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Renowned scientist recruited by Roswell Cleveland cancer expert to bring biotech company

Roswell Park Cancer Institute has recruited a high-level cancer researcher from the Cleveland Clinic who will also bring the publicly traded biotechnology company he founded and nearly three dozen jobs, hospital and company officials said Thursday.

The agreement with Andrei V. Gudkov and Cleveland BioLabs marks the culmination of more than five months of negotiations involving the hospital and state and local business, government and economic-development leaders, including from the governor's office and the State Legislature.

All sides say it strengthens Buffalo's hand in biotechnology nationally, further demonstrating the ability of the region and Roswell Park to attract top talent. And, they say, it links research and business locally in the fight against cancer.

"We are very excited about this," said Dr. David C. Hohn, president and chief executive officer of Roswell Park. "This is the biggest and most complex recruitment I have ever been a part of, and is an outstanding coup for Buffalo and the medical campus, to be able to bring into Buffalo not only one of the pre-eminent cancer scientists in the world, but also a company that has a promising portfolio of new products for cancer care."

Gudkov would bring with him his research in limiting tumor growth and protecting healthy cells from being killed by radiation. That research has both medical and civil defense uses. And he would immediately move Cleveland BioLabs' headquarters and core operations to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

"He is a very big fish," Hohn said. "This is a big job, filled by a person who is a very highly regarded leader."

Officials say the deal could bring up to 50 jobs here, including 20 to 30 at first from the company itself and an additional 15 to 20 scientists and technicians for Gudkov's personal lab, which will be at Roswell Park. Gudkov is the chief scientific officer for Cleveland BioLabs.

Gudkov's business will keep an operation in Cleveland and a development office in Chicago. It will still outsource drug manufacturing to a facility in the Netherlands while exploring U.S. options, including in Buffalo.

But while the business will keep its name and its ties to the Cleveland Clinic, Buffalo will be its base. Its CEO, Michael Fonstein, said he expects to double its job count in a year and calls Roswell Park "the right partner."

While the number of jobs is small, the advanced research positions pay an average salary of about $80,000, sources say. And they're high-profile -- the type that economic-development officials covet as they try to build a biotechnology hub.

For Roswell Park, it also means the chance to use Cleveland BioLabs' leading drugs in clinical trials. "It'll bring in reputation. It'll bring in a lot of money from elsewhere," Hohn said. "This is big stuff, and this will get attention around the country. This is likely to make our phone ring with interest from others."

The company, which wanted to be close to the hospital, is planning to locate in the former Hauptman-Woodward building at 73 High St. The building will be acquired, refurbished and managed through the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Cleveland BioLabs will be the anchor tenant, but officials expect the building to become an "innovation center" for other start-ups.

Officials hope to complete the move by late spring or summer, depending on the renovations. Gudkov is already working with Roswell Park staff on grants and research, and Hohn said he hopes to have him here full time by June.

Under the agreement, whose final details are still being ironed out today, Gudkov would join Roswell Park as senior vice president for research program development. He would be responsible for working with scientists in other departments and programs, both at Roswell Park and at other regional institutions such as the University at Buffalo and Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute.

He also would be chairman of Roswell Park's Department of Cell Stress Biology and would lead its National Cancer Institute programs in that area, specifically biophysical therapies and photodynamic therapy, a field that Roswell Park pioneered. Hohn would not disclose his salary, but said that it is "in the range" for similar positions.

Gudkov's lab would be supported with federal money from grants and contracts, but officials are negotiating an incentive package for Cleveland BioLabs of up to $5 million, including a combination of Empire Zone and research and development tax credits, cash grants, subsidized space and even a loan of working capital during its move.

Gudkov, 50, researched cancer in the former Soviet Union and later in the United States. He is a co-founder and a director of Cleveland BioLabs, which was founded in June 2003, but splits time between it and Cleveland Clinic.

He is chairman of the Department of Molecular Biology at the Cleveland Clinic, where he has been since 2001. He is also a professor of biochemistry at Case Western Reserve University and is principal investigator for a series of National Institutes of Health programs.

From 1990 to 2001, he was a tenured faculty member in the Department of Molecular Genetics at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Prior to 1990, he worked at the National Cancer Research Center in Moscow.

He has written more than 100 research papers and holds 21 U.S. patents. In particular, he holds a patent for the original idea of protecting healthy tissue and cells from lethal doses of chemotherapy and radiation therapy by suppressing a certain protein. The drug that resulted from the research, now approved for clinical testing, does not protect malignant cells, which would make it possible to increase the radiation doses for cancer patients while reducing the side effects.

Besides cancer care, such a medicine also could protect humans from radiation exposure in a nuclear accident or a military or terrorist attack. The company is negotiating a research contract with the U.S. Department of Defense.

"It sets the stage for Buffalo being a real destination for entrepreneurial science," Hohn said.

e-mail: jepstein@buffnews.com

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