Corridor Funding Termed Scientific

August 29, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Rep. Jerry Kooiman, R-Grand Rapids, said he’s hopeful Life Sciences Corridor funding can be restored to the $45 million-a-year level in the next fiscal year.

He believes the Life Sciences Corridor funding program is a good one because it’s based on a scientific process rather than political agendas. Nationwide, other states are emulating what Michigan is doing and modeling their programs after ours, he added.

Scientists from around the country, via the independent American Association for the Advancement of Science, are involved in the peer review funding process, he explained. They look at the proposals and make recommendations to the Life Sciences Corridor Steering Committee.

The steering committee is made up of university presidents and business leaders, and Kooiman believes its composition reflects a healthy balance between business and academia.

“The peer review group may not have as many people from West Michigan that you or I would like, but I think we have some strong folks in West Michigan that serve on the steering committee,” Kooiman said.

The focus of the Life Sciences Corridor funding program is to stimulate collaboration between universities and research institutions and support the research and commercialization of bioscience products and services.

“There is no other area of research at our universities where they have the collaboration that you do with life sciences between Wayne State, University of Michigan and Michigan State,” Kooiman pointed out. “It just doesn’t happen. They fight like pit bulls everywhere else.”

That kind of collaborative environment has the potential to bring in more National Institute of Health grants and other national funding, he said.

“They’re sharing information. A discovery at the Van Andel Institute is a discovery in Ann Arbor and a discovery in East Lansing. A discovery in Ann Arbor is a discovery in East Lansing, Detroit and Grand Rapids. That’s unheard of in the educational community in Michigan, previously.”

Originally, Kooiman had balked at the idea of a $10 million state allocation to Western Michigan University’s base funding to support creation of a WMU research center aimed at retaining Pfizer-Pharmacia scientists in Michigan.

But with the prospect of losing as many as 1,500 researchers and scientists in the Pfizer-Pharmacia merger, the potential loss of talent in Kalamazoo and the whole state greatly concerned legislators, he said.

“I didn’t want to lose that. In the final analysis, that’s why we all ended up voting for it. I would have preferred that it all go into life sciences, with a dedicated portion toward retaining the knowledge base of Michigan.

“What finally brought me on board was the fact that it (WMU Research and Commercialization Center) was going through the peer-reviewed process with the Life Sciences Corridor and that there was a connection between the Van Andel Institute and Western Michigan University.”

George Vande Woude, director of the Van Andel Research Institute, will be on the board of the WMU research center, and Kooiman thinks that will help build a connection between Western and VARI.

He recalled getting criticized in Lansing for focusing on life sciences. Other representatives saw it as a “hometown issue” because the Van Andel Research Institute was located in his city.

“It’s not about Van Andel and it’s not about West Michigan business, necessarily; it’s about where the state positions itself in terms of the future with the whole life sciences research,” he insisted.

Kooiman said he hasn’t seen any indication that the southeast side of the state is favored over the west side of the state in terms of Life Sciences Corridor funding.

“I don’t think they’ve had the proposals from West Michigan that they’ve had from other parts of the state,” he remarked. “I want to insist on it being a peer process and that the funding goes to those proposals that have the most merit. Even if that means that we don’t necessarily get that business in Grand Rapids, it’s important for the state of Michigan that we get it somewhere.”

He also noted that he has not seen the list of proposals, where they came from, their reviews and the final determinations by the steering committee.

“If that shows a slant toward southeast Michigan then that’s not fair, and if they are not going with the recommendations of the peer-review process then I would be troubled. But I haven’t heard that from the steering committee, and I haven’t heard that from the Van Andel Institute. They haven’t made that claim that that’s the case.”   

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