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Biotech sector wants help from Albany

Although New York's legislative session wrapped up in June, angling for new public policy hasn't ceased.

Recently, the Business Council of New York State (BCNYS) tried to regain traction for its agenda by re-releasing a report from May.

The thrust of the report outlines how New York is uncompetitive in the growing biotech sector and losing jobs to more welcoming states. BCNYS uses the document to suggest three recommendations to level the playing field.

First, BCNYS wants to create a special governor's council that would boost marketing and cement the biotech sector as a priority of the Cuomo administration.

At a BCNYS press conference recently in Buffalo, Assemblyman Robin Schimminger (D-140th) enthusiastically endorsed the idea.

"One may think, 'This is just another layer of bureaucracy.' Not so!" Schimminger said.

After Schimminger returned to his seat, Dr. James Mohler, a prominent Buffalo surgeon and co-founder of AndroBioSys, took the microphone.

"My only comment is that, 'How come this hasn't been enacted with all your efforts over these years?' I would have greatly benefited the last five years if it had," Mohler said. "To me, we need to catch up here, wouldn't you agree?"

"I would," Schimminger responded. "And I can answer the question, too."

"Come answer it," Mohler replied.

Schimminger returned to the podium to defend his record but also admitted legislators can do more.

But Mohler, senior vice president for Translational Research at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, responded that Albany needs to have a greater sense of urgency.  

"The state of New York is in a battle with the other 49 states," Mohler said. "[We] need to play catch up in this biotech sector. We're low in translating this intellectual activity and property into jobs."

New York is losing businesses and jobs to states that offer more help to small companies, Mohler says. His company, AndroBioSys, has been courted by officials in Kentucky and Maryland.

New grant program?

BCNYS's report also calls for the creation of a Small Business Innovation Research matching grant program for bioscience companies. A similar small business grant program expired last year. Legislators failed to address the issue before the session ended.

"There's so many competing interests and there's so many desperate needs in the state that often times it does take some time to get these proposals - that cost some money - over the hump," said John Jennings, a representative of the New York Biotechnology Association.

"As is often the case, it takes a multiple year effort to build support and to build the coalition that you need to get changes like this made."

In the meantime, BCNYS will try to convince Governor Andrew Cuomo to take up the mantle of biotech and push the legislature to do the same.

"It's certainly something we hope will be on his radar. He's a busy guy," said Heather Briccetti, BCNYS president. "We hope that before the end of the year, we'll see some movement."

Originally, BCNYS issued the document to influence lawmakers before the legislative deadline. Now, the organization is setting its sights on next year.

According to BCNYS, biotech companies support 250,000 jobs in New York and generate more than $5 billion in wages each year.


For more on this story and others by the Innovation Trail and Daniel Robison, visit the Innovation Trail website.

The Innovation Trail is a collaboration between five upstate New York public media outlets. The initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), helps the public gain a better understanding of the connection between technological breakthroughs and the revitalization of the upstate New York economy.