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Faculty optimistic on spinning research into development

If the Buffalo region is ever going to turn around its troubled economy, the brain power at the University at Buffalo is expected to play a big part.

And 2006 was a big step in the right direction, with UB opening its New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics & Life Sciences last June, as part of the Buffalo Life Sciences Complex downtown with Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Center.

Inside the sleek new building on Virginia and Ellicott streets, researchers are working on developing medical breakthroughs, which not only means tailoring new therapies and drugs to treat diseases, but serving as a catalyst for start-up biotech companies and economic development in the region.

"With everything in place," said Marnie LaVigne, director of business development at the Center of Excellence, "we are poised for explosive growth in this activity in 2007, and beyond."

One "win" LaVigne pointed to was last year's market release of the SmartPill, a diagnostic capsule that transmits pressure and pH levels electronically as it passes through the digestive system - technology that originated at UB.

While research in the life sciences is a growth area, and accounts for a large portion of the promising work at UB, officials are optimistic about the advances going on throughout the university, including the research in engineering and information technology.

The region really is linked inextricably to the research quality and production at the university, said Woodrow W. Maggard, associate vice provost of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach.

"And we see that [research] rising and getting better all the time, so we have no reason to be anything but optimistic," Maggard said.

UB faculty work through Maggard's office to help turn their laboratory research into commercial development.

During the last fiscal year - July 1, 2005, to July 1, 2006 - UB spun off three companies from university research, as well as four others through the Panasci Entrepreneurial Awards Competition, in which teams of UB students and alumni pitch business ventures in hopes of winning seed capital.

Faculty, ready to bring their research to light, also filed 81 disclosures with Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach during the last fiscal year, and 75 patent applications, said Jeffrey A. Dunbar, director of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach. Eight patents also were issued, he said.

The number of disclosures filed and patents issued are actually down slightly from the prior year, but officials said that can fluctuate a bit from year to year.

Maggard, however, expects the volume and quality of research to take off at UB in the coming years.

Under President John B. Simpson's vision for UB as a top public research institution, there has been a concerted effort to lure top faculty, while placing a greater emphasis on playing to the university's academic strengths to bring in more research dollars.

"Over the next five years, I think we'll see an appreciable increase in the revenues that come in from all the patents and licenses," Maggard said.

In the end, UB hopes it means more start-up businesses for the Buffalo region.

"It's not going to change the economy of Western New York overnight," Maggard said, "but it's certainly a critical role the university can play."