UB Honors Pataki, Welcomes New Bioinformatics Director

Buffalo, NY – Governor George Pataki and two leading technology executives were honored Thursday by UB for establishing Buffalo's Center of Excellence in Bioinfomatics. Hewlett Packard President Michael Cappelas and Veridian Chief Executive David Langstaff shared this year's "Igniting Ideas Award." Also sharing praise at the event was Dr. Jeffrey Skolnick, the world-renowned scientist recruited to head the new Bioinfomatics Center.

So far, industry, government and private partners have pledged more than $200 million toward this high tech idea of Bioinfomatics The rapidly emerging industry uses super computing to develop new diagnostic and drug therapies.

Pataki says the $50 million dollars originally promised for Buffalo's Center of Excellence is still in place in his pending budget. UB Provost Elizabeth Capaldi was among those quick to give Pataki credit for spearheading the collaborative venture.

"What we've all proved is what we can do when Buffalo pulls together, we've all pulled together on this project, I think we want to thank the Governor for showing the world what Buffalo can do," Capaldi said.

And what Buffalo's Bioinfomatics Center can do is resting largely on the shoulders of its new executive director, Dr. Jeffrey Skolnick. Pataki announced an additional $2 million toward the recruitment of Skolnick, who has been called the "rockstar" of bioinfomatics. Congressional appropriations added $3 million. And the Oshei Foundation kicked in another $1.5 million for the recruitment package.

Skolnick, who starts his appointment in October, says he and his colleagues are worth the investment.

"Basically, I don't want to be second best," said Skolnick. "I want to absolutely put together, not one of the best, but the best. And we have been given the tools to do that, and now it's my job to make it a reality - and you can hold me to that."

And what Skolnick says "the best" equates to economically is billion dollar spin-off companies. But he says it won't happen overnight.

"I'm not going to come here tomorrrow and there's going to be 50,000 jobs -- you have to give me a few years," said Skolnick. "Just being realistic, I mean, we're going to work very hard to commercialize it as quickly as possible. I fully understand and I am very sensitive to the needs to develop the economic impact. But it's not going to be October 1st. After the first year, you'll start to see nice seed companies coming out, and we'll also be bringing in other industrial partners that will be collaborating with the Center. You'll see these companies take off."

Skolnick also cautioned there will be a high failure rate among those start up companies. But he says it will take only one Billion dollar molecule to put Buffalo on the map. Michael Capellas is president of Hewlett Packard, the company that will be fueling the Center's super- computing power. Capellas says Buffalo now has the tools to realize its destiny and to revolutionize medicine.

"It's a great day. Because the only expectation I will set to you, is to change the world," said Capellas. "And with the center you're setting up today, an the power of technology, and the power of what can be done when you really think of the field, that your expectations really should be no less, than to change the world."

The Center for Bioinfomatics will be headquartered in a new 150,000 square foot high tech facility to be built in the downtown Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. It will house laboratories, computational facilities, workforce training and future product development space.