UPR Molecular Science Building was Highlighted by Caribbean Business

10/14/ 2013

Caribbean Business just highlighted the UPR Molecular Science Building under the title “UPR’s Molecular Sciences Building: The spark that can restart Puerto Rico’s economy”

To illustrate the vital importance of University of Puerto Rico’s Molecular Sciences Building to the local economy, UPR President José A. Lasalde offered this related anecdote: “Last January we had a visit from the research & development department of the multinational biopharmaceutical company. The person who directs the part of the recombinant protein expressions for the company said, ‘If a couple of years ago we knew you had these facilities here [on the island], we would have built another plant in Puerto Rico.’”

A joint project of the UPR’s Río Piedras and Medical Sciences campuses in San Juan, the $72 million, 153,000-squarefoot, eight-floor Molecular Sciences Building (MSB) is centered between both institutions. The MSB represents a solid promise for a definitive boost to the local economy through its insertion into the world’s knowledge-based markets, production of patents and commercialization of products that resulted from scientific work done within its glass walls.

“The UPR has been backward for more than two decades, because there never was an office for technology transfers, innovation and commercialization,” stated Lasalde, a molecular biologist and a principle mastermind behind the project. “The island’s economic growth is going to depend on that type of operation. The UPR [currently] only reaches the level of patent making—we have more than a 100—but we don’t license and we don’t commercialize. This building exists for those purposes, and we just opened an office [directed by attorney Salvatore Cazale] for that.

“There is space for start-up companies, and many of our researchers are applying for small business and innovation grants to commercialize intellectual property. We have generated patents, but didn’t have a place or the know-how to [commercialize them]. Now we have the entire infrastructure, all the resources, all the connections. We have to go all the way with this,” Lasalde emphasized.

If the opportunities MSB represents for the local economy are to be taken seriously, they are only a part of the equation, because the building, with its top-level equipment for scientific research, some unique in the hemisphere, is a lighthouse from which Puerto Rico could contribute to the planet’s health.

In 2003, a joint committee was formed by scientists from the UPR’s Río Piedras and Medical Sciences campuses. In 2004, they presented the concept of what would become the MSB to the National Institutes of Health, the National Center for Research Resources and the UPR’s administration. In May 2004, construction of the building began.

The MSB’s mission is to produce a significant increase in competitively funded scientific research at the UPR. It is expected to generate an open, multidisciplinary environment designed to meet the needs of cutting-edge research in Puerto Rico for the next 25 years. This climate is expected to strengthen the research infrastructure and discipline as the foundation for a knowledgebased economy, bridging basic and clinical research disciplines, developing research centers recognized worldwide, building partnerships and collaboration with industry, and enhancing the UPR’s intellectual property portfolio and the commercialization of research inventions in Puerto Rico.

The building includes four main facilities: Neuroplasticity, where the scientific work focuses on degenerative diseases of nervous systems; Nanobiotechnology, which involves the medical application of structures smaller than microscopic dimensions; a Vivarium for animal or plant research (to be finished next year), which will contain about 24,000 transgenic animals (creatures treated genetically to express human pathologies), mainly small rodents, but also worms, flies and snails; and the Technology Office for tech transfers, innovation and commercialization.

The MSB includes about 300 people—researchers, graduate, undergraduate and 20 postdoctoral students, lab technicians and others related to the research. They take various projects from the investigator’s quest to its clinical applicability. From spinal-cord regeneration to making better medications for Alzheimer’s disease, there is an immense variety of important projects taking place at the MSB.

“The UPR has to stay on this path,” Lasalde said. “This is necessary, if we want to improve the economy, and I think biopharma companies are getting the messages loud and clear, and uniting with us.”