Malloy: No more ‘lip service’ to bioscience research

FARMINGTON – Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Malloy says Connecticut must stop giving “lip service” to bioscience research, and stem cell exploration in particular, to help grow new jobs and the economy.

Though he didn’t commit to a specific state investment, Malloy offered a plan to unite state, federal and private-sector dollars to bolster research efforts at the University of Connecticut, Yale and Wesleyan universities.

“It’s imperative that Connecticut recognizes that bioscience is already one of the greatest economic drivers in this new century,” said Malloy, who joined running mate Nancy Wyman in speaking with the media outside of UConn Health Center research labs. “In fact, our neighboring states have all made significant investments in the industry while we continue to miss out.”

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Nancy Wyman, left, and Dan Malloy talk about biotech research at UConn

Connecticut is part of a larger bioscience research corridor with other concentrations in Princeton, N.J., lower New York state and Boston.

These states are “uniquely positioned to attract more stem cell research because state funds would escape the reach of the federal court,” Malloy wrote in his plan, referring to a federal district court judge’s Aug. 23 issuance of a preliminary injunction halting release of federal aid for embryonic stem cell research.

The National Institutes of Health, which oversees federal grants for much stem cell research, resumed funding for 22 projects after a federal appeals court stayed the injunction on Sept. 9. But this was done only so the appeals court could hear full arguments and both NIH officials and Malloy have said the future of federally funded research remains murky.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the General Assembly launched state government’s role in fostering stem cell research in 2005, enacting legislation to create a research trust fund and depositing $20 million from that year’s surplus.

The fund, which had $22.7 million on hand entering last fiscal year, received another $10 million allocation in 2009-10, but only after legislators rebuffed Rell’s proposal to trim it to $5 million to help close a budget deficit in March.

State government is slated to deposit another $10 million into the research fund this fiscal year.

A biomedical research trust fund, which was created in 2000 to utilize portions of Connecticut’s 1998 lawsuit settlement with five big tobacco companies, hasn’t fared as well in dodging the fiscal knife.

The fund had more than $13.3 million on hand entering last fiscal year and was slated to receive new allocations of $4 million in both 2009-10 and this fiscal year.

But the legislature and Rell agreed in 2009 to transfer a total of $9 million away over two years, and last April lawmakers and the governor took another $3.5 million.

“I was extremely disappointed in the governor’s proposed cuts to research grants this year,” Malloy said. “Once again the administration failed to understand the longer-term picture: that investing in this area would allow the state to keep and recruit top scientists and to access additional funding,”

State officials did enact legislation this year that provides property tax exemptions for new biomedical research operations launched in communities surrounding the UConn Health Center.

Malloy praised state officials for that effort, but added “we’ve got to move beyond that,” adding that new tax credits could be offered to research firms locating anywhere in Connecticut, and existing state funding for higher education and economic development could be redirected specifically into biomedical research. “This is not a time to do anything but put your foot on the pedal.”

Malloy, a former mayor of Stamford, has been under attack on the jobs front by his Republican opponent, Greenwich businessman Tom Foley. In television and radio ads, Foley has repeatedly charged that the Malloy administration failed to address rising unemployment in Stamford during Malloy’s 14-year tenure as mayor, which ended in 2009.

“There’s no evidence we should look to him for economic development policies that work for Connecticut’s families,” Foley campaign spokeswoman Liz Osborn said Thursday in response to the new Malloy bioscience jobs plan. “Tom has had a jobs plan out since January that focuses on Connecticut’s strengths. He has experience in the private sector that allows him to better understand what employers need to grow the job base in Connecticut.”