Biotechnology, a global research and startup hub in Carini

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In Carini, in the province of Palermo, there is a double construction site open for the construction of the Center for Biotechnology and Biomedical Research of the Ri Foundation. Med. One is the construction site for the construction of the center by 2025. The other, no less important, is that of what we could call the scientific infrastructure: a “construction site” directed in this case by Giulio Superti-Furga who will leave the direction of the Research Center for Molecular Medicine (CeMM) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences to come to Palermo to be the scientific director of the Ri.Med Foundation and the director of the Center for biotechnology and biomedical research (Cbrb) which is under construction, in fact, in Carini, a few kilometers from Palermo airport. The Cbrb of Carini will be the main operational structure of Ri.Med and will be managed by Upmc (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center which in Palermo is already present in Ismett, the Mediterranean Institute for transplants and highly specialized therapies): the primary objective is to rapidly translate cutting-edge biomedical and biotechnological research into clinical practices and innovative products.

A life dedicated to research that of Superti-Furga, a Milanese man who grew the research institute he directed in Vienna but also founded five biotech companies and above all contributed to the training and development of an army of male and female researchers . Now he finds himself faced with what appears (not only to him obviously) to be a titanic challenge: «For me – he says – it is a big gamble, for which it seems I have been preparing all my life. This is a generational project that materializes precisely at a time when opportunities in life sciences and medicine are exploding.”

The project launched by Rimed in Carini, for example, involves the creation of a center with around 600 researchers. «We are evaluating how to organize the structure in a manageable way, proposing a division into areas rather than departments, looking for a less academic term – explains Superti Furga – and we are considering the possibility of organizing the structure according to the different therapeutic lines. At the same time, a technological dimension will be integrated, so that each person involved can refer through different disciplinary, technological and therapeutic coordinates.” The objective is to minimize hierarchical and cultural barriers and promote interdisciplinarity to find solutions for those diseases and processes for which adequate or completely effective treatments do not yet exist: from aging to neurodegenerative diseases, from metabolic diseases such as diabetes to obesity, and then cardiovascular diseases, immune system diseases, infectious diseases and cancer. «It is also important to create synergies with our primary partner, Ismett – he says -. We aim to conduct research on nutrition and the effect of the environment, ranging from pollution to the influence of the sea. And we are interested in exploring the diversity of humanity’s genetic heritage, understanding the historical, archaeological sense and the link with health.

The declared ambition of Superti-Furga (and therefore of the Ri.Med Foundation) is to transform the center into a beacon ranging from research to start-ups, from the health industry to the food and wine industry, from cultural tourism to health tourism. All in a global vision. «This goal is only possible if everyone believes in it – he says -. In the long term, the Carini center has the potential to transform Sicily into an authentic hotbed of technological innovation in the medical, pharmaceutical, bioengineering and nutritional sectors” says Superti-Furga. But the main challenge concerns the international dimension. The new director is aware that simply creating a network of collaborations with other countries will not be enough. «In research the challenge knows no regional boundaries – he says –. Many might consider it an impossible goal: to convince a Swedish researcher, an Australian colleague, or a young German scientist or a Japanese bioengineer to move and work in Carini and Palermo. Attracting the best researchers in the world requires an exceptional instrument park and a highly competitive infrastructure.” With a fixed point which is an act of love for the Island: «The geographical position makes Sicily a bastion of Europe in the world, especially in a Mediterranean increasingly at the center of the bets of the future – says Superti-Furga -. With everyone’s help, I would like us to abandon fatalism, skepticism, selfishness and provincialism, to work together towards success with the creativity that distinguishes us. Sicily can become a protagonist in an Italy eager for change.”

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