Biosciences R&D gets $17 million funding injection
By John McPhaul
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia, along with Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC by its Spanish acronym) Secretary Manuel Cidre Miranda and University of Puerto Rico (UPR) President Luis Ferrao Delgado, announced on Tuesday the allocation of over $17 million for research and development projects in the field of biosciences, and especially to promote the Molecular Sciences Research Center (MSRC) as the main research center in the region.
“This announcement is part of the strategies we are working on to advance our mission of achieving the collaboration of the private sector, academia and the government to promote clinical research and technological innovation that help enrich the life sciences ecosystem in Puerto Rico,” the governor said at a press conference. “We continue to move toward the knowledge economy, in which we can compete face to face with professionals from anywhere in the world. The steps we are taking are leading us to become an important center in the life sciences industry, which complements our manufacturing and biopharma ecosystem, and puts us at the forefront of the future.”
The Molecular Sciences Research Center has over 150,000 square feet of laboratories and equipment for conducting biomedical research in virtually every modality.
As reported by the governor, the allocation includes $11 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to subsidize research and development projects related to COVID-19 ranging from academic research to clinical studies.
Another $6 million ($3 million from ARPA and $3 million from DDEC funds) has been allocated to develop strategic projects in the MSRC, such as a robust program to attract researchers, and create two strategic areas for development of new treatments and an operation for research in cell and gene therapy.
The officials said a portion of the funding is being earmarked for a program to recruit scientists of the highest level and to provide them with seed capital to conduct research projects in advanced areas. In addition, funds are to be allocated for the development of an incubator for start-up companies in the biotechnology area, which will allow them to take their products from the laboratory to the market.
“This will help us increase the portfolio of intellectual property, as well as enhance the research carried out at the University of Puerto Rico and the Medical Sciences Campus to commercialize their inventions,” Pierluisi said. “With this investment we will increase the chances of receiving federal grants from entities such as the National Institutes of Health, the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] and other organizations that support scientific research. These are strategies that have been considered for a long time and that we are now executing, making resources available and providing government support.”
The DDEC secretary stressed that “Puerto Rico has always maintained high competitiveness in the bioscience industry, especially in pharmaceuticals and medical devices, but this has been focused on a strong manufacturing activity.”
“However, the times force us to redouble our efforts in areas where we have traditionally not invested so much,” Cidre said. “In order to maintain world-class competitiveness, Puerto Rico must significantly increase its research and development activity, especially in the area of biosciences, where global innovations occur faster than ever and we see new trends, such as cell and gene therapy. To take advantage of this and other trends, we have to focus on developing knowledge and wealth in local researchers, so that what we produce in Puerto Rico in these areas has its intellectual property and keeps its wealth on the island, and that is precisely what we are doing.”
Ferrao argued meanwhile that, as the island’s main teaching center and promoter of scientific research, the UPR is committed to the economic development of the island.
“I am fully convinced that to the extent that our Molecular Sciences Research Center has more and better resources, the knowledge generated there will have a positive multiplier effect on economic activity, either as a result of the development of new products, the creation of patents or the attraction of more external funds for new research,” he said. “The development possibilities are endless.”