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State leaders says its BIG program has surpassed its job growth goal

Kevin Lawson, KSL Biomedical
Michael Mroziak, WBFO
Kevin Lawson, CEO of KSL Biomedical, explains some of the functions within the Williamsville company

A program formed with Buffalo Billion money seven years ago has created more than double the jobs it expected, state leaders say, while providing important information in the treatment and tracking of COVID.

Founded in 2014 with $47.5 million from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion program, the Buffalo Institute for Genomics and Data Analytics, or BIG, has provided support to more than a dozen companies, some of them established and some of them recent startups, in genomic research.

The program was also intended to create jobs in the field. Friday morning, Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul and University at Buffalo associate vice president of economic development Christina Orsi unfurled a banner outside KSL Biomedical in Williamsville.

The banner read “530 jobs.”

“When people ask where the Buffalo Billion went, it went to support places like KSL, and many others that have been partners, as well as the many researchers and people who are in the medical field, who are drawn to Western New York to be able to participate in this,” Hochul said. “We had asked them if they could, as a result of this investment, maybe hire about 200 people to be a very positive benchmark. Well, we blew that number out of the water with this number that we're announcing here today.”

Lt. Gov Hochul Buffalo Institute for Genomics (BIG)
Michael Mroziak, WBFO
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, left, and University at Buffalo associate vice president of economic development Christina Orsi unfurl a banner noting the creation of 530 jobs since the inception of the Buffalo Institute for Genomics and Data Analytics, or BIG.

More than 100 of those jobs were created at KSL. Its chief executive officer, Kevin Lawson, offered a tour of the facilities. He explained it’s a round-the-clock operation where COVID tests are being taken, processed and its data analyzed.

“We know that we’ve built an environment that can support jobs,” he said. “We can utilize well-trained people and faculty from the university. The ideas are here, and the opportunities are tremendous. And we see this is just the beginning. This should be a biotech hub for the future. And we should be creating tremendous jobs and economic prosperity in Western New York.”

What the state did not anticipate when it funded BIG in 2014 was the COVID pandemic. Orsi says the public health crisis taught BIG and its partners a lot.

“Understanding the viral genome and its function will lead to answers sought by many of the world's top COVID scientists and clinicians, such as how quickly the virus is mutating, how many strains exist, and whether or not the virus is becoming more lethal or slowing down,” she said. “The more researchers know about the virus at the genomic level, the better prepared they are to develop new drugs and treatments.”

Currently, there are 13 companies partnering with BIG.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.