Assemblymember Bronson Secures Funding in Assembly One House Budget for a New Center of Excellence in RNA Research and Therapeutics (CERRT), a Partnership between University of Rochester and University at Albany

Assemblymember Harry B. Bronson (D-Rochester) announced $250,000 in the Assembly’s budget proposal to establish a new Center of Excellence in RNA Research and Therapeutics (CERRT). This would be a joint venture between the University of Rochester (UR) and University at Albany (UAlbany), both of which are home to globally renowned RNA scientists.

“Supporting an equitable and diverse array of research is critical to the success and longevity of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies in New York, but also to the economic vitality of communities throughout New York. These centers attract worldwide talent to participate in and develop innovative, life-saving research,” said Assemblymember Bronson, who is Chair of Labor. “UR and UAlbany are already home to world renown medical researchers in the RNA field, and an RNA-focused Center of Excellence would give biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies—large and small—the competitive advantage they need to succeed by providing them access to leading researchers, cutting- edge technology, and a pipeline of top talent.”

The New York State Center of Excellence program is managed by Empire State Development (ESD) and includes 14 Centers based at universities across New York State. These Centers foster collaboration between the academic research community and the business sector to develop and commercialize new products and technologies, promote critical private sector investment in emerging high-technology fields in New York State, and to create and expand technology-related businesses and employment. Funding for the Centers typically starts at $250,000 and is gradually increased to $1 million annually.

The new RNA Research and Therapeutics Center would be the first of its kind in the state. RNA science is a sector with enormous potential – both scientific and economic – that will continue to fuel economic growth across the biotechnology, pharmaceutical and health care industries, and will bring a variety of jobs to the universities. CERRT will work with large New York biotech companies like Regeneron and Curia, to develop new therapeutics and to establish a pipeline of trained workers that are needed for the continued growth and success of New York’s healthcare, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical sectors.

CERRT will tap an existing deep reservoir of expertise and resources to drive economic development through applied research and by training New York’s next generation of biotech workers. CERRT will provide innovative solutions to scientific problems with far-reaching economic consequences, including developing therapeutics for debilitating genetic diseases, such as myotonic dystrophy, and emerging pathogens, like SARS-CoV-2, that threaten the physical and economic well-being of New Yorkers.

The new RNA-focused Center of Excellence is a beacon of hope for individuals and families living with such chronic diseases, which due to the nature by which they repeat and attack are extremely challenging to manage and treat.

"First and foremost, we want to thank Assemblymember Harry Bronson for listening to what it is like for our families to live day-to-day with myotonic dystrophy, a rare form of muscular dystrophy. Harry compassionately listened to caregivers and affected individuals share their daily challenges in the face of overwhelming fatigue, loss of the ability to work and continuous pain,” said Emily Jones, Myotonic Dystrophy Support Group Facilitator – Western NY Finger Lakes. “The addition of a NYS Center of Excellence for RNA extended repeat diseases will fund world-class leaders at the U of R and UAlbany.

Their research understanding will help pharmaceutical companies target the toxic RNA and the mechanisms that are the root cause of the disease. As a result, the pharmaceutical companies will bring a therapeutic drug that will slow or stop disease progression of this brutal disease. Our families live with the hope of a cure that will come more quickly."

The scientists at UR and UAlbany have decades of experience in RNA-based research and therapeutic development supported by millions in NIH, foundation and industry funding. This deep experience, proven track record of external funding, and start-up potential provides New York with a significant advantage over other national biotechnology hubs.

CERRT will also be a magnet for large federal grants, drive greater private investment by established biotech and biomedical firms and seed entrepreneurship through startup companies keen to commercialize scientific advances in CERRT labs. UR and UAlbany currently have $113 million in funding with 108 active grants for RNA research and development, demonstrating their strength in the field and the opportunity for further federal investment.

Now that Governor Hochul, the state Senate and Assembly have put forth their budget proposals, negotiations on a final state budget, due April 1, will begin. If included in the adopted budget, CERRT would begin operations later this year.

“Making drugs that work on RNA gives us a new way to treat serious diseases. In effect, we can tackle problems at the root cause. This is a new philosophy in medicine, a revolution of sorts, and already we are beginning to see huge benefits,” said Charles Thornton, MD, Professor of Neurology. “We have been working on this with colleagues at the University at Albany for a while, and we look forward now to strengthening those ties.”

“We are grateful to Assemblymember Bronson for his leadership in establishing the Center of Excellence in RNA Research and Therapeutics. This investment will help advance research and open the door to using RNA as both a treatment target and a tool to develop new therapies in a wide range of diseases, including cystic fibrosis, fragile X syndrome, and Duchenne and myotonic dystrophies,” said Lynne Maquat, PhD, director of the University of Rochester Center for RNA Biology. “Our partnership with RNA Institute colleagues at the University of Albany will bring together the complementary scientific expertise and resources of two leading institutions currently supported by more than $113 million in RNA research funding from the National Institutes of Health.”

“Decades of research, including groundbreaking work carried out here at the University of Rochester, are poised to transform care for a wide number of inherited and acquired diseases that result from defective RNA,” said Steve Dewhurst, PhD, vice president for research at the University of Rochester. “This new center of excellence will strengthen upstate New York’s leadership in this important field, attract new research funding, create the scientific workforce of tomorrow, and strengthen opportunities to partner with industry to bring new discoveries to the clinic and grow the state’s innovation economy.”