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‘Stimulus package’ grants saving jobs, building infrastructure, advancing research at Yale

Medicine@Yale, 2010 - Jan Feb


The $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), colloquially known as “the stimulus package,” is helping to construct and repair roads and bridges, weatherize buildings, and create a new energy infrastructure based on renewable resources.

But ARRA is also helping to build biomedical knowledge at Yale, and creating or saving American jobs in the bargain.

At press time, Yale University as a whole had received $121.6 million in ARRA grants, $101.5 million of which was awarded to the School of Medicine for research during the next two fiscal years.

During the spring and early summer of 2009, medical school faculty and staff submitted more than 775 applications for ARRA grants, a full 25 percent of which were funded. In addition to 200 awards already approved, another 41 proposals totaling $52 million for construction projects and high-end instrumentation are still under review.

As the largest employer in New Haven and the third largest employer in Connecticut, Yale is a major contributor to the Connecticut economy. According to the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, salaries, wages, and benefits paid by Yale contributed $1.3 billion to the Connecticut economy in 2007.

Medical school scientists are already putting ARRA funds—and Connecticut’s citizens—to work, beefing up research programs in areas as diverse as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, addiction, and preventing suicide among adolescents.

Moreover, in recent years, discoveries by scientists at the School of Medicine have fueled a growing biotech industry in the New Haven area, which itself employs approximately 1,400 people. ARRA funding will provide further momentum to this trend by helping Yale researchers to commercialize technologies and stimulate investments to start new companies by establishing “proofs of concept” for early-stage treatments.

For example, Stephen M. Strittmatter, Ph.D., Vincent Coates Professor of Neurology and professor of neurobiology, received $481,000 in ARRA funds for his research on repairing injuries of the brain and spinal cord. Strittmatter recently helped to found Axerion, a new company that is developing drugs based on Strittmatter’s work. Within the next six months, New Haven-based Axerion plans to hire as many as 20 researchers and managers.

Likewise, a $331,000 ARRA grant to Peter M. Glazer, M.D., Ph.D., the Robert E. Hunter Professor of Therapeutic Radiology and professor of genetics, will help him to pursue an exciting new approach to treating disease using a genetic “fix-it kit” that can provide a sustained cure for diseases such as sickle-cell anemia, HIV/AIDS, and many cancers. A local start-up company, Helix Therapeutics, has licensed patents for Glazer’s technology from Yale, and last year secured its first $965,000 of seed capital from the state of Connecticut and other investors to hire scientists and begin research operations.

Six of the largest grants, made through the NIH’s ARRA-funded Grand Opportunities (GO) program, are based around the Yale Center for Genome Analysis, which will be up and running on Yale’s West Campus by the end of 2009 (see related story).

“The medical school’s impressive success rate in ARRA applications is a testament to the very high caliber of science conducted at Yale,” says Dean Robert J. Alpern, M.D., “and also to the phenomenal energy of our investigators and their research and administrative teams.”

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