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VT Corporate Research Center receives grant to advance biotech in the region

Published: Dec. 15, 2021 at 10:35 PM EST
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - “Just watch, we’ve got some great things coming,” Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center President and CEO Brett Malone said as he closed the gathering Wednesday afternoon.

More than 50 leaders and residents from the Roanoke Valley and New River Valley gathered as the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center announced a new “GO Virginia” Grant that will help advance life science research across the region. The grant is for $599,000 and will cover the majority of the $1.1 million project, with partners helping to cover the rest.

“It means importing some of the world class talents to help our early stage biotech startups. It also means that we’re building a whole new product, which is a more accessible lab, a turnkey lab, for people who want to get in and build a life science,” said Malone.

”We have a lot of brilliant researchers who come up with great ideas, publish papers, they speak to their colleagues, they get grants and then they tuck it off and start up company, the company has nowhere to go. So this is that missing link,” said VP for Health Sciences and Technology at Virginia Tech, Dr. Michael Friedlander.

Leaders believe researchers having these missing links will be able to advance the life science and healthcare industry into the future.

“If you were to talk to many of our researchers, they would tell you the reason they got into this is not necessarily to make money off their intellectual property and patents; it’s to get their discoveries out there so it actually affects peoples’ lives,” said Dr. Friedlander.

“New cancer therapies, new cancer treatments, new diagnostics. There’s a host of devices being developed, but also the artificial intelligence side, so the data side,” said Malone.

There are more than 10 organizations that make this coalition possible. Included in that coalition is the City of Roanoke and Carilion Clinic.

“It serves as a key piece that’s in the middle of what we really need to move that sector forward,” said Economic Development Director for the City of Roanoke Marc Nelson.

VTCRC will also get some help moving that sector forward, through its newest partnership with Johnson and Johnson.

Leaders are also excited about the boost this grant will have on the economy in the region. It will already be generating 125 biotech jobs in the coming five years.

For more information on the project, you can find the full press release below.

“The GO Virginia Coalition today approved a grant award to the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center (VTCRC) to fund the expansion of laboratory space and facilities aimed at supporting the region’s growing life science industry. In addition to the construction of shared lab space by the VTCRC, this project will support the creation of 125 new biotech jobs over the next five years.

“Through collaborations, we aim to fill the demand from biotechnology companies and provide full access needed to support research to commercialization aspirations,” said Brett Malone, President & CEO of the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center. “Our sophisticated infrastructure makes us a research destination across industries and for everyone from startups to enterprise companies.”

The VTCRC – with funding from GO Virginia – will lead a coalition, including Montgomery County, City of Roanoke and Carilion Clinic, to support the development of a shared lab facility in Blacksburg and site design for a larger facility in Roanoke.

In addition, a new collaboration established between Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center and Johnson & Johnson LLC, will provide early-stage innovators in the region with access to their virtual residency program which includes expert mentoring, programming and resources offered through Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS (JLABS). JLABS was established in 2012 with an aim to provide startups with access to the critical resources, expertise, networks, and collaborations needed to progress innovative healthcare solutions for patients and consumers.

The collaboration aims to meet the needs of emerging startups and existing biotech companies in the region. In the first year of the collaboration, JLABS and the VTCRC will select up to five companies for participation in the JLABS virtual residency program. The application period will open early 2022. This program includes access privileges to the JLABS @ Washington, DC, led by JLABS Regional Head Sally Allain.*

Bringing the deep science and technology expertise from experts across the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies (Johnson & Johnson), can help strengthen the region’s biotechnology talent pipeline and propel startups from regional accelerators, such as RAMP.

“Additional wet and dry lab space in our region is a real boost for life sciences and biotech innovation, especially as it relates to improving healthcare delivery,” said Don Halliwill, executive vice president and chief financial officer for Carilion Clinic, who also helps lead the work of Carilion Innovation, the organization’s internal incubator. “One of the hallmarks of our regional innovation ecosystem is the commitment of a diverse set of partners, as reflected in our successes with the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC and Radford University Carilion. If you want to create, invent or discover, you have that opportunity in our region. This project is the latest resource demonstrating that our community can and will support you.”

The collaboration is aimed to meet the needs of emerging startups and existing biotech companies in the region. In the first year of the collaboration, the goal is to select five companies by JLABS and the VTCRC for participation. Applications will become available in early 2022.

VTCRC’s program – COgro LABS – is designed with 25 accessible lab spaces in a turnkey facility. The facility will help meet a need for flexible lab space from small- to earlystage companies, making starting and building a biotech company a little bit easier.

The project builds on a previous GO Virginia project that identified the need for lab space and access to industry experts and mentoring in the biotech space with an overall mission to create a deeper network of life science-specific investment capital.

The addition of lab space to the region highlights the work and attention the New River and Roanoke valleys are giving to this rapidly expanding biotechnology cluster.

“With recent projects and expansions, the region is poised to become synonymous with biotechnology,” said Marc Nelson, City of Roanoke Economic Development Director. “We are thrilled to partner in this project and the connections between regional universities as well as public and private innovation will propel this growth.”

“The Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC is excited about this opportunity as it provides an essential next step in the maturation of the emerging research and innovation enterprise at the Health Sciences and Technology campus in Roanoke,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the research institute and Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology. “The spinoff of a half dozen companies from the institute already, its partnerships with major medical technology companies, and a current research grants and contracts portfolio of over $140 million provide a robust foundation for utilizing the planned incubator. We already have a strong connection through our Virginia Tech cancer research program located in the same building with JLABS at the Children’s National Research & Innovation campus in Washington D.C. This program provides a wonderful opportunity to build on that relationship.”

“Montgomery County is pleased to provide support to this partnership, which demonstrates our commitment to biotechnology growth in the New River and Roanoke Valleys,” said Craig Meadows, County Administrator for Montgomery County. “We look forward to working with the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center and the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute to promote recognition for our region as a biotechnology hub.”

“Accessible lab space is a distinct need within our region in order to attract, retain, and expand life sciences companies and partnerships. I am proud of the regional collaboration that led to today’s announcement, and I am excited for the opportunities it presents for our growing biotech community,” said Del. Terry Austin.

The overall project is expected to generate 125 jobs with an average salary of $80,000 per year over five years with a $1.42 million, $140% return in employment-related revenue on the initial investment from GO Virginia funding.

A number of regional groups worked together to make this project possible including the VTCRC team, Montgomery County, the City of Roanoke, Carilion Clinic, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, Verge, Virginia Bio, the Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development, Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the Town of Blacksburg, the Virginia Tech Foundation, EDC, SMBW, and Facility Logix.”

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