Empire State Development Announces Recipients Of Second Round Of NYFIRST Grants

July 16, 2021

NYFIRST Grants Attract World-Class Scientists Focused on Research with Commercial Potential to Benefit Human Health  

Research Talent Recruitment Program is Part of New York State's $620 Million Life Science Initiative

Empire State Development (ESD) today announced recipients of the second round of New York Fund for Innovation in Research and Scientific Talent (NYFIRST) grants. First announced by Governor Cuomo in 2018 NYFIRST is a $15 million grant fund that encourages the recruitment or retention by New York medical schools of exceptional translational researchers, who are exploring basic research for important commercial potential. NYFIRST provides grants of up to $1 million to cover working capital and capital costs for the research conducted by the recruited or retained researcher. The first round of NYFIRST recipients was announced in 2019.

Empire State Development Acting Commissioner and President & CEO-designate Eric Gertler said, "COVID-19 showed us the Governor Cuomo’s longstanding commitment to building a robust life science industry in New York State is not only smart economic development strategy, but also critical to the state’s public health infrastructure. NYFIRST will continue to attract nation-leading researchers whose innovative research offers the potential to create jobs and expand this vital industry for New York's future."

The three recipients announced today include: 

  • Columbia University has recruited Simon John, Ph.D. as a Professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator from Jackson Laboratory in Maine.  Dr. John is a recognized expert in developing new understandings and therapies for the treatment of a variety of blinding eye conditions. Dr. John’s past research has led to the issuing of three patents and four provisional patent filings; two of which have been licensed.

    It is expected that Dr. John’s research at Columbia will lead to many patentable discoveries related to glaucoma and generalized visual degeneration. Dr. John will bring five team members who will be directly employed by Columbia, and it is anticipated that approximately ten new jobs will be created as a direct result of the recruitment.

  • University of Rochester has recruited Steven Silverstein, Ph.D. as the George Engel Professor of Psychosocial Medicine, Associate Chair for Research in Psychiatry and Director of the newly established Rochester Center for Brain and   Retina. Dr. Silverstein was recruited from Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Dr. Steven Silverstein will lead the Center’s efforts to connect with private industry to leverage Rochester’s long and distinguished history of vision research. Dr. Silverstein’s research interests are in the development of visual system biomarkers for neuropsychiatric disorders, especially severe mental illness, and in psychological consequences of vision loss.

Rochester anticipates that the research led by Dr. Silverstein will increase the number of copyright and trademark registrations and patentable discoveries by approximately five each year. Dr. Silverstein brings two junior faculty with him to the University of Rochester, where it is anticipated that approximately 41 new jobs will be created as a direct result of the recruitment.

  • SUNY Upstate Medical University has retained Juntao Luo, Ph.D. to support his efforts to develop a unique approach to sepsis treatment.  Dr. Luo has been awarded seven patents since joining UMU in 2011 and has filed for a total of 15 patents in the last 10 years. In the next four years, Dr. Luo is expected to file three to four additional patent applications. He is also interested in setting up start-ups to commercialize his technology and therapeutic products.

The retention of Dr. Luo offers the potential to create three new startups in the Biotech Accelerator at UMU, as well ensuring the continuous federal funding of $1.83 million from his funded projects and additional pending funds. Dr. Luo’s lab previously employed two post-doctoral staff and two research scientists, and this grant will allow for two additional staff members.

Associated Medical Schools of New York (AMSNY) President and CEO Jo Wiederhorn said, “Programs like NYFIRST not only attract exceptional researchers, but they also strengthen the institution’s profile, drawing additional talent and investment. These programs also create jobs; AMSNY has projected that the first three NYFIRST recipients, named in April of 2019, created 101 jobs, directly and indirectly, and attracted approximately $17.5 million in funding.”

Columbia University Irving Medical Center Interim Executive Vice President and Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine Anil K. Rustgi, M.D. said, “I want to applaud the vision of Governor Cuomo and the Legislature for establishing the NYFIRST grant program, which has become essential in helping us attract and retain the nation's top medical researchers. These scientists not only make important discoveries, but they also bring in millions of dollars in federal grants, file patents, start new companies, and create high-skill jobs. We look forward to continued support for this essential program."

University of Rochester Medical Center Department of Psychiatry John Romano Professor and Chair H. Benjamin Lee, M.D. said, “Without the NYFIRST program, we couldn’t have recruited Dr. Steve Silverstein and his talented research team that have developed the Rochester Center for Brain and Retina (RCBR).  The groundbreaking research by Dr. Silverstein’s work at RCBR will have lasting impact in health and the economy of our region for years to come.”

SUNY Upstate Medical University Chairman and Professor of the Department of Pharmacology Richard Wojcikiewicz, Ph.D. said, “Being able to retain Dr Luo at UMU has been hugely beneficial to the Pharmacology Department and the Institution: his continued presence has made possible the development of SIRC – the Sepsis Interdisciplinary Research Center – with payoffs in terms of better therapies and commercialization.   He is an innovative and dedicated scientist and a tremendous asset to UMU.”

New York State's $620 Million Life Science Initiative

New York State enacted a $620 million initiative to spur the growth of a world-class life sciences research cluster in New York, as well as expand the state's ability to commercialize this research and grow the economy. This multi-faceted initiative, leveraging private sector investment, includes tax credits, capital grants, and operational support. The initiative includes the $40 million New York State Biodefense Commercialization Fund, created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to capitalize on New York’s research and development assets and expertise in life sciences, biotechnology, and biodefense.

The life sciences sector encompasses the fields of biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, biomedical technologies, life systems technologies, and includes organizations and institutions that devote the majority of their efforts to the various stages of research, development, technology transfer and commercialization. Every day, firms in this sector are developing new medical and pharmaceutical breakthroughs that have the potential to save lives, whether through new therapies or the early detection of diseases like autism and cancer. These firms are also making significant advancements in the realms of agriculture and environmental biotechnologies, helping create a cleaner and more sustainable future.

By strengthening incentives, investing in the facilities, and improving access to talent and expertise, New York will significantly increase its share of industry-funded research and development, support the commercialization of existing academic research, and usher in the next generation of advanced technologies. Beyond the advancements in science, this initiative will position New York as a magnet for emerging manufacturing-based enterprises, bolstering regional economies and creating thousands of jobs.

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