Maine is a discovery zone, a center of life science and health-care innovation that includes key segments in biomedical technology and device manufacturing and breakthrough research areas that include genetics, genomics and antibodies/diagnostics.
“The positive atmosphere develops mutually beneficial relationships,” says Donald St. Germain, vice president of research for the Maine Medical Center and director of the Maine Medical Center Research Institute.
In addition to Maine Medical Center, the state has a formidable collection of companies, academic institutions and research organizations with major life sciences credentials. Among them are the University of New England College of Pharmacy, Jackson Laboratory, Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, IDEXX Laboratories, Bigelow Laboratory and Meridian Life Science. Maine’s nonprofit research institutions have surpassed the national average for federal funding.“Maine’s entrepreneurial spirit is a major strength,” says Gayle A. Brazeau, Ph.D., dean of the UNEs College of Pharmacy.
Pharmacy: Broad and Balanced
Diagnostic medical devices and revolutionary pharmaceuticals are growing sectors in this fertile territory. UNE’s specialized college covers a broad spectrum of pharmacy, including chemistry, pharmacology, pharmaceutics, clinical practice, and epidemiological research.
“We boast a robust balance of researchers in all areas. Our extra-mural funding is remarkable for a college founded in 2009,” Brazeau says.
Recent research – much of it funded by the National Institutes of Health – includes exploration of consequences of second-generation anti-psychotic drugs; molecular modeling, particularly focused on protein/carbohydrate interaction; pharmacokinetics; and how hormones such as estrogen and testosterone affect the brain.
“Pharmacology combines with physiology,” Brazeau says.
The college is the only Maine facility dedicated to academic studies and research in the pharmacy field. Financial help from the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) helped establish a leading research center. In 2010, MTI awarded a $480,000 grant to UNE to attract new biotech ventures, support Maine-based companies and stimulate new research. UNE matched the grant with $678,000 to work with Portland’s Division of Economic Development and the Maine Medical Center Research Institute to complete its new facility, which advances research and clinical development of drugs and medical devices.
Taking Research to the Clinic
The Maine Medical Center Research Institute, the research arm of Maine Medical Center, encompasses a gamut of biomedical programs.
“Laboratory-based researchers develop drugs and discover underlying biological mechanisms,” St. Germain says. “We move from animal models, primarily mice, into human models and up to populations. We translate basic science into better diagnostics and treatment.”
Research, some underwritten by the NIH, focuses on a number of disciplines, from cardiovascular disease, regenerative medicine and stem cell biology to metabolism, bone biology, neurologic disease, critical care and cancer. Research also targets predictive modeling, which leads to shared decision-making among physicians and patients.
“That empowers patients,” St. Germain says.
Besides UNE, the Research Institute has collaborated with Jackson Laboratory, Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, the University of Southern Maine and Tufts University, among others.
“We’re part of a well-developed Maine matrix,” he says.
Within this matrix, the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory conducts research in a range of evolutionarily diverse organisms and non-mammalian animals to learn about fundamental biological processes, advance new treatments for human diseases and disabilities, and better understand how organisms and environment interact. Its Maine IDeA Network for Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE), established in 2001, represents a partnership with Jackson Laboratory and 10 Maine colleges and universities and it helped increased Maine’s competitiveness in garnering federal funds for scientific research.
“Maine research entities work together,” Brazeau says. “MTI is very supportive. It enabled us to grow our facilities.”
One anchor of Maine's life sciences sector is Westbrook-based IDEXX Laboratories Inc., which serves practicing veterinarians around the world. While focused on animal health, its efforts impact humans by keeping animals healthy, and milk and water safe, through development of inventive diagnostics and information products and services.
The company, which employs 5,400 around the world, announced in June 2013 a partnership with Milk Laboratories to offer confirmatory pregnancy testing for dairy cattle using milk samples, a technology that will help dairy producers and veterinarians optimize reproductive efficiency in dairy herds
“In 2012, IDEXX invested $82 million in research and development, resulting in products exported to more than 100 countries,” says Tony Giampetruzzi, IDEXX communications specialist.