The public has invested heavily in life science research in Buffalo, but the dividends -- jobs -- are slow in coming, the region's biotech development group says.
"We think we're moving too slow -- we're not thinking big enough," said Angelo M. Fatta, president of Bufflink, a non-profit with links to development agencies and businesses.
By Bufflink's count, life science firms created 155 jobs over the past year. That brings the total to about 650 since 2001, when the regional biotech push began. Bufflink's tally is based on company announcements and published reports.
As for new business starts, five life science companies opened their doors in the past year, down from nine the year before.
The business activity lags the huge investments pouring into life science research and facilities, the group says.
Since last fall, researchers here attracted $97 million from the National Institutes of Health, up 15 percent from the year before. And the life science research complex under construction on Ellicott Street, anchored by the state's bioinformatics center, is costing over $150 million.
For science to advance medicine, lab results need to be transformed into products -- new devices, drugs or treatments -- and that takes business, Bufflink says.
"If we're not careful we fall into the old Buffalo pattern; do the research and give it away," said Alan Olhoeft, Bufflink's chief operating officer. "Jobs elsewhere."
At a meeting scheduled for tonight at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Bufflink plans to call for a $20 million initiative over several years to accelerate job growth. The "commercialization acceleration plan" envisions an incubator and a seed capital fund to boost start-up businesses.
Although budgets are tight, state and federal investment in commercialization would leverage the massive public investment in research, Fatta said. Legislators haven't been approached about funding, he said.
Robert J. Genco, head of commercialization at the University at Buffalo and a board member of Bufflink, applauded the acceleration idea.
"To commercialize these (inventions) takes many, many steps, and the community's involvement is necessary for funding," he said.
The university's technology transfer arm works to patent inventions and prepare them for commercialization, but investing in risky start-ups could be difficult for the public institution, he said.
Bufflink also plans to release tonight its annual report card on gains in life science research and business.
During the year ended Sept. 30:
112 researchers and principal investigators were recruited to the region, often bringing federally funded research projects in tow.
State legislators committed $20 million in additional funds for the life science complex, to recruit more staff and for infrastructure improvements
In addition to the 155 jobs created, another 138 jobs are projected by company expansions over the next three years.
Founded in 2001, Bufflink is a public-private group affiliated with development agencies like the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise and Erie County IDA. Fatta is a chemist who founded ACTS Testing Labs, a Buffalo-based consumer products testing company.