|By Susan Caba
St. Louis-area universities and colleges are eager participants
in efforts to build the BioBelt. They are expanding research and
business opportunities and training a workforce—”from the top floor
to the shop floor”—to meet the needs of the burgeoning life sciences
Individually, schools are adding science-related facilities and
degrees, including several business management degrees focused on
science. The universities are vigorously encouraging faculty to
turn their research into start-up businesses.
“We don’t necessarily wait for an investigation to begin, or to
come to our attention,” says Dr. Joseph Zahner, of Saint Louis University,
talking of efforts to commercialize research results. “We seek out
the researcher and say, hey, can you do this?”
Five education and research institutions invested in a $35-million,
160,000-square foot facility in mid-town St. Louis, the Center of
Research, Technology and Entrepreneurial Expertise (CORTEX). The
facility is the anchor for a planned 250-acre life sciences industrial
park to house mature start-up companies.
“Bricks and mortar, that’s what we feel is lacking for companies
that are too large to fit into an incubator, yet are still too small
to develop their own facilities,” says Dr. Larry J. Shapiro, executive
vice chancellor for medical affairs at Washington University in
St. Louis and dean of the School of Medicine. “We didn’t want to
see them leave the region just as they were becoming successful.”
Washington University is one of the CORTEX partners. The others
are the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Saint Louis University,
the Missouri Botanical Garden and Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation.
The state of Missouri offers financial incentives to students who
pursue careers in life sciences. Under the Missouri Advantage Repayment
Incen-tive Option, students who join the state’s life science workforce
may have up to $2,500 a year in educational loans forgiven, for
a total of $10,000 over four years.
What follows is a sample of recent life sciences initiatives at
the region’s institutions of higher education:
University of Missouri–St. Louis
More than 1,600 students enroll each year in academic units associated
with life science at UM-St. Louis.
Center for Emerging Technologies (CET) has been home
to 17 life-science companies since its inception in
The university’s Center for Emerging Technologies (CET) has been
home to 17 life-science companies since its inception in 1998. The
92,000-square-foot facility is a non-profit incubator and accelerator
for start-ups, created in partnership with the Missouri Department
of Economic Development.
The College of Business Administration is developing a master’s
degree in business administration with an emphasis on technology
commercialization. The program’s focus on management of start-up
companies is unusual, says Nasser Arshadi, vice provost for research.
“Most business school graduates are taught how to run Fortune 500
companies, not start-ups.”
departments of Chemistry & Biochemistry and Biology
at UMSL are jointly offering new bachelors and master’s
degrees in biochemistry and biotechnology, to meet
the state’s desire for a trained workforce in those
The departments of Chemistry & Biochemistry and Biology are jointly
offering new bachelors and master’s degrees in biochemistry and
biotechnology, to meet the state’s desire for a trained workforce
in those fields.
In partnership with the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, the
University appointed an endowed professorship for research into
plant lipids as a way of reducing the demand for petroleum. The
joint appointment fuses on-going research at the University and
the Danforth Center.
Saint Louis University
SLU licenses start-up companies licensed at a rate that’s seven
times the national average, according to the Association of University
The Office of Innovation and Intellectual Property (OIIP), funded
at $3 million, has a vigorous program for finding commercial and
medical applications for faculty research. The OIIP also manages
a $2 million in venture capital for initiatives that aren’t ready
for the start-up phase. “Part of our job is to inspire faculty to
innovate, create and invent things,” says Dr. Zahner, head of OIIP.
OIIP developed a university policy on equity distribution for companies
based on university research, and will take equity in lieu of licensing
fees. In 2004, the OIIP invested $100,000 in Akermin, a biotech
start-up to develop a fuel cell powered by a few drops of alcohol,
based on faculty research. OIIP helped the company obtain $2.5 million
Dean David Wilson of the College of Arts and Sciences, intends to
raise the school’s profile in the bioscience community by becoming
a major source of bench scientists and managers of intellectual
A $20 million science building is on the drawing board to serve
both undergraduate and graduate students in the school’s science
programs, says Dean Wilson. Newly minted bench scientists, he says,
will be the backbone of the St. Louis scientific workforce.
In August, Webster will begin offering a Master of Arts in Management
and Science, aimed at providing a career path for bench scientists
making the transition to management.
