By Todd Cohen
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — An independent research institute the chemical industry launched in the region 30 years ago now wants to create a research campus to bridge the gap between basic-science research at the Triangle’s three major universities and applied-science research conducted by bioscience companies.
CIIT Centers for Health Research in Research Triangle Park already has raised $2.3 million in the quiet phase of a campaign to raise $100 million in endowment for the campus, which would include a “centerpiece research institute” and ultimately could cost $500 million.
The campus would link academic and corporate research, spur the development of marketable products, and generate new jobs and business for the region, says William F. Greenlee, president and CEO of CIIT Centers for Health Research.
The idea for the new campus marks a strategic shift from the idea underlying the creation four decades ago of Research Triangle Park, which business, academic and government leaders envisioned as a home for companies that would build on research conducted at Duke University in Durham, N.C. State University in Raleigh, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“We have here in Research Triangle Park a real estate model where companies are located on large sites, but we have not been as effective as we can be in drawing them together in synergistic ways,” Greenlee says.
He says the proposed new campus, to be located on a 56-acre site owned by CIIT, would put academic and corporate researchers in closer proximity to one another than does Research Triangle Park.
“You have to bring multiple disciplines together,” he says.
A similar initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge represents a partnership among MIT, Harvard Medical School, five Harvard hospitals and two independent research institutes.
The two independent institutes at the MIT campus, Greenlee says, do not face the bureaucratic hurdles that can slow the development of university research partnerships with business.
Created by the chemical industry to conduct research on the potential impact on humans of exposure to chemicals in the environment, CIIT over the past 30 years represents an investment of $350 million by the industry and $50 million from private foundations and federal contracts and grants, Greenlee says.
With an annual budget of $21 million, CIIT employs 100 full-time employees and 25 post-doctoral fellows, has generated over 3,000 publications, and has employed nearly 100 graduate students who have earned their doctoral degrees while working at CIIT, and nearly 400 post-doctoral fellows.
In a move that will make CIIT fully independent, Greenlee says, the chemical industry has agreed to invest $40 million over three years in CIIT, which expects to generate at least $25 million in additional grants and contracts over the period.
Creating a “seamless integration between basic and applied bioscience,” Greenlee says, requires making it easier for people from universities and bioscience firms to share information and ideas every day.
“People have to be able to bump elbows,” he says, “and in the park that’s a very difficult thing.”