FARMINGTON — Walking through the University of Connecticut Health Center campus Tuesday, George Karsanow, the health center's director of construction, pointed out markers of progress.
The 307,000-square-foot ambulatory care building is scheduled to be completed by fall 2014. The new tower for the hospital — which will include more than 160 new beds, a new emergency department and a new operating room — is on schedule to be done by 2016.
And nearby, the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, under construction and more than a year from completion, already has hired about 70 people.
That all these projects are on pace is important: The state has put a lot of money into them. The various UConn Health Center construction projects are part of the state's $864 million Bioscience Connecticut Initiative. To entice the Maine-based Jackson Laboratory to build a genetics research facility at the UConn Health Center campus, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy pushed the state to lend Jackson $291 million.
"We are on the bioscience map in a big way," Malloy said Tuesday, citing the work going on at UConn, the progress Jackson is making, as well as research at Yale, Wesleyan and various independent startup companies.
The next challenge, Malloy said, is to make sure that the state can take advantage of the innovations that come out of all this research. The Bioscience Innovation Act, which Malloy is scheduled to sign Wednesday, is designed to help in that regard. It will fund $200 million to various bioscience projects over the next 10 years, beginning next year.
"What we're trying to do is capitalize on existing strength in bioscience in Connecticut and build on that," he said.
There will be a lot of great ideas coming out of the universities and private sector in the next several years, he said. The trick will be bringing them to market.
"If you're at MIT, Harvard or any major academic institution, there are going to be people knocking on your door, trying to get your idea into a bottle," Malloy said. "And that's what we're trying to do."
An advisory committee will choose the projects that the Bioscience Innovation Act will fund — awarding $10 million the first two years, $15 million for the third and fourth years, and $25 million for years five through 10, to projects that show commercial promise.
Anyone, from individuals and small independent companies to universities in Connecticut, will be able to compete for the funds. It's the kind of commitment, said Michael Hyde, vice president of Jackson, that has helped Jackson recruit some of the top scientists from around the world. About 50 of the people the company has hired are already doing research in temporary space on the UConn Health Center campus. The company has also leased some lab space from the university.
In July, UConn and Jackson Laboratory made their first joint academic appointment: Dr. Reinhard Laubenbacher was hired as the co-director of the health center's new Center for Quantitative Medicine. Over the next several years, the two institutions expect to bring in nine more joint recruits.
Frank Torti, the health center's vice president of health affairs, said Tuesday that the new facilities and renovations will also help attract some of the best research talent to UConn. Physical space can affect how scientists work together, he said.
Torti said several floors of laboratories on the campus are being renovated and redesigned to cut down on closed spaces. That, he said, will encourage more conversations among the scientists. Chance encounters and casual conversations, he said, are often more conducive to innovations than formal meetings.
"We think these informal settings are where the creativity happens," Torti said.
Follow this link to read William Weir's original article and view a slideshow of related pictures at the Hartford Courant.