Penn State Intercom......May 10, 2001

Governor visits Hershey to promote
life science commercial development

By Barbara Hale
Public Information

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge visited the College of Medicine at The Hershey Medical Center April 25 to promote his $90 million Life-Science Greenhouse initiative and to tour two heart research projects that illustrate the potential human and commercial benefits offered by investment in health-related technology.

President Graham B. Spanier greeted Ridge, along with Dr. Darrell Kirch, dean of the College of Medicine, senior vice president for health affairs and chief executive officer of The Milton S. Hershey Medical Center; and Eva J. Pell, vice president for research and dean of The Graduate School. The College of Medicine was the last stop on the governor's sweep across the state to launch the Greenhouse Initiative.

Over the next 25 years, Pennsylvania could receive approximately $11 billion under a legal settlement with the nation's major tobacco producers. The Life Science Greenhouse initiative would use $90 million in surplus tobacco-settlement funds to create "greenhouses" or commercial incubators in the east, west and central parts of the state. The incubators will team inventors at research institutions, including Penn State, with private investors.

Should the governor's plan become law, The Life Science Greenhouse of Central Pennsylvania will be developed in the Capitol region, near the College of Medicine and The Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. The University hopes that funds provided by the Tobacco Settlement Life Sciences Greenhouse Initiative will be used to construct the incubator.

Since the Life Science Greenhouse of Central Pennsylvania will be an organization that commercializes health-related research conducted on the University Park campus as well as at the College of Medicine, incubator services in State College also will be necessary. An existing incubator, called Zetachron, operated by Penn State, will be available to serve Centre County.

In addition, the University hopes to see the establishment of a Fund for Technology in Central Pennsylvania that combines Tobacco Settlement Funds with support from investors. This fund would be used to stimulate technology development in the health arena.

"The research conducted at Penn State and by other partners in Central Pennsylvania interested in this initiative will lead to the potential for spinout companies that contribute to economic growth in Central Pennsylvania," said Pell.

"The most exciting aspect of this initiative is the way in which it will speed our ability to move discoveries from the laboratory bench at Penn State to the bedside of patients at The Hershey Medical Center, throughout Pennsylvania, and beyond," Kirch said. "It's a win-win situation that will improve both the economy and the health of our state."

During his visit to the College of Medicine, Ridge toured the artificial organs laboratories where the heart assist device known as the Arrow LionHeart was developed. He also spoke with Dr. Mark Kester, associate professor of pharmacology, who has developed a procedure that prevents re-development of blockages in arteries after angioplasty. Dr. William Pierce, Evan Pugh professor emeritus of surgery; Dr. Gerson Rosenberg, professor of surgery and bioengineering and chief of the Division of Artificial Organs; and their team in the College of Medicine, together with mechanical engineers and bioengineers at University Park, developed the Arrow LionHeart in conjunction with Arrow International Inc. of Reading. The device was first implanted in a patient in Germany in October 1999 and in an American patient at The Hershey Medical Center this past February.

Kester and his colleagues developed a procedure that virtually eliminates new tissue growth after angioplasty procedures. The team found that coating the balloon angioplasty catheters with ceramide reduces the risk of subsequent blockages by greater than 90 percent in animal studies. More than 300,000 angioplasty procedures are performed in the U.S. every year but in almost 40 percent of those cases tissue grows back in the blood vessel and additional blockages develop -- all because of the trauma associated with inserting the angioplasty catheter itself.

Pell noted that health-related research also is being commercialized at University Park. She pointed to Chiral Quest LLC, a company based on technologies developed by Xumu Zhang, professor of chemistry at University Park. Zhang has developed catalysts capable of "locking" drug molecules into the most preferred and therapeutic configuration. In drug synthesis, while the product may be pure, it still may contain a mixture of molecules with different configurations. Often, only one configuration will be an effective medicine and, in some worst case scenarios, other configurations may be toxic. Zhang's catalysts ensure that the molecules will have the desired configuration. The University licensed eight of Zhang's catalyst families to Chiral Quest, a start-up company organized by Technology Assessment and Development Inc., a State College company. Development of the technologies will continue in Chiral Quest's laboratory in the Zetachron commercial incubator building.

Barbara Hale can be reached at