Cummings Properties Media Release - November 18, 2009

 

Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University:
Using animal models in life science development
Central Massachusetts Life Science Industry Success

Just east of Worcester sits another connector in the string of life sciences enterprises in the state. The 702,000 square-foot Grafton Science Park, located on the south side of Route 30 on the campus of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, occupies approximately 100 acres and represents an ambitious initiative to stimulate economic development in Central Massachusetts. Through a collaborative research program, veterinarians and scientists from the school assist companies in biotechnology, pharmaceutical and medical device industries as they take products from concepts to market.

The park, a Massachusetts Chapter 43D Priority Development site, represents cooperative effort between school and town. In 1991, the town of Grafton passed an ordinance to adopt National Institutes of Health (NIH) guidelines for research involving recombinant DNA, which demonstrated support for the life sciences. The following year, the town approved a Campus Development Overlay district to expedite the permitting process. In 1999, the town approved Tufts' Campus Master Plan, which included the science park.

In 2005, the NIH selected Tufts to build the New England Regional Biosafety Laboratory (NE-RBL), a 41,000-square-foot facility dedicated to the study of existing and emerging infectious and toxin-mediated diseases and biodefense countermeasures. Four years later, construction was completed and the NE-RBL has become the anchor in the Grafton Science Park. These facilities are available to investigators in academia, non-profit organizations, industry and appropriate government agencies upon request. The NE-RBL contains laboratories for the study of biosafety level 2 and 3 infectious agents and includes and ABSL3 vivarium, aerobiology suite and insectary.

Also located within the park is Tufts Biotechnology Transfer Center, an incubator facility created in 1997 to promote research by facilitating relationships between Tufts and industry, to generate income for research and make findings and inventions available to the public. More than 20 companies have graduated from the incubator.

Deborah Turner Kochevar, D.V.D., Ph.D., dean of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, points out that Central Massachusetts constitutes a life science community that extends from Worcester to Boston. One of only 28 veterinary schools in the country, Tufts plays an important role in the development of biotechnology. She notes that the school engages in significant amounts of biomedical research using animal models as a precursor to human trials. This research eventually leads to discoveries in molecular genetics with practical applications and potential as commercial products that benefit humans and animals.

Workforce development
Additionally, Tufts contributes to workforce development in the life sciences industry. "A pharmaceutical company can't bring a product to market without first having two different animal model components," says Kochevar. Researchers conducting post-doctoral work benefit from the knowledge of veterinary science. "Veterinarians are like medical doctors and have all the same specialties," she says. "It's a parallel system." Kochevar cites beside and cageside sequence as one of the hallmarks of veterinary/medical science interaction.

Tufts Biotechnology Transfer Center has been instrumental in directly supporting startup and contract research efforts. Many of the school's faculty members receive National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding, which enables important work on a variety of pressing medical issues. Tufts uses this funding in four major areas: infectious disease; reproductive neuroscience; gastro-intestinal hepatic diseases, and pulmonary functioning. "We are able to work with industry in contract research and usually have 40 to 60 interactions with companies," Kochevar says. "Companies come to us and want to either design from the ground up or have an animal model in the works." Tufts assists these companies and has incubated 20 companies.

Local and state government support
Kochevar applauds state government for its efforts to promote the life science industry in the Commonwealth. She cites the Governor's $10 billion commitment together with the collegiality between non-profit and for-profit organizations that continues to drive the biotechnology field forward. "We have investigators collaborating with the UMass Medical School. We complement each other. There is a nice synergism there," says Kochevar.

While Tufts has no physical presence at the Biotech Park, the school benefits from its existence. "The relationship between Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives (MBI) and the Worcester Business Development Corporation (WBDC) has been formative for what happens on this campus," says Kochevar. "One of those tangible benefits is the Grafton Science Park." WBDC has been instrumental in securing grants and working to build infrastructure in the area. Joseph McManus, executive associate dean, has been the creative driver working with MBRP and Jean Poteete, senior campus planner, interfaces with the town.

Kochever also cites the relationship with the town of Grafton as key to the school's existence. "We, as institutions/companies, don't exist without partnership with our towns. The properties are not on the tax roll but, as we hope to attract companies who will generate real tax dollars, this leads to serious economic development." Investing in the continued growth of the life science industry in Central Massachusetts results in benefits for both the town and the school, according to Kochevar.

"In a global economy, we must work even harder to compete to attract and retain jobs. Worcester's leadership position in the life sciences industry equates to more jobs and an expanded tax base, and more importantly, it translates to new cures and breakthroughs in medicine. We are proud of the success of the life sciences industry here in our community and look forward to what the future holds." City Manager Michael V. O'Brien.