Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council (STAC)

Making Innovation Central to Rhode Island's Future Gina M. Raimondo, Governor

Statewide Research Alliance Bolstered by Support from Brown, URI

Published on May 1, 2008

Catalytic investment by state‚??s top research institutions will drive next phase of development for STAC‚??s Rhode Island Research Alliance program

The Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council (STAC) today presented its plans for expanding the Rhode Island Research Alliance and announced that Brown University and the University of Rhode Island (URI) both will contribute $25,000 to support the next phase of Research Alliance activity. 

The Research Alliance was launched by STAC in 2006 to promote collaboration across the state‚??s research institutions, attract additional federal R&D investment into Rhode Island, and enhance the state‚??s R&D-related economic development opportunities.

The investments from Brown and URI will facilitate the development of an engagement plan that assesses the best opportunities for collaboration among the state‚??s major research organizations and deepens support for the Alliance among participating institutions.  The Alliance will also expand its activities to begin assisting with the preparation of collaborative proposals to major funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and support the development and marketing of shared laboratory facilities.

Brown and URI will serve as the first charter members in the Alliance, which will add additional members over the coming months.

‚??STAC and the Research Alliance have made great progress in strengthening connections across the state‚??s research institutions and in increasing Rhode Island‚??s competitiveness as these institutions seek additional federal funding,‚?Ě says STAC co-chair Clyde Briant, Vice President for Research at Brown University. ‚??As we move forward, a stronger statewide Research Alliance will play an important role in building collaborative programs and relationships across all of the state‚??s major research-producing organizations.  For Rhode Island, this level of cooperation and collaboration will be critical to leveraging the state‚??s resources to build a thriving research and development enterprise in the state.‚?Ě

The Alliance will also take a more active role in supporting the EPSCoR/IDeA programs that are awarded to Rhode Island. The National Institutes of Health IDeA programs have brought in approximately $90 million in BRIN/INBRE and COBRE awards, and the NSF EPSCoR program has received $6.75 million.  It also has recently been announced that Rhode Island researchers will receive a Department of Defense DEPSCoR award. Strengthening these programs and the state‚??s ability to receive follow-on awards is an important pathway toward increasing Rhode Island‚??s research capacity. STAC currently provides executive leadership for the program and moving forward the Alliance will create the basis for more centralized EPSCoR/IDeA functions within the state.

‚??The Research Alliance has an important role to play in Rhode Island‚??s effort to create a stronger, knowledge-based economy,‚?Ě says Peter Alfonso, Vice President for Research and Economic Development at the University of Rhode Island.  ‚??Working together, Alliance partners such as Brown and URI can better monitor emerging opportunities and make stronger recommendations to state leadership on policies and programs that support research, encourage collaboration and increase our funding competitiveness.‚?Ě

In addition to moving forward with an engagement plan and new activities, the Alliance will continue to build momentum with its current programs, including the successful Collaborative Research Award program. The program is designed to support collaborative research projects well positioned to attract significant federal investment.

In 2007, the program awarded nearly $1.5 million to 32 scientists from 15 research institutions. This year, the awards will support nine projects, representing 24 scientists from 14 research organizations across Rhode Island. 2008 awardees included a project to develop new ways to treat complicated, at-risk pregnancies; efforts to develop new medicines for breast cancer, asthma and heart failure; deployment of technologies that assist police in obtaining higher quality evidence from low resolution video; and a project to develop a fast and inexpensive test for anemia, among others.

Evidence of the program‚??s success came in August 2007 when one winning team from 2007, a collaboration between Brown University and Rhode Island College, received a $1.4-million grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue their work on testicular cancer‚??an amount nearly equal in dollars to the entire cost of the annual grant program.

In May 2008, the Alliance will also debut a new web portal and portfolio of online tools that contain the state‚??s first comprehensive cataloguing of shared equipment and facilities and a ‚??one stop‚?Ě view of activity happening across the state‚??s research community.

STAC has petitioned the state to renew its support for Alliance activities, including a $1.5-million budget allocation in FY09 to support the Collaborative Research Award program.

‚??Inter-institutional collaboration is increasingly critical to receiving a successful federal funding award.  Having an organization such as the Research Alliance working to deepen the connectivity among Rhode Island researchers will help researchers such as myself both discover new collaborations and strengthen fruitful collaborations that are already established,‚?Ě says James F. Padbury, Program Director, COBRE for Perinatal Biology at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island.

Plans for Alliance expansion were first launched in STAC‚??s 2008 annual report and recommendations.  The Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (RIEDC) also called for an expansion of the Research Alliance in its 2008 Economic Growth Plan. The plan proposed a series of activities designed to create more, higher wage jobs for Rhode Islanders.

‚??Building a strong and sustainable statewide Research Alliance is vitally important to our state‚??s economy and central to our plan for growing more high wage jobs for Rhode Islanders,‚?Ě says Saul Kaplan, RIEDC executive director and STAC member.

Kaplan continues, ‚??More than 20,000 people are employed in R&D-related positions in Rhode Island, 118 companies are directly engaged in R&D pursuits, and there are many academic and healthcare institutions engaged in research activity. In addition to creating high-wage jobs and spurring new company creation, these organizations educate the state‚??s next generation of scientists and engineers and help prepare our workforce for jobs of the future.‚?Ě

The Research Alliance will immediately begin work on the assessment and engagement plan with a goal of having the plan completed this fall.  In the interim, the Alliance will remain focused on ongoing activities, including its annual Collaborative Research Symposium on June 3, 2008.

Why Rhode Island Needs a Strong Research Alliance

One very important indicator of R&D activity and capacity is federal funding levels. In 2006, Rhode Island institutions received $130.8 million in funds from the NIH and $37.4 million from NSF. Between 2002 and 2006 NIH funding in Rhode Island grew 13.6 percent.  While this growth is significant, other New England states saw stronger growth. The Research Alliance will strengthen connections across the state‚??s research institutions and increase Rhode Island‚??s competitiveness as it seeks additional federal funding.

In addition, the Research Alliance also brings greater connectivity to the state‚??s existing collaborative research efforts.  This includes the NSF‚??s EPSCoR program, the NIH‚??s IDeA programs in the COBRE and INBRE networks, and the DOD‚??s DEPSCoR program all of which are contingent upon collaboration.  With our unique ecosystem, Rhode Island is positioned to leverage its small size and already well-developed relationships to bring together government, academia and industry in new, positive and creative ways.  All of this collaborative activity should further the growth of the knowledge economy in the state and enhance the growth and retention of companies.

About the Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council

The Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council (STAC) was created in 2005 and sustained by legislative statute in 2006 with the mission to make innovation central to the state's leadership agenda.  STAC is charged with recommending and implementing policies and practices that 1) support the state's research and development activity; 2) promote collaboration across institutions; 3) encourage entrepreneurship and new company creation; and 4) enable all Rhode Island organizations, both public and private, to innovate.

STAC aims to assist Rhode Island's leadership in creating an innovation economy that will grow higher wage jobs and address critical needs in areas such as healthcare, education and public safety.

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