Remarks by Arden L. Bement, Jr., Director,
National Institute of Standards and Technology
Groundbreaking for the Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology II
September 25, 2003
Thank you, Jenny (Jenny Hunter-Cevera, UMBI president), and good afternoon to all of you. It's a pleasure to be here with this distinguished group of speakers and guests and to participate in the groundbreaking for this marvelous facility.
It is especially delightful to be here after persevering through the damage and disruptions wrought by Hurricane Isabel one week ago and the monsoon-like rains that followed a few days later.
Hurricane Isabel presented the destructive face of nature. But nature has many faces. And CARB-the Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology-focuses on channeling the constructive forces of nature and harnessing the intricate biological machinery that underlies life in all of its incredible forms.
The ability to tailor nature's molecular masterworks to address human needs begins with understanding of biological complexity. To a great degree, that is what CARB is all about.
Here, scientists from the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute and my organization-NIST-have made important contributions to our knowledge of protein structure and function.
Their work is leading to practical applications-the engineering of proteins to accomplish specific tasks in domains ranging from health care to enzymatic laundry care to drug design.
The anticipated bounty of biotechnology is vast. The challenges that stand in the way of realizing this bounty are considerable. But these challenges are surmountable.
Very few can be solved alone, however. Solutions to most will require partnerships and the convergence of the physical and biological sciences.
CARB provides both of these critical ingredients to progress.
At the time of its creation in the mid-1980s, CARB was the result of a future-looking partnership. The lineage of this partnership began with the philanthropy of a local family--the Gudelsky family, who donated 50 acres to Montgomery County for a medical-related project.
Montgomery County leaders were the catalysts that set in motion the forging of institutional collaborations between NIST and the University of Maryland.
NIST provided interim staff and laboratory space until the CARB facility was up and running in 1989. Now, CARB is staffed by an interactive team of both UMBI and NIST scientists, who are aided by an able cadre of students and post-doctoral fellows.
Today, this partnership enters a new stage-one that, I believe, will be even more dynamic and more productive than the first phase of the collaboration.
State funding of a $50 million expansion of CARB will enable significant increases in research and training. As important, CARB II will help NIST and UMBI to become more capable and more valuable partners to the still-emerging biotechnology industry.
Along with training a new generation of researchers and scientist entrepreneurs, it is in this realm of activity-technical outreach and knowledge transfer-where the seeds of our laboratory efforts will bear economic fruit.
Consider that Maryland is home to the nation's third largest cluster of biotechnology firms. This presents the CARB partnership with a tremendous opportunity to deliver essential technical assistance-measurement tools, data, research findings, and other support that the private sector needs to translate the promise of biotechnology into tangible products and processes.
That, after all, is a key motivation for state and local investment. An increasing flow of innovative, new products and processes will deliver benefits to consumers, create jobs, and drive economic growth.
Even in this age of information technology and virtual enterprises, technology development and transfer continue to be contact sports. Proximity to established and aspiring biotechnology firms will make it easier to build productive organizational linkages. It also will make it easier for CARB researchers to track the emerging industry's chief technical needs.
NIST's job is to build critical components of the technical infrastructure that U.S. industry needs to compete and to succeed. Our participation in CARB over the last 18 years has helped NIST to strengthen its technical expertise and capabilities in biotechnology and in health care overall. CARB opened a new window onto the biotechnology industry, providing another portal for assessing technical needs.
It helped us attract new staff scientists and post-doctoral researchers.
It was a stepping stone to new collaborations with the University of Maryland, including a just-begun joint effort focused on measurement-related issues critical to the manufacturing the nanotechnology products of the future.
And the CARB partnership provided impetus for new collaborations with the National Institutes of Health.
As the biotechnology acumen of the NIST laboratories has grown, we have developed new services tailored to the biotechnology industry, from tools to improve the accuracy of DNA analyses to new databases that are now widely used by biotech researchers.
At the same time, NIST's Advanced Technology Program has been providing essential, competitively awarded seed funding that has enabled companies to demonstrate the technical feasibility of budding biotechnologies. A few examples are gene chips, novel methods to screen for promising pharmaceutical compounds, and information technology for managing and mining ever-growing mountains of biomedical data.
To date, 28 Maryland companies have participated in projects funded by the NIST Advanced Technology Program. Twenty of these companies are small businesses, and most of the projects are focused on innovations in biotechnology and health care.
In all, the NIST investment in private-sector innovation in Maryland totals nearly $40 million.
Given our growing emphasis on supporting the advance and maturation of biotechnology, one can correctly conclude that we, at NIST, are eager to advance into the next phase of the CARB collaboration.
We are committed to being a strong and responsive partner to the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute.
We are equally committed to helping the state's biotechnology industry grow, compete, and prosper in the years and decades ahead.
Finally, I want to express NIST's gratitude to the state for its investment in the CARB expansion and to Montgomery County for making CARB happen in the first place.