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Gov’t unveils 3 initiatives to position Puerto Rico as a life sciences hub

The Puerto Rico Molecular Science Research Center will become home to three research initiatives created to position the island as a hub for the life sciences industry, looking to expand on its manufacturing capabilities.

During a news conference, Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi announced the start of construction of the Advancing Science and Technology Research and Entrepreneurship Innovation Center (ASTRE Center), following a $10 million grant from the Economic Development Administration – a bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce – and an additional $6 million in state funds, to serve as Puerto Rico’s first biotech startup incubator.

“We’re remodeling the fifth floor of these facilities to convert it into a business incubator space in which Puerto Rican scientists and researchers can develop and market their research projects, new treatments and medicines,” Pierluisi stated.

The governor also announced the creation of the University of Puerto Rico Incubator and Technology Transfer Center (UPRCITT) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which received an $8 million grant from the NIH, which the government of Puerto Rico will match with $2 million.

“In this Center, collaborative scientific research will be carried out by companies in multiple disciplines; it will be available to pharmaceutical companies, and will conduct research and development on vaccines, being the first of its kind in Puerto Rico,” Pierluisi explained.

The UPRCITT will be involved in establishing “world-class laboratories, fostering collaborations between biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies and UPR researchers, providing the university’s workforce, including its faculty and undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students,” he added.

The Center for Preclinical Studies rounds out the trio of initiatives, which will complete the trial phases in the development of treatments or medicines before commercialization. The center will span 40,000 square feet and will have the capacity to sustain up to 30 R&D projects simultaneously, which will be beneficial for local research and attracting companies to the island.

“These three centers will serve as a catalyst to achieve collaborations in the field of research, to continue promoting economic and industrial development, and to continue enriching the business and scientific ecosystem in Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean,” Pierluisi remarked.

“It’s the result of a thoughtful and concerted strategy to attract companies to Puerto Rico, particularly those in the pre-commercial stage and with innovation potential,” he emphasized. “This strategy takes advantage of the enormous potential we have to become a hub in the life sciences industry, which complements our manufacturing and biopharma ecosystem and puts us at the forefront of the future,” Pierluisi added.

Seeking sustainability
Manuel Cidre, the secretary of Puerto Rico’s Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC, in Spanish) said, “Traditionally, Puerto Rico was an extraordinary manufacturing hub where practically everything arrived canned, where plants were built and good wages earned, and [goods] were simply manufactured. We all grew spectacularly.”

“But we must ask ourselves if this is sustainable. This is essential in a world that competes with low costs, a global minimum tax, with federal regulations, with environmental regulations. So we must progress to the next level, and that next level is precisely to create valuable property in a sustainable economy, in a diversified economy, based on the knowledge economy,” Cidre stated.

“Today, contrary to the past, an emerging pharmaceutical industry can come to Puerto Rico, to this center, knock on the door, and find a laboratory for its research and development,” he added.

The Molecular Science Research Center is staffed by 250 UPR students and 47 researchers working on science projects that “represent economic development initiatives for the UPR,” UPR President Luis Ferrao said.

Eduardo Nicolau, executive director of the Molecular Sciences Research Center, said that researchers at the facility are not only from Puerto Rico but also from the U.S. mainland, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia, among others.

“All of us in this effort are seeking to transcend borders in research and innovation in favor of this mission of improving health and well-being,” Nicolau said, noting that some of the work involves nanotechnology, chemistry, bioscience, natural products and molecular cell biology, among others.

“We also promote the exchange of knowledge among universities from all over the world that converge in this center. Researchers who come to our center are attracted by our scientific infrastructure and our general infrastructure,” Nicolau explained.

“We integrate the best practices in science and … are able to advance in research whose axes, as you know, are Alzheimer’s and cancer, among other diseases or conditions, some of which are prevalent in Puerto Rico,” he said, emphasizing the center’s role in uniting academia, government and the private sector to advance initiatives.

Author Details
Author Details
Business reporter with 30 years of experience writing for weekly and daily newspapers, as well as trade publications in Puerto Rico. My list of former employers includes Caribbean Business, The San Juan Star, and the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, among others. My areas of expertise include telecommunications, technology, retail, agriculture, tourism, banking and most other segments of Puerto Rico’s economy.

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