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UMass Amherst's $95M Life Sciences Grant Described As 'Game Changer'

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As University of Massachusetts officials lobby for more state aid to hold down student tuition and fees, the Patrick administration on Thursday delivered $95 million in grants to UMass Amherst to fund life sciences projects in western Massachusetts.

The Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute, a joint venture of Baystate Medical Center in Springfield and UMass Amherst, will also be awarded a $5.5 million grant during an early afternoon press conference at the Amherst campus attended by Gov. Deval Patrick and Massachusetts Life Sciences Center officials.

The grants are authorized under the state’s $1 billion life sciences law approved in 2008. That law included language directing that that not less than $95 million shall be expended for the design, construction, development and related infrastructure improvements of a life science laboratory research center complex at UMass Amherst. The law included a host of other funding earmarks in a $500 million Massachusetts Life Sciences Investment Fund.

“Our Life Sciences strategy is about choosing to shape our future — investing today to leave a better Commonwealth for the next generation,” Patrick said in a statement regarding the announcement. “These investments support the kind of innovation that propels our economy forward and prepares our citizens for the 21st century global marketplace.”

In his own statement, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Springfield) said the grants “can be game changers for the life sciences and biotechnology communities in western Massachusetts.”

The grants will support three new UMass Amherst centers: a Biosensors and Big Data Center, a Healthcare Informatics and Technology Innovation Center and a Models to Medicine Center. The money will pay for construction and equipment at the $157 million life sciences lab that will house the new centers.

A goal, supporters say, is to partner with area life sciences and precision manufacturing companies on products and services such as wearable biosensors capable of continuously analyzing patient data, the development of compounds that can fight infections in new ways, or the use of protein research to develop new therapies.

The PVLSI grant will “strengthen the region’s leadership in the expanding field of bioinformatics,” according to the Patrick administration, and will build on a $4.5 million grant recently awarded to the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center in Holyoke.

In a statement, UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said the grant “positions us for new directions in translational research and for increased engagement with industry and other educational institutions in western Massachusetts and throughout the Commonwealth. UMass is committed to growing these relationships to advance economic development as part of our land grant mission.”

UMass officials have spent the spring lobbying the Legislature to back a major increase in state support for the university and promising to freeze student tuition and fees for two years if satisfied that the university is on track for a 50-50 split between funding supported by taxpayers through the state budget and funding supplied by students and their families.

A conference committee negotiating a final budget met for the first time Thursday. The House budget includes enough funding to achieve the split in two years; the Senate budget allocated $24 million less for UMass in fiscal 2014.

This program aired on June 6, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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