UMMS faculty receive UMass President awards for science and technology projects

July 30, 2013
UMass President Robert L. Caret

President Robert L. Caret announced nearly $830,000 in grants to faculty members from the President's Science and Technology Initiatives Fund to support six promising research projects. The projects range from creating a laboratory for urban coastal environmental science to expanding the University's ability to manufacture cutting-edge therapeutics for gene-therapy research. Four faculty members from UMass Medical School are among those who received grants.

The initiatives showcase a range of innovative research being undertaken by UMass faculty members that contribute to the growth of the commonwealth's economy, especially in the science and technology sectors, and that extend the boundaries of human knowledge. The grants provide seed funding to accelerate research activity across all five campuses and position researchers to attract larger investments from external sources to expand the scope of their projects.

Anastasia Khvorova, PhD, professor of molecular medicine, Melissa Moore, PhD, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, the Eleanor Eustis Farrington Chair in Cancer Research and professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology, and Celia Schiffer, PhD, professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology, received $100,000 in funding for their project Mass Drug Discovery & Development (MD3), a research center focused on creating a validation laboratory where early stage technologies can be tested and validated to speed commercialization and strengthen interaction between the Medical School and the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. It promises to bring to the public new and cost-effective diagnostics and therapeutics based on chemically defined entities, and transform what is traditionally an inefficient process of drug discovery and development. Additionally, MD3 would explore creation of coursework, degrees and certificate programs focused on educating the next generation of drug developers.

Mark Klempner, MD, executive vice chancellor for MassBiologics, received a grant of $185,000 for MassBiologics Gene Therapy Vector Manufacturing Center, a project that will expand the capabilities of MassBiologics to establish a global center of excellence for the manufacture of therapeutic vectors, a key translational resource for the Medical School and new area of biomanufacturing. It is expected to propel nearly a dozen gene-therapy projects at UMMS that are at a critical translational step toward becoming commercially available therapeutic products.

"At a time when federal research funding is becoming increasingly competitive, each of the projects funded this year directly support the state's Innovation Economy in strategic areas such as life sciences, defense, clean tech and Big Data," President Caret said. ``These funds provide the support faculty researchers need to spur partnerships with industry and to advance the research priorities of the University and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.''

This is the 10th year for the President's Science and Technology Initiatives Fund, which since 2004 has awarded $9.1 million to UMass researchers and, in turn, has helped to attract $213.5 million in research funding from outside sources.