A Master of Arts program in Patent Agency will also kick off in
August. It’s designed for those who want a direct role in intellectual
property management, but don’t want to go to law school to become
a patent attorney.
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
High Tech Boot Camp is a series of four courses in information management
technology. The courses can usually be completed in two weekends.
SIUE’s Southwestern Illinois Entrepreneur-ship Center guides small
businesses that need help obtaining state or other funding, developing
patents, products or customized marketing strategies.
at SIUE’s School of Pharmacy are studying human genetic
variations that lead to adverse drug reactions.
University Park is a 330-acre new research and technology park set
aside on SIUE’s campus for high-technology companies. The state
invested $3.1 million in the park.
Researchers at the School of Pharmacy are studying human genetic
variations (pharmacogenomics) that lead to adverse drug reactions,
as well as bacterial resistance to antibiotics under a $600,000
grant from the National Science Foundation.
The Department of Biolog-ical Sciences introduced a Professional
Science Masters degree in Biotechnology Management last year.
The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering has proposed
an undergraduate program in bioengineering.
Washington University in St. Louis
The School of Medicine is 115 years old and, says Dr. Shapiro, has
been active in life science research for most of that time.
“We educate and train a large number of scientists, technicians
and others who enter the workforce. We have sponsored research in
excess of $425 million a year, which translates into salaries and
makes us a major employer in the region,” says Dr. Shapiro. “Finally,
we have been and will continue to be, the producer of intellectual
property that becomes the foundation of growth for future enterprises.”
BioMed 21 is the School of Medicine’s initiative to turn research
discoveries into practical medical applications and clinical practice
as quickly as possible. Researchers are working in a variety of
areas that allow doctors to tailor treatments for specific patients
and their individual diseases, based on their genetic composition.
The work ranges across a broad spectrum, with particular emphasis
on genomics and pharmacogenomics.
The first PET scanner was developed at Washington University, and
imaging techniques and uses are another broad focus of BioMed 21.
The University is building a center for clinical imaging research
that, unlike most hospital facilities that are dedicated first to
patient treatment, will be devoted to research. One major area of
study will be treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
The University’s new Bear Cub Fund is intended to support short-term
research or development projects that have the potential to become
start-up companies. The individual awards to university faculty,
staff and students range from $20,000 to $50,000.
Nanotechnology—the use of extremely small, bead-shaped particles
to evaluate disease and deliver drugs to the site of disease—is
a major research focus at the university. Faculty members and co-inventors
Samuel A. Wickline, M.D., and Gregory M. Lanza, M.D., Ph.D. formed
a company to bring the technology to the marketplace. They received
$15 million from the National Institutes of Health and are collaborating
with Phillips Medical Systems, Dow Chemical and Bristol-Meyers Squibb.
As a result, at least one of those companies may develop a facility
in St. Louis.
The National Institutes of Health has chosen Washington University
as a Program of Excellence in Nanotechnology, based on the work
of a group of scientists led by Karen L. Wooley, Ph.D., professor
of chemistry in Arts and Sciences. That project has received $12.5
million of NIH funding over the next five years.
St. Louis Community College
“We have an exceptional focus on workforce development,” says Chancellor
Henry Shannon. “For every Ph.D., you need five to seven worker bees
in the lab—the top floor and the shop floor. We train our students
using the same equipment and techniques they’ll find on the job.”
biotechnology program was the first community college
program in Missouri, in an effort to train the front
ranks of scientific lab workers in all aspects of
the scientific process.
SLCC’s biotechnology program was the first community college program
in Missouri, in an effort to train the front ranks of scientific
lab workers in all aspects of the scientific process. It’s so successful
that many students are offered jobs before they graduate.
There are two options in the biotechnology program. A certificate
of proficiency is appropriate for those who want immediate employment
in a scientific lab. The associate’s degree will transfer to four-year
institutions and serve as the foundation for a bachelor’s degree.
“We are retooling the intellectual capacity of the workforce,” says
Chancellor Shannon. “Life science is the silver bullet for the future.”
Initiative to Reduce Oil Dependence
WELCOME EFFORT AT NATIONAL CORN-TO-ETHANOL RESEARCH CENTER
George W. Bush focused new attention in his State of the Union
address on the use of alternative fuels to reduce the country’s
dependence on foreign oil, particularly the use of ethanol
derived from corn.
