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Interview with Jeffrey Romoff

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12/13/2006

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 The new biotech center (Ri.Med) that should be created near Palermo, between Cinisi and Carini, on a 130,000 square meter land, may never see the light. Jeffrey Romoff, 61, is President and CEO of UPMC, one of the fathers of ISMETT, an example of good health care. ISMETT was created in 1997 from an international partnership between the Region of Sicily with Cervello and Civico hospitals and UPMC. It gives work to over 500 people and has performed about 600 organ transplants in the last few years. The € 330,000 funds over a period of five years, already foreseen by the previous Financial Law have been suppressed (frozen?) by the new measures approved by the Chamber of Deputies, while waiting to see if the amendments that the Government is submitting to the Senate will include some good news.

Professor Romoff, how would Sicily benefit from a center dedicated to biotechnology and biomedicine?
This is a center that could provide jobs for about 600 researchers, with research programs to be developed in different areas including molecular imaging, a series of innovatory techniques that allow to visualize in vivo the function of the genes responsible for the diseases, and regenerative medicine, a program that, using adult stem cells, aims at identifying therapeutic solutions for end stage organ failure. Also, a center dedicated to biotechnology could attract foreign companies and other investors with a positive impact not just for Sicily but for the whole Country.

So if the funds were not allocated this would not just negatively impact in terms of jobs.
This is about science. When, 10 years ago we decided to create ISMETT, we exported our experience to Italy and we knew that in order to maintain the Center’s levels of excellence we had to work on the concept of research.

Why did you go for Palermo?
Because cities like Milan and Rome already have their centers of excellence. Here there was more space and also more need. The idea was, and is still is, to start from Sicily to create an international network of scientists to discover new treatments.

What if the Government doesn’t unfreeze the funds?
We would be forced to take our project elsewhere.

Have you received any offers?
Yes, from Ireland. And I’ll admit we’re evaluating the offer...