Recent Collegian articles about CSU Superclusters are, in my opinion, based upon a lack of understanding of their vision, organization and mission. I am the Director of the Infectious Disease Supercluster and appreciate this opportunity to describe the program.
The IDSC is focused upon saving the lives of millions of people and animals that are or will suffer from infectious diseases and protecting our food supplies from diseases around the world. It is built upon CSU’s internationally recognized research expertise.
The IDSC reaches across the campus to experts from different departments and provides an infrastructure to work together to develop medicines, treatments and policies to prevent and control infectious diseases.
The IDSC has academic and enterprise arms, which complement each other in achieving our goals. This innovative framework helps faculty partner with industry, foundations and governments to combat infectious diseases of humans, animals and plants.
The IDSC goals are to:
Maximize the university’s academic capacity to teach students about infectious diseases and to serve the state, the nation, and the world in the fight against these diseases;
Increase and diversify the external funding base for teaching and researching infectious disease;
And help university faculty develop new products, medicines, approaches and policies to fight infectious diseases.
The academic arm consists of Infectious Disease Clusters — areas in which CSU has particular excellence and recognition.
Cluster leaders are outstanding faculty. Six are University Distinguished Professors and all are at the forefront of CSU research, teaching and service, and the leadership of the academic arm of the IDSC is in their hands. The IDSC engages expertise across the whole campus to effectively control infectious diseases.
The clusters are:
bacterial, viral, prion and plant diseases
behavior and outreach, society, organization, and policy
Epidemiology and ecology
bioinformatics, medicinal chemistry, and biomedical engineering
entrepreneurship and translational research
The clusters encourage faculty to collaborate to maximize the potential of their research and to promote teaching and training opportunities.
The vast majority of the academic arm budget funds research and capacity building grants proposed by faculty.
In the first year, faculty from seven colleges and 23 departments were funded, ranging from developing treatments of drug resistant tuberculosis to researching the most effective way to share information on sexually transmitted diseases to underserved minority populations. Capacity building grants pay for research equipment and training, such as funding symposiums. Symposiums introduce students to global issues and leaders and allow faculty to share information with other scientists to optimize research results.
MicroRx, the business arm, is devoted to product and economic development. MicroRx will move research discoveries out of the university and into hospitals, farms and fields.
It optimizes and manages research through private investments, global commercialization and partnerships, licensing, business development and outreach. These are activities that faculty typically lack the knowledge and time to pursue, which can prevent meaningful treatments from reaching those who need them.
The U.S. government has funded most CSU infectious disease research. The external funding base is approximately $40 million annually. Partnering with industry diversifies funding and optimizes student’s learning opportunities to secure future jobs. Partnerships help faculty transform research discoveries into products to fight infectious diseases and provide exceptional training opportunities for students.
We, as CSU faculty, have not been active in finding a home in the market or medical field for our discoveries. Even though we have the same research funding level, we only had one third as many new patents and licenses as CU.
MicroRx has helped to double patent disclosures, but we have a long way to go. We need to develop revenue streams from products to build research and teaching programs. This is the model used by other major research universities and one that we hope to emulate here.
In summary, I feel that the IDSC is an innovative and well-conceived approach to promote research and teaching at CSU and to help address infectious diseases.
After working 35 years on infectious diseases, I understand the critical need to partner with businesses to provide products to control these diseases, promote start up companies, provide high paying jobs, and to help economic development in Colorado. These activities are central to the modern land-grant university.
After 25 years at CSU and hearing each year where we rank in state support to higher education, I applaud CSU higher administration for proposing this innovate program to help address funding short falls.
Barry Beaty, Ph.D, is a university distinguished professor and the director of the Infectious Disease Supercluster at CSU. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.