The attention couldn’t be more welcome at the National Corn-to-Ethanol
Research Center. The non-profit facility on the campus of
Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, Ill., is dedicated
to enhancing the use of corn—and other feedstocks—in the production
of ethanol as an alternative to petroleum for fuel.
Opened in October 2004, NCERC is the only facility in the
world that emulates two types—wet-mill and dry-mill—commercial
ethanol production centers. In collaboration with Washington
University in St. Louis and with private clients, NCERC researchers
are studying more efficient ways to turn corn from livestock
feed to fuel. The work dovetails with the president’s priority
of moving the country away from oil as its primary fuel source.
Ethanol has been used in the United States since the turn
of the century, and as an additive to gasoline since the late
1970s when farmers, faced with huge corn surpluses, lobbied
hard to open secondary markets for their crop. But the low
cost of petroleum and even lower public awareness of ethanol’s
fuel potential were obstacles to commercial success.
Concern about the high oil prices and national security risks
provide an opportunity for NCERC to prove the worth of corn
ethanol. Researchers are working on ways to increase production
by using hybrid plants bred with higher starch content, to
improve the technology for converting corn to ethanol, and
to develop higher-value byproducts. Besides reducing dependence
on foreign oil, the use of ethanol is expected to have environmental
Washington University is among the partners involved with
NCERC research. WASHU graduate students carry out much of
the research, under the supervision of both academic and industrial
experts. The center is collaborating with specialists in agricultural
field trials and research, chemical engineering, statistical
analysis and agricultural business development.
National Corn-to-Ethanol Research on the campus
of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
is dedicated to enhancing the use of corn in
the production of ethanol as an alternative
to petroleum for fuel.
What do you get when you combine a kid’s interest in dirt
and the same child’s fascination with investigations of one
sort or another, and package the two together in a cool-looking
You get the Investigation Station, a 37-foot mobile
classroom that pulls into elementary schools for a week at
a time to pique students’ interest in science.
One Investigation Station, loaded with hands-on exhibits and
examples, has been making the rounds of under-served St. Louis
schools since October. By the time the school year ends, the
mobile classroom will have visited 32 schools, giving kids
the chance to learn about science by climbing, crawling, seeing,
smelling, touching and otherwise exploring the exhibits.
The MySci program, which will soon have two vans, aims to
spark the enthusiasm of students for science.
“We wanted to bring a new level of excitement to science education
by creating something that doesn’t currently exist,” says
Deborah Patterson, president of the Monsanto Fund, which funded
the program with a three-year, $3.7 million grant to Washington
“We’re catching students when they are very young—kindergarten
through second grade—and using their natural curiosity to
spark their interest in science,” says Ann P. McMahon, director
of the mobile van unit.
“By third grade, kids decide if they like science or not,”
The program is designed to reach under-served public schools,
and districts that have low average scores on the third grade
science Missouri Achievement Program test. It also helps teachers
by providing training workshops on science topics and lending
For kindergarten through second grade, Missouri’s curriculum
standards cover six topics: earth systems, universe, living
systems, matter and energy, force and motion, and ecology.
The MySci programs cover three topics—plants, animals and
the earth—with one unit in each topic developed for kindergarten
and one for first and second grade.
“The MySci curriculum is designed to supplement, not supplant,
a district’s existing science curriculum,” McMahon says.
Rather than just a visit from the Investigation Station, MySci
includes training for teachers, and activities for their classrooms
for the two weeks before the van visits. By the time the mobile
classroom arrives, the students have been introduced to the
topics they’ll be investigating in the van.
The Monsanto Fund, the philanthropic arm of Monsanto Co.,
has contributed between $400 million and $500 million since
it was founded in 1964. Washington University called on local
educators—as well as students throughout the university—to
design the van and curriculum. Educators from the St. Louis
Science Center, the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Saint Louis
Zoo, and the University of Missouri-St. Louis participate
in creating and providing programs for the vehicles.
to right): MySci Program Specialist Rosalynn
LeNoir and Monsanto's Chairman of the Board,
President and CEO Hugh Grant on the Investigation
Station, a 37-foot mobile science classroom.