President's Blog

Mason a pivotal player in region’s biohealth objectives

Prof. Stephen Fuller‘s influential roadmap for Greater Washington highlights “Biological and Health Tech Services” as one of the seven strategic clusters that will drive our region’s economic prosperity in the foreseeable future.  As a university committed to being an economic engine for our region, Mason is doing its share in the quest to become one of the top three biohealth hubs in the country by 2023–a shared goal set forth by industry, government, and academic leaders.

Washington’s competitiveness in biohealth was the primary topic at last month’s “Strengthening the University-Corporate Connection – Biotech and Beyond” event hosted by MedImmune, where I participated as a panelist with University of Maryland-Baltimore President Jay A. Perman and University of Maryland-College Park President Wallace D. Loh. Brian Fitzgerald, CEO of the Business-Higher Education Forum, served as moderator.

Here are a few of the many points I made about how Mason can help our region achieve this biohealth goal:

• Mason is a founding partner in the Commonwealth’s $28 million economic development initiative to create the Genomic and Bioinformatics Research Institute (GBRI). GBRI will be located on the campus of the Inova Center for Personalized Health on Gallows Road and is a great example of university-industry collaboration focused on driving innovation.

• We also work closely with partners like Prince William Economic Development to create and incubate biotech companies. Ceres Nanosciences, a Mason spin-off, licensed Nanotrap particles patented by Mason scientists Lance Liotta and Alessandra Luchini in Mason’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine.

• In 2016, we launched the Institute for Biohealth Innovation to bring together faculty and student researchers across our colleges and schools to support research central to promoting health and wellness. This makes it easier for partners outside of the university to connect with our researchers, regardless of disciplinary home.

• In the last 10 years, Mason has added three new state-of-the-art facilities devoted to biohealth research and education, including the Peterson Family Health Sciences building that houses faculty and students in our College of Health and Human Services, bioengineering faculty and students from our Volgenau School of Engineering, and our NIH-funded Biomedical Research Laboratory, one of only 13 biocontainment laboratories in the nation.

• Mason remains deeply committed to bringing groups together to address pressing health and wellness challenges. Just last month, we convened a group of more than 300 regional leaders and faculty to develop strategies to combat the opioid epidemic. Former Virginia Secretary for Health and Human Resources, Dr. Bill Hazel, joined Mason this year to lead this and other strategic biohealth initiatives.

Our region must unite to facilitate more strategic and cohesive interactions with industry, with funding agencies – and with each other – to maximize our biohealth capabilities.

I applaud the efforts of Rich Bendis, president and CEO of BioHealth Innovation, Inc.; Jeff Gallagher, CEO of Virginia Biotechnology Association; MedImmune; and so many others who are working together to lead this effort.