LSSC Awards VAI Two Grants

    LANSING — The Van Andel Institute for Research and Education recently received two grants from the Life Sciences Steering Committee totaling $4.25 million.

    The grants to VAI were part of the first round of funding from the LSSC. In all, the committee awarded nearly $100 million to Michigan-based universities, research institutions and businesses for 63 projects.

    Michael Finney, vice president of emerging business sectors for the Michigan Economic Development Corp., said one VAI grant is for a project that will investigate the repair and replication of DNA. The grant is worth $427,000.

    The second grant of $3.75 million is for the Michigan Animal Model Consortium, a collaborative effort being done by the local institute, Wayne State University, the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.

    “They jointly submitted a proposal that has been commonly called the infrastructure proposal. The total value of that proposal is roughly $88 million over five years. After going through a comprehensive review process, $66 million was recommended for funding over the same five years,” said Finney, who is responsible for developing the life sciences, information technology and advanced manufacturing sectors in the state.

    Of that $66 million agreed upon for the consortium, the committee awarded $26 million of those funds in the first round of awards. Finney, who has more than 20 years experience in local government and the private sector, said the remaining $40 million will be distributed over the next three years.

    “The Van Andel Institute will essentially look to develop solutions for diseases based on models that are developed using animals,” he said.

    Finney added that the LSSC used a strict screening process to determine which projects were funded.

    “All of the proposals that were submitted went through a very comprehensive peer review process by nationally recognized scientists throughout the country,” said Finney. “The Van Andel Institute went through that type of review process. It’s modeled after the National Institute of Health review procedures.”

    Finney also told the Business Journal that the Washington Advisory Group, a noteworthy group of scientists, managed the state’s selection process.

    “They have, as principals in their organization, several members of the National Academy of Science,” he said. “It was a very, very comprehensive process. I really think that the Life Sciences Corridor Steering Committee picked a world-class outfit to manage the review process for us.”

    The 63 projects that shared the $100 million in grants competed with over 500 proposals that requested more than $600 million in funding. The awarded grants were for fiscal years 2000 and 2001, and were made over three categories: basic research, applied research and commercial and product development.

    “This is a tremendous leap forward for Michigan’s life science industry. This first allocation of Life Sciences Corridor funds will serve as a catalyst to grow and develop this burgeoning industry in our state,” said MEDC President and CEO Doug Rothwell.

    The 13-member LSSC, charged with making the final funding decisions, includes VAI Chairman and CEO David Van Andel.

    Over the next 20 years, the state will allocate $50 million annually to life sciences research. The money for the grants comes from the state’s portion of the national settlement with the tobacco companies.

    In addition, the MEDC announced that venture-capital deals totaled $12 million in the  last quarter of 2000. The healthcare and life sciences sector raised 40 percent of that total.

    “In order for life sciences to become a thriving industry, we need to strengthen the relationships between Michigan’s institutions of higher learning and the private sector,” said Rothwell. “These [grant] funds will help bring together our state’s public and private sectors in mutually beneficial partnerships.”

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