Five Questions With: Carol Malysz (Featured in Providence Business News)

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In her role as RI Bio’s executive director, Carol Malysz oversees the group’s coordination with health care organizations, life sciences companies, academic centers and others.

RI Bio, along with the Rhode Island-Israel Collaborative, will present an event, “Disruptive Neuroscience Technologies Changing the World Today,” on Sept. 18 in Providence. Malysz discusses the event, along the neuroscience and medical industries in Rhode Island.

PBN: RI Bio is hosting an event with the Rhode Island-Israel Collaborative later this month. Can you briefly describe the event, and why is it significant?

MALYSZ: Neuroscience is a fascinating field and one in which breakthrough developments have been materializing at a rapid pace. Neurostimulation has helped paralyzed people walk and work is being done to use similar technology to give tactile feeling to people using prosthetics, as well as pain.

Neuroscience leaders from Rhode Island and Israel will provide their insights and perspectives on these latest advancements and what excites them about future prospects for the field. Our forum offers the opportunity to highlight exciting discoveries in neuroscience and to deepen our understanding of the brain in health and disease.

The keynote speaker for this event is professor [Dr.] Alon Friedman … who led the establishment of the Inter-Faculty Brain Science School at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He holds the Dr. Helena Rachmanska-Putzman Chair in Neurology and is also the former director of the university’s Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience.

The event moderator is Dr. Kunal Mankodiya, director, Wearable Biosensing Lab, University of Rhode Island, and our distinguished guest speakers include: Dr. Wael Asaad, [the] Sidney A. Fox and Dorothea Doctors Fox associate professor of ophthalmology and visual science [and] associate professor of neuroscience [at] Brown University; … Walter Besio, Electrical, Computer & Biomedical Engineering, Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program, University of Rhode Island; … Elinor Amit, assistant professor of the Coller School of Management [at] Tel Aviv University and research scientist at Brown University; and … Rachel Rac-Lubashevsky, Fulbright scholar and a postdoc fellow at the neural computation and cognition lab at Brown University.

PBN: What do you think is next for the field of neuroscience in Rhode Island?

MALYSZ: Neuroscience is a point of distinction for Rhode Island, with five institutions partnering to collaborate on research – Care New England, the Carney Institute at Brown University, the George & Anne Ryan Institute of Neuroscience at the University of Rhode Island, the Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute at Lifespan and the Providence VA Medical Center’s Center of Excellence for Neurorestoration and Neurotechnology.

Rhode Island’s world-class brain researchers at these institutions are seeking to better understand – and seek treatments for – a range of brain-centered health troubles [such as] autism, epilepsy, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and traumatic brain injury. Their research and teamwork will not only lead to valuable treatments to improve the quality of life for patients and their families but also put Rhode Island on the map as a place of neuroscience innovation and collaboration.

PBN: Is the state doing enough to encourage innovation in the medical industry?

MALYSZ: Rhode Island has several incentives that support innovation in this growing sector. The state’s Innovation Voucher program is designed to help spur innovation in the economy by funding up to $50,000 for research and development for companies with less than 500 employees. The program pairs small R.I. businesses with local knowledge partners [such as] universities, research centers or medical centers. Since the program’s inception in 2015, more than 20 grants related to the life sciences sector have been awarded to help support the commercialization of a new product, process or service.

Additionally, the Innovate RI Small Business Fund provides grants to eligible R.I. small [businesses] to defray the cost of applying for [Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer] awards, match SBIR/STTR Phase I and Phase II awards, and hire interns.

Rhode Island has also invested significantly in the larger workforce, tailoring training programs specifically to the needs of local employers. The Real Jobs Rhode Island program, for example, is equipping our biotech manufacturers with more process technicians and folks who can work on a manufacturing line today, while the Wavemaker Fellowship is empowering R.I. college graduates to pursue careers in [science, technology, engineering and math] and other key sectors, and reimbursing them for their student loans in return. Many of the Wavemaker recipients are employed by local biotech and health care companies.

While the state provides these investments and more, there are still challenges to overcome. R.I. needs more wet-lab space for scientists and business professionals to jump-start their companies and benefit from sharing in the experiences of those surrounding them in the space. And funding is another ongoing need. Boston [venture capitalists] are focused on [Cambridge, Mass.-based] opportunities and have limited interest or attraction to R.I.-based ventures.

Even though in the last several years, the entire startup ecosystem has improved, encouraging capital to come to R.I. remains a problem to be solved. For now, R.I. has a better chance of turning out enterprises that will be attractive to both in- and out-of-state investors by leveraging our homegrown talent, expertise, connections and capital.

PBN: RI Bio was until recently known as MedMates. Has rebranding helped refine RI Bio’s focus?

MALYSZ: With our new name, look and logo, our rebranding has infused new energy and vitality into the organization. By changing our name to reflect our new role as the R.I. state affiliate of Biotechnology International Organization, we became a member-based organization with access to significant discounts on products and services, events, conference registrations and workspaces for our members.

For example, as part of their membership benefits, several member organizations – Amgen, EpiVax, Ximedica, Rhode Island Quality Institute, Bay Computer Associates, and St. Elizabeth Community – are participating in our Emerging and Advanced Leadership Development Training this fall. The training is offered through a collaboration with Leadership Rhode Island, Bryant University and the R.I. Department of Labor and Training and provides the critical skills needed to grow life sciences organizations, including change management, strategic planning, executive presence, emotional intelligence, conflict resolution and leading high-performance teams.

In addition, we offer significant discounts on products and services through our BIO Business Solutions Program, the largest cost-savings program for the life sciences industry, which is free with RI Bio membership.

PBN: What is the largest source of growth right now in Rhode Island’s life sciences industry?

MALYSZ: Rhode Island’s health and life sciences industry concentration is 31% higher than the national average. With CVS Health headquartered in Rhode Island, and new arrivals [such as] Johnson & Johnson coming to the state, the biomedical innovation ecosystem continues to grow and thrive. R.I. has strong indigenous assets in next-gen biopharma manufacturing, drug delivery, genetic engineering, immunotherapy, med-device design and development, and digital health.

The infrastructure investments that the state has made over the past three-plus years has created significant momentum toward advancing R.I. life sciences ecosystem growth and development.

For example, the recent opening of the Wexford Science & Technology Center, including anchor tenants Cambridge Innovation Center, Brown University’s School of Professional Studies and J&J, the R.I. innovation community is expected to bring 1000-plus jobs and an additional $100 million in revenue to the state over the next 20 years.

Other significant infrastructure investments include:

  • 2016 – $42 million for the Johnson & Wales Center for Science & Innovation, home to JWU’s School for Engineering & Design and 71,000 square feet of laboratories, classrooms and open spaces.
  • 2018 – $88 million for Brown University, a new 80,000-square-foot engineering building with labs specifically designed for larger multidisciplinary research teams.
  • 2019 – $133 million for the University of Rhode Island’s new College of Engineering, expanding the state’s capacity to meet the demands for engineering talent and expertise.
  • 2019 – $100 million for the Carney Brain Institute at Brown University, one of the single largest gifts in Brown’s history that will drive research into brain and nerve disorders and establish one of the best-endowed brain institutes in the country.
  • 2019 – $20 million of federal funding to the University of Rhode Island from the National Institutes of Health to further expand biomedical research capacity in R.I.
  • 2019 – $165 million for Amgen’s New Next Generation biomanufacturing plant, projected to be online in 2023.

Elizabeth Graham is a PBN staff writer. Email her at [email protected] 

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