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Stimulus grant brings $15 million to biotechnology building

The University of Colorado at Boulder has received a $15 million grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to be used toward the ongoing construction of a revolutionary biotechnology and biomedical research facility.

Construction of the new facility began in September 2009. When completed, the building is expected to host more than 60 faculty members and more than 500 graduate students, researchers and support staff. They will use the facility for fundamental research that's expected to affect a wide variety of human health issues ranging from cancer, aging and cardiovascular disease to inherited diseases, vaccine development and regenerative medicine.

The ARRA money was awarded to CU-Boulder's Colorado Initiative in Molecular Biotechnology (CIMB) through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. CU-Boulder Distinguished Professor and CIMB Director Tom Cech said the new facility will serve as a springboard to further research, teaching and technology at the intersection of the life sciences with the physical sciences, math, computational sciences and engineering.

The new biotechnology facility will bolster Colorado's position in the nation's biotechnology economy, Cech said. The first phase of the building comprising 266,400 square feet is slated for completion in fall 2011, with plans for a 70,400-square-foot addition at a later date. It also will house CIMB faculty from the department of chemical and biological engineering, and biochemistry division faculty from the department of chemistry and biochemistry.

"This is such an appropriate use of ARRA funds," Cech said, "because the Biotechnology Building will create jobs at three stages – construction jobs in the near term, laboratory research positions once the building is occupied and biotechnology jobs in Colorado over the following years as we work to enhance that industry in the state."

Before the ARRA award, much of the interior space of the facility now under construction had been destined to remain as shell space pending more funding, Cech said.

"We thank the NIH for approving our request for $15 million, which will build out space for the biochemistry faculty of CU-Boulder," said Cech, who shared the 1989 Nobel Prize in chemistry and served as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute president from 2000 to 2009 while retaining his CU faculty appointment.

NIH's National Center for Research Resources received nearly 1,200 applications for such construction projects totaling more than $10.6 billion. The center received $1 billion in ARRA funds for the program, so the success rate for the winners was less than 10 percent.

Before the ARRA grant to CU-Boulder, more than half of the building's $145 million Phase One cost had already been committed, including more than $60 million from the university and more than $30 million in gifts from generous donors. Fundraising efforts for the new facility are ongoing to cover the remaining costs of the full building plan.

The new facility is named the Jennie Smoly Caruthers Biotechnology Building after an adjunct professor in CU-Boulder's chemistry and biochemistry department and the late wife of CU-Boulder Distinguished Professor Marvin Caruthers. The facility will offer the opportunity for a wide swath of researchers to collaborate, said Professor Leslie Leinwand, Marsico Professor of Excellence and Chief Scientific Officer of CIMB.

Besides interdisciplinary collaboration involving faculty and students, the modern equipment in the facility will give biotech companies the chance to come in and work with CU-Boulder faculty and students, Leinwand said. It also will help CU build on its distinguished record in biotechnology research, which has generated more than a dozen biotech startup companies and currently attracts tens of millions of dollars annually in sponsored research awards.

Colorado boasts particular strength in the biosciences, with its businesses generating more than $400 million in state taxes and supporting 36,000 workers. Coupled with CU's strong startup track record and accomplished faculty researchers, the new building should further bolster the region's biotech strength, Cech said.

Other activities within the new building will involve CU-Boulder undergraduates. The university offers funding to hundreds of undergraduates annually for biomedical research, Cech said.

More information on the Biotechnology Building and the Colorado Initiative in Molecular Biotechnology is available at http://cimb.colorado.edu/.

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