Galloping to Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The uniqueness of MIT is its appetite for problems – especially those intractable, technical problems whose solutions make a permanent difference

This month a delegation from PKF will be visiting the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston to explore links how to promote Malta as a potential Life Sciences hub for US investors, inventors and entrepreneurs. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, founded in 1861 in response to the increasing industrialization of the United States. In its innovative streak one finds that it adopted a European polytechnic university model and stressed the merits of laboratory instruction in applied science and engineering. 

The uniqueness of MIT is its appetite for problems – especially those intractable, technical problems whose solutions make a permanent difference. Needless to say that with its supportive campus environment it houses an incredible range of student groups and as part of its diversity and its intensely creative atmosphere, the arts flourish in all their forms. MIT attracts some of the most talented students in the world. Students are frequently encouraged to bridge MIT’s excellence with public service. For example, focusing on projects using alternative forms of energy, and machines that could be used for sustainable agriculture. 

This article is about a delegation from PKF to seek start-ups in the US interested to join the growing list of tenants resident at the cutting-edge Life Science Park located in San Gwann. The government has endorsed this initiative taken by PKF as it wishes that the island will become a centre of excellence in scientific breakthroughs and attract more bio technology and oncology clinical research and development.

Readers who may not be familiar with MIT may ask what is so special about this world- class institution now that we shall soon see the building of another university in Malta – The Sadeen Higher institute for Education at the Zonqor campus. Certainly, multiplicity of tertiary educational facilities is a step in the right direction to diversify our intellectual property and soon we hope to attract medical students to partake in Bart’s medical school. Back in the US, MIT is no stranger to accolades – it is rated as the world’s best university in chemistry, economics, linguistics, materials sciences, and physics and astronomy. 

Needless to say this impressive learning institution is the pride of the American intelligentsia and many countries are trying to emulate its success. The mind boggles how MIT excel in other diverse disciplines such as accounting and finance, art and design, biological sciences, earth and marine sciences and mathematics. The lobby of inventors and researchers closely follows announcements and papers presented by scholars at MIT and some of these end up being turned into economic success when taken on board by entrepreneurs to monetize such concepts.

One of the disciplines at MIT that does complement the Malta government policy is that of research and development in the oncology studies and bio technology sphere, which is being actively promoted in the Life Sciences Park at San Gwann. This is located close to the main hospital, the new Oncology Centre and the medical university. 

It cost over €45 million, partly funded by the EU and its landscaped futuristic-designed building covers 11,000sqm, complementing the government’s policy to cement closer collaborations with international scientific and medical personnel and encourage the exchange of knowledge, ideas and experience. PKF has cultivated close contacts with the administrators of the Life Sciences Park and last year held a familiarization visit to a similar Life Science park in Krakow Poland.

The latter has been successfully run in the past decade and has attracted a number of scientists and top researchers in the medical field. One augurs that through the exchange of ideas and staff from the Polish institution there will be more events this year to continue in the success generated so far by Malta Enterprise. The latter proudly contemplates continuing to augment a substantial occupancy rate by research firms as reached in its first year of operation. 

Naturally the beginning of such an ambitious project may be daunting, given that for a small island to be able to join the class of top ranking medical research needs careful thought, administrative expertise and last but not least adequate funds for its operation. It does not come a moment too soon that PKF has invited the top administrators of Life Science Park to join them in Boston to participate in a familarisation trip to MIT and other life sciences institutions.

The offer was warmly greeted by Christian Cardona, the minister responsible for Malta Enterprise, who has endorsed the initiative and augured his best wishes for its success. One may question the millions invested in research and development in advanced economies as speculative and criticise that in some instances such heavy expense may not lead to practical uses. This may be partly true yet as the adage says – nothing ventured, nothing gained. Mark Zuckerberg, chairman and CEO of Facebook, has said that by challenging conventional thinking and expanding knowledge over the long term, scientists can solve the biggest problems of our time.

It is thanks to the efforts of scientists and researchers in MIT who toiled and burned the midnight oil to reach important lifesaving discoveries in the cancer and neuroscience fields. Back to surfing its website one notes how many important breakthroughs have been announced in oncology. One success story tells about a discovery of the first cancer-causing genes in the 1960s – scientists have uncovered at