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Clarkson University and Trudeau Institute express hopes over partnership


A $35 million state-funded partnership between Saranac Lake’s Trudeau Institute and Clarkson University, Potsdam, was born of financial need, but the institutions hope to turn their collaboration into a vehicle for world-class biotechnology research.

The Trudeau Institute formerly was funded almost entirely through federal research grants, but the last few years proved this business model was no longer sustainable.

The institute had 130 employees four years ago. Now it has 80. The last few years have been filled with questions about whether the institute would remain at Saranac Lake, as some supported relocating it to Florida.

Many independent research institutions face similar struggles, Trudeau Institute President Ronald H. Goldfarb said. They need to adapt, and partnerships with universities are one way to do that.

“The model had to be changed,” he said.

The state’s deal solidifies the institute’s future in the north country and provides some job security for those who work there. The $35 million will be invested over five years for collaborative research, development and education efforts between the Trudeau Institute and Clarkson University.

Clarkson specializes in engineering and technological know-how, while the Trudeau Institute’s researchers focus on the medical field, particularly how the body battles diseases.

“We are not overlapping in our research; we are complementary,” Mr. Goldfarb said.

Faculty from both institutions will unite and combine their specialties, studying ways in which biology and technology overlap.

“It’s bringing together the best that both have to offer,” Clarkson University President Anthony G. Collins said.

For example, research into biotechnology can help drug companies develop new ways to deliver medicine efficiently to the parts of the body that need it most.

Clarkson’s resources and the state funds will allow the Trudeau Institute to diversify its research efforts, making it more competitive in pursuing grants.

“This allows us to really test new approaches, by virtue of the funds that will be available, to help us to generate preliminary information,” Mr. Goldfarb said.

In addition to the joint research efforts, Clarkson students in graduate and undergraduate programs will be able to work with Trudeau Institute faculty members. Clarkson also will use its contacts and resources to help the Trudeau Institute find new sources of funding.

“They do not have a large operation, so we will be prepared to share our expertise with them,” Mr. Collins said. “In all ways Clarkson will be stepping forward to provide additional support where we can.”

While the partnership started out as a way to save the Trudeau Institute and its employees, Mr. Collins said it has the potential to produce world-class research.

“It went from looking at a crisis to a fantastic opportunity for both institutions. It’s a big win for everyone,” he said.

There are still plenty of details to work out in the months to come as the plan is implemented. Both locations likely will build physical infrastructure such as lab improvements to accommodate the new research projects, Mr. Collins said.

As the overlap between technology and medical research continues to grow, Mr. Collins said, he expects partnerships like this to be the new normal. For now, the relationship between Clarkson and the Trudeau Institute is one of the nation’s first.

“I really believe that over the next five years you’ll see more of these kinds of partnerships,” he said.

Mr. Collins said he plans to take advantage of being ahead of the curve, establishing the north country as a center of cutting-edge innovation.

“It allows us to reinvent yourself and really become much broader in our imprint,” Mr. Goldfarb said.

“This investment from New York will allow us to become self-sustaining and to return that investment many times over in a relatively short period of time.”

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