Do you favor a $3,000,000 bond issue, to be awarded through a competitive process and to be matched by $5,700,000 in private and public funds, to modernize and expand infrastructure in a biological laboratory specializing in tissue repair and regeneration located in the State in order to increase biotechnology workforce training, retain and recruit to the State multiple biomedical research and development groups and create a drug discovery and development facility that will improve human health and stimulate biotechnology job growth and economic activity?
In less than 15 years, the MDI Biological Laboratory has grown from a nine-employee, seasonal lab into a 63-employee, year-round operation performing cutting-edge research into tissue regeneration. A “yes” vote on Question 5 would allow the research lab in Salisbury Cove to expand by building a new, 3,000-square-foot research and training facility.
The $3 million bond allocation is a small investment with the potential for a major return, and it deserves voters’ support.
In growing its size, employee-wise, sevenfold since 2000, the MDI Biological Laboratory has proven a worthwhile investment of past state bond funding. Between 2001 and 2007, the lab received $5.7 million in state investments through the now-defunct Maine Biomedical Research Fund. The lab leveraged those funds into $106 million more in federal grants.
MDI Biological Laboratory has grown its education programming in a big way in that time. It now offers 30 courses a year and 10-to-12-week fellowship opportunities for undergraduate students from across Maine — and their professors — that allow them a chance to become introduced to biomedical research. More than 2,000 Maine students have been trained in the lab’s programs, and about 90 percent have moved onto science-related careers.
MDI Biological Laboratory has recently won a $13 million federal grant meant to fund an expansion of the lab’s training programs. The $3 million the lab could secure through the bond issue would fund construction the lab needs to house those expanded programs, since federal funds won’t pay for the infrastructure.
While we think Question 5 proposes a worthwhile investment of bond money, our concerns about the small amount of money Maine is investing in research and development — and the way in which Maine proposes to make the investments this year — still apply.
Kevin Strange, president and CEO of the MDI Biological Laboratory, agrees that Maine needs a research and development strategy — and follow-through — if it stands to make investments that spur growth in new industries. He’s offered his assistance to the state in shaping a true R&D strategy for Maine that emphasizes consistency and accountability for those awarded grant funds. Lawmakers would be wise to take him up on his offer.
In the meantime, voters would be wise to vote yes on Question 5.