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Regions flourish thanks to cooperation COMMENTARY MICHAEL A. MACDOWELL

NORTH Carolina’s Research Triangle, Texas’ Austin Corridor and California’s Silicon Valley are three rapidly growing areas that share a commonality: successful partnerships between higher education and business.

In these regions, research universities and existing and emerging businesses have been working together to develop the products and services that are vital to create a climate for rapid economic growth and enhance quality of life.

Unlike those three established areas, Northeastern Pennsylvania lacks a major research university. The region is rich in the quality of colleges and universities, but alone none have the capabilities or faculty to help create the technologically advanced products of tomorrow.

Together, though, our 35,000 students and 1,350 faculty members represent a formidable economic engine in the tri-county area — stimulating the growth of sophisticated companies that represent the employment base of the future.

The Northeastern Pennsylvania Technology Institute is a coordinating body established by the Great Valley Technology Alliance that brings our colleges, universities, companies and investors together. The commonwealth recognized this cooperative effort by awarding $500,000 through two Keystone Innovation Zone grants to NPTI. Today, the region has secured three of the 20 grants awarded in the state.

KIZs provide thinly capitalized start-up companies with tax credits, which they can turn into much-needed investment capital by selling the credits to more established firms that are already making significant profits. The grants also support faculty and student interns who team with these companies in product research and development. Last year, KIZ support was partially responsible for more than 10,000 hours of student internships.

Misericordia and Schott North America biologists and chemists are working on a KIZ-supported research project to lessen the financial strain that new protein-based drugs pose to consumers. The scientists at Misericordia and Schott, along with undergraduate research assistants Erika Gleva of Bear Creek and George Lazur of Loyalville, are developing and testing coatings for the vials and syringes that are used to package sophisticated new pharmaceuticals.

These wonder drugs, such as Engerix, which is used in the treatment of Hepatitis B, are very expensive and therefore coatings that reduce drug loss will be extremely valuable.

The new coatings will deter drugs from adhering to the syringes and vials in which they are packaged and effectively reduce the amount of drug lost during delivery. These coatings could enhance savings for consumers and the pharmaceutical industry for biotherapeutics that are expected to generate $50 billion in sales worldwide by 2007 and grow exponentially thereafter.

NPTI is also coordinating a research project with Chaperone Technologies, the University of Scranton and Lackawanna College. This Scranton-based company and two schools are engaged in pioneering research and development in the antimicrobial technologies.

Partial applications of this new technology include treatment of infections often acquired during hospitalizations, such as those affecting surgical wounds and the urinary tract. Chaperone is also pursuing therapeutics that might be effective against suspected biological warfare agents.

In the Poconos, East Stroudsburg University is collaborating with Backbone Technologies, one of the leading computer security companies in the nation, to develop a real-time steganography scanner to monitor incoming and outgoing network traffic. The scanner is designed to prevent employee theft before it occurs. This collaborative relationship has led to an internship program that provides employee resources for Backbone Technologies and technical experience for ESU students.

Like these cooperative efforts, Ben Franklin Technology Partners has played a key role in the growing success Backbone Technologies has enjoyed.

In the 1950s, research scientists at MIT, Harvard and other Boston-area institutions began to develop technology-based companies on a highway loop that surrounded Beantown and spin-off companies in what was then the city’s outskirts.

The “belt 128 phenomenon” was later recognized by economic developers, economists and scientists as the advent of a new frontier. This phenomenon, replicated in California, Texas, North Carolina and Seattle, will hopefully repeat itself in Northeastern Pennsylvania thanks to NPTI, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, our local companies, start-up firms and colleges and universities.

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