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$26 million medical research facility coming to Erie

Posted by Joe Bell on September 11, 2019
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$26 million medical research facility coming to Erie

By Jim Martin – Erie Times-News

Posted Sep 3, 2019 at 2:58 PM Updated Sep 4, 2019 at 5:35 AM

The institute is expected to create up to 200 jobs and bring $50 million in research funds to Erie over the next 10 years.

When the Erie Community Foundation announced a new blueprint for investment and philanthropy nearly a year ago, President Mike Batchelor said the organization was looking for a project that would improve the economy and lift the community.

He’s confident that they found it.

While about 100 people looked on Tuesday afternoon, Batchelor announced that the Community Foundation has invested $6 million to help fund a $26 million medical research center that’s expected to create up to 200 jobs and bring up to $50 million in medical research funding to Erie over the next 10 years.

Batchelor said the expansion of the Pittsburgh-based Magee Womens Research Institute to Erie and the creation of a related biomedical lab at Penn State Behrend has the potential to create a new sector of the local economy.

But the benefits don’t end there, he said.

In short, this expansion of the nation’s largest women’s health institute is expected to improve the health of women in the region over time, create jobs paying an average of $70,000 a year, produce spinoff benefits as the result of a partnership with Behrend and begin funneling millions of dollars in research money to Erie each year.

“It checks all the boxes,” Batchelor said.

Project highlights

Some details about the Magee Womens Research Institute coming to Erie:

  • This will mark the first time Magee has expanded beyond Pittsburgh.
  • Because Erie is home to multiple generations of families, genomic studies and clinical trials can improve and target cancer treatments for all residents.
  • Fifty new jobs are forecast by year 5 and 195 jobs by year 10.
  • Salaries will range from $40,000 to $200,000.
  • Federal research dollars are expected to be $15 million in the first five years and $50 million by year 10.

Source: Erie Community Foundation

In addition to the $6 million grant from the Community Foundation, $5 million each will be invested by UPMC, Penn State, Hamot Health Foundation and Magee Womens Research Institute and Foundation.

Initially, MWRI-Erie will be located inside 3,500 square feet of unused space inside Magee-Womens UPMC Hamot at 118 E. Second St. Construction there is expected to begin immediately, said Charles “Boo” Hagerty, chief development officer of the Hamot Health Foundation.

Eventually, MWRI-Erie, the first Magee Womens Research Institute located outside of Pittsburgh, will be moved to its own location on the UPMC campus in Erie, he said.

The expansion will bring expertise and clinical trials in areas of research that are expected to include reproductive development, pregnancy, and newborn medicine, infectious disease, gynecology, reproductive endocrinology, women’s cancers and women’s wellness.

The choice of Erie was not random.

It was about two years ago, Hagerty said, that Robert Edwards, M.D., chairman of gynecology and reproductive services at UPMC, said he would like to “take research to another level in Erie.”

“This region of 13 counties that Hamot serves has a large pool of multigenerational women,” Hagerty said. “They realized Erie could bring a lot to a national and international research database. Hamot could become a major hub to start collecting data.”

One of the first steps on that path will be the creation of what’s being called a biobank, which will be built on the collection of physical samples and information from each birth at Magee-Womens, UPMC Hamot.

“We are going to begin to collect the biological data of births here at Hamot,” Hagerty said, explaining samples of blood, umbilical cords and placentas from Hamot births will all be saved.

“We will begin to data-mine all information from the births at Hamot,” he said. “That is 2,800 births a year. We will be able to use that data and look at hundreds of different markers. What is connected to ovarian cancer? What is connected to heart disease?”

The Community Foundation grant and investment from Behrend will establish an affiliated research lab at Behrend’s Knowledge Park where faculty members and other researchers can develop and commercialize diagnostic tests, surgical devices and startup ventures.

As part of that effort, Behrend is developing new academic programs in biomedical engineering and biochemistry.

“It’s important for Magee to have a strong research partner and that’s what we bring to the table,” said Ralph Ford, chancellor at Penn State Behrend. “It’s a win-win for all of us.”

Not only will the $1 million laboratory, to be located in the Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation Center, provide opportunities for students and faculty, but any jointly developed technology will belong to the industry partner under the terms of Penn State’s industry-friendly policy.

“We believe there is a whole new economy that will come out of this,” Ford said. “And we will have the ability to attract new students and new faculty in whole new areas.”

Ford said he thinks the importance of the research institute can be far-reaching, both for the employment possibilities and for its ability to help transform Erie into a center for medical research.

“I don’t think I have seen anything this large that can have this sort of impact,” he said. “You are taking an established center and bringing it to Erie. One of the things we really need to change the game on in Erie is research funding. This is as big to me as anything I’ve seen, if not bigger.”

The project also meshes with a recent assessment of Erie’s potential commissioned by the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership.

That analysis, conducted by Atlanta-based Garner Economics, identified Erie County as an ideal location for life-science activity, including clinical research and development, pharmaceutical operations, medical device manufacturing, medical and diagnostic laboratories, as well as related consulting firms.

“It’s great. It’s good news,” for the economy, said Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper. But it has the potential to be even better news for the health of the women and children of the Erie community.

David Gibbons, president of UPMC Hamot, offered some perspective on the impact that the Magee facility is likely to have.

It’s inevitable, he said, that important discoveries and innovations in the world of medicine will be made in Erie.

“This isn’t just going to change the economy,” Hagerty said. “This will have a global impact. Erie is going to be on the map.”

Hagerty said it will likely be several years before a freestanding building will be built, but he expects a preliminary version of the research institute to take shape quickly.

“I would say we will have our biobank team hired and ready to go by the end of the year,” he said. “And in 2020, we will be cutting the ribbon on a research facility inside Hamot. Things are going to move very rapidly. It’s incumbent on us to be very mindful that our donors are entrusting us to get moving.”

Jim Martin can be reached at 870-1668 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ETNMartin.

 

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