Dr. Nicholas Tonks, the deputy director of the Cancer Center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, has been doing important scientific work for over 25 years. But because the lab does not have a modern facility, CSHL has had to take Tonks’s findings and send them to chemists off-site for further development. But that will soon change.
New York state’s budget, which passed on April 1, includes $331 million for research and development projects at eight locations on Long Island, including Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, which received $25 million. Plans that have been in the development stage for the past six years can now move forward to create a Center for Therapeutics Research at CSHL.
In order to do so, the Demerec building, a 26,000-square-foot laboratory, will require renovations that include the expansion of the back of the building, retrofitting to make the building accessible for the work of chemists and the purchase of equipment.
An additional $50 million will be required to complete the project, but CSHL officials are confident they will obtain these funds from philanthropic and other non-state sources.
“This is a transformative project,” said the lab’s vice president for development, Charles Prizzi. “For the lab’s future, it will add a new and interesting element to the work we are doing now. It will help us produce the next generation of treatment for cancer, autism and other diseases.”
Tonks, a biochemist, has been making progress on a class of enzymes that he’s been attempting to regulate for the purpose of fighting diseases like Rett syndrome, breast cancer, and obesity and diabetes.
Even though four Nobel Prize winners once worked at the Demerec laboratory, technological advances have made research at the antiquated building, erected in the 1950s, difficult, even slowing down scientists like Tonks.
Renovations will make it possible for scientists with different expertise to work together at CSHL, which excites Tonks. “Chemists are used to thinking of drug development,” he said. “We would collaborate.”
State Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) was instrumental in the effort to obtain funding for CSHL from Albany, as was Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan (R-East Northport).
“I went to the lab and met with Dr. [James] Watson” — who co-discovered the structure of DNA — “as well as several scientists there,” Marcellino said. “They have a great reputation at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and do a lot of good work. If there’s going to be a cure for cancer, it’s going to come out of this lab.”
Prizzi said that CSHL is grateful to Marcellino, who never waivered from his effort to acquire the vital funding. “He saw the need for what we are going to do, and his excitement transferred to Flanagan and also to Kevin Law” — president of the Long Island Association — “who all worked together. The plan was really well thought out.”
CSHL partnered with North Shore LIJ Health System in April 2015, a breakthrough for cancer research. The relationship is allowing CSHL to make its research more readily available to cancer patients in the clinical trials being done at the North Shore facilities. The Center for Therapeutics Research will expedite this process by adding the expertise of chemists.
“Having chemists on site, we could talk directly and strategize together,” said Tonks, adding that the process can be complicated. “Part of the vision of the lab is to come up with new and faster ways for drug development.”
He said he believes the new lab will impact the economy as well. “This will create jobs on Long Island,” Tonks said. “Some of the targets we will pursue will lead to the formation of small companies. We will do the research, and these companies will do the development.”
Law said he also sees the long-term value of the expansion at CSHL. “While the actual economic impact of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is impressive, the intangible economic benefit of having this world-renowned research institution here on Long Island is priceless,” he said.
CSHL is the only cancer center on Long Island designated by the National Cancer Institute and has been rated as one of the world’s top institutions by Thomas Reuters for years. It shares this accolade with health care giants like Sloan Kettering and New York University.
“When you think of where the future is of Long Island, it’s in biotechnology,” Prizzi said. “We have our architectural plans for the building and are shovel ready.”