Crain's Health Pulse: Medical schools put new spin on $500 million request

Texas and other states have gained attention in recent years for boosting their investments in recruiting prominent names in biomedical research, some of whom formerly conducted their research in New York. The Associated Medical Schools of New York has been calling on the state to adopt a similar strategy, without much success. Today, AMSNY is announcing a new investment plan it hopes will be more palatable, along with projections for the amount of money the program could generate.

The project would entail a $50 million annual commitment for 10 years from the state, which would be matched two-to-one by $100 million per year from the medical schools that receive the funding. Unlike last year’s bid by AMSNY, the $50 million from the state would not directly cover the salary of the star researcher being recruited. That would be covered by the school. Rather, state money would go toward setting up labs, hiring support staff and buying equipment.

“For every million dollars spent, a small company is being formed within the infrastructure of a medical school,” said Jo Wiederhorn, president and chief executive of AMSNY, which represents 16 private and public medical schools across the state.

Over a decade, the program, NY FIRST, would directly generate 4,000 to 5,000 jobs with average wages of $70,000, according to AMSNY’s projections. Products licensed from the labs such as medical devices and pills could create additional jobs and generate millions, said Wiederhorn. A similar program the state funded with $36 million between 2002 and 2009 had a seven-to-one return on investment, according to AMSNY.

State Sen. Martin Golden, R-Brooklyn, put pressure on Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker to address the issue during the joint legislative budget hearing last month.

“Texas, California and Massachusetts are eating our lunch, and so is Canada and other countries around the world,” he told the commissioner.

In response, Zucker noted that $5 million from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed $90 million breast cancer initiative would be put into a venture-capital fund for research.

Last year, Cuomo also announced $17.2 million for academic medical institutions to train people working on cutting-edge biomedical research through the Empire Clinical Research Investigator Program.

But the star researchers being poached from New York bring hefty federal funding with them, said Lee Goldman, executive vice president for health and biomedical sciences at Columbia University and chairman of the board of AMSNY.

“It’s not that the medical schools are doing badly,” said Goldman. “It’s that we are really well-conditioned salmon swimming successfully upstream.”