode well for Indiana. What is Indiana doing differently to insure a better outcome?

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