SARANAC LAKE - Trudeau Institute scientists will be putting their expertise to work for the drug development and biotech industries as a way to create more partnerships and diversify revenue at the nonprofit biomedical research center.
Trudeau officials announced this week that the institute has created the Trudeau Institute Contract Research Organization, which will provide project-specific infectious disease expertise to biotechnology firms, pharmaceutical companies and academic researchers on a contractual basis.
For years, scientists at the institute have been contacted by drug and biotech companies and other researchers looking to use the models and systems developed at Trudeau to advance their own research, according to Dawn Jelley-Gibbs, a research assistant at Trudeau who was recently appointed senior program manager for TICRO. But Trudeau's scientists were often too busy with their own research to take on this additional work, she said.
Dawn Jelley-Gibbs, a research assistant at Trudeau Insitute, has recently been named the senior program manager for the institute’s new contract research organization.
That changed, Jelley-Gibbs said, in part because of the loss of several faculty members at the Institute, including its director, David Woodland, under whom she had worked.
"I wanted to stay at Trudeau Institute; I found it to be a great work environment," she said. "I approached Stephen Smiley and Larry Johnson and the transition team here and asked if they'd allow me to branch off into this sector. I'd been listening to everyone saying how these companies are contacting us but no individual labs seem to have the time to do these kinds of studies, and that it really needed to be a focused effort."
Trudeau plans to put what Jelley-Gibbs referred to as its "core resources" to work for its contract research efforts.
"Trudeau has numerous core services that have been available to Trudeau faculty and anyone outside the institute," she said. "They include our animal facilities, flow cytometry core facilities, microscopy and imaging, and molecular biology core facilities. I'm able to use those technical services in order to complete the work that is being sought by outside companies. Because we do have a couple fewer faculty members now than we had in the past couple of years, these cores do have extra labor resources."
Jelley-Gibbs said she already has secured one agreement to do contract work for a biotech company and is in negotiation with a second. She also said the institute has been approached by an academic researcher who wants to partner with Trudeau because he doesn't have the expertise and technicians in his lab to do a larger project.
"There has been quite a bit of interest even in the last week or two since I got the (TICRO) website up and running," Jelley-Gibbs said.
Trudeau officials consulted with their lawyers to insure the institute could take in revenue from outside sources and still maintain its nonprofit status. Jelley-Gibbs said TICRO is modeled largely after an organization called Jackson Research Laboratories, which she said is one of the largest suppliers of animal testing models for research labs, but still receives federal grants through the National Institutes of Health and retains its nonprofit status.
NIH funding is the biggest source of revenue for Trudeau's scientists. The loss of several key faculty in recent years has been a major hit for Trudeau's budget, as these scientists have typically taken their NIH funding with them when they've gone. Contract research will help create a new revenue stream for the institute, Jelley-Gibbs said.
"Revenue generated by all the cores and contract research at Trudeau certainly will help diversify the revenue that the institute has so we're not completely reliant on NIH funding and donations to conduct our academic research," she said.
In offering contract research services, the institute also hopes to develop research partnerships with biotech and pharmaceutical companies, and to help bring new therapeutics to patients safely and more efficiently.
"Our goal is to keep the integrity of the academic science at Trudeau where our science is driven by our own researchers and not to, for lack of a better word, sell out to biopharma and just churn out data for them," Jelley-Gibbs said. "We're really hoping to keep a high level of integrity with our research through this program."