State, Trudeau Institute, Clarkson sign partnership

LAKE PLACID – Trudeau Institute and Clarkson University will team up to create a “world-class” biotechnology research and development enterprise that will stabilize and save jobs at the Saranac Lake-based nonprofit research center, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday.

Cuomo said the $35 million state-funded deal will attract new investment, help grow a nascent biotech cluster in Saranac Lake and bring hundreds of new jobs to the North Country.

The deal comes after what’s been a challenging last few years for Trudeau that included the potential relocation of the institute to a research park in Florida, budget cuts, layoffs, the loss of well-funded faculty and the erosion of the institute’s endowment.

“We were in danger of losing Trudeau,” Cuomo said at a press conference at the Lake Placid Conference Center. “About 80 jobs were currently at Trudeau, and we were in danger of losing all 80. Trudeau was going to close down, pack up and move on. That would have been an economic tragedy for the 80 jobs. It would have also taken a special part of the North Country which would have been gone.”

“Sometimes, out of crisis comes opportunity,” Cuomo added. “We took the Trudeau closing as the opportunity to find a different relationship and a different synergy with Trudeau and a different business model, which we found.”

A press release from the governor’s office says the state will invest $35 million over five years to support research and development efforts between Clarkson and Trudeau, including establishing and coordinating scientific research and expanding education and technology-based economic development. That will include research into the use of fine particles for medicine, pharmacy, biotech, nanotech and bioengineering.

The governor said the partnership will bring together Trudeau’s expertise in basic, medical and infectious disease research with Clarkson’s mastery of high-tech and engineering research.

“We’re going to keep the 80 jobs, and we believe we’ll create hundreds of jobs in this new institution, which will be the marriage of Clarkson and Trudeau,” Cuomo said.

The institute, which had as many as 130 employees just four years ago, has been one of the Tri-Lakes region’s top private employers for decades and is also a key cultural landmark in the village. Its predecessor, the Saranac Laboratory, was first established by pioneering tuberculosis researcher and physician Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau, who later served as the village’s first mayor.

But Trudeau Institute has been clouded by turmoil over the last few years. Top executives and a small group of Trudeau scientists and board members had worked aggressively and in secret to relocate the facility as early as 2008. Rumors that the institute might move began to circulate in 2010. Trudeau’s board ultimately voted to stay in Saranac Lake, but the institute then lost several top administrators and some of its well-funded research teams.

State Sen. Betty Little said she made Cuomo aware of the troubles at Trudeau even before he took office in January 2011.

“I called him for the first time, I think it was after the November election, to tell him that I was really concerned about Trudeau, that there was a group that was trying to move Trudeau to another state and was getting offered all kinds of money to go to the other state,” Little said. “The governor called the chairman of the (Trudeau) board, Ben Brewster at the time, and he has been there with us right through this whole thing to help us find the right road and the way to help Trudeau grow.”

“I remember it very well because it was one of the first situations presented me where it was really a major problem with dramatic consequences, and it was a small taste of what the job was going to be like,” Cuomo told reporters following Wednesday’s event. “I’ve been working on the project literally since before I took office, and there’s been a number of fits and starts. We would go through a period where it was stabilized and Trudeau was going to stay. Then, a few months later, there would be another rumor, and we’d try to track that down. But it’s been clear that their business model hasn’t worked for a number of years, so we needed a different business model.”

At a smaller ceremony following Cuomo’s press conference, a memorandum of understanding formalizing the agreement was signed by Empire State Development President and CEO Ken Adams, Clarkson University President Tony Collins and Trudeau President, Director and CEO Ronald Goldfarb. The state will provide $35 million over five years, including a $10 million infusion in the current fiscal year, Adams said.

“The state’s investment will build the capabilities of both organizations to build their extensive academic, clinical, federal and corporate networks, to expand translational research, support the North Country’s emerging biotech cluster and take products from the laboratory and the clinic into commercialization, all of which has the potential to create high-paying jobs right here in the North Country,” Adams said.

Goldfarb said the money will allow faculty at each institution to work together on new projects and generate seed funding that will be used to go after large grants. The money will also be used to pursue clinical trials and commercialize each institute’s research.

“The beauty of this is that it adds an extra dimension to each party,” Goldfarb said. “Not only do we have synergy of the basic science approaches, but how we can commercialize things and extend it to the clinic as well is truly unique. I do not think we could have possibly found a better partner.”

“When we first thought about this, both of us kind of scratched our heads,” Collins said. “The further we went, the more excited we got. Now we recognize that not only can we meld our faculties, but also one of the other strengths that Clarkson brings is the capacity to commercialize. On our campus in the last three or four years, we’ve grown about 60 companies. We understand how to drive the products of fundamental research and development into commercial space, how to translate that research.”

Collins said he’s confident the collaboration “is going to grow a biotech cluster in this region of the North Country that is going to be the envy of the nation.”

Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau, a Clarkson graduate, called Cuomo’s announcement “tremendously exciting.” Coupled with the governor’s endorsement of the two hotel projects in the village, he said it was “a magnificent day for Saranac Lake.

“I think I’m going to celebrate a little tonight,” he said.

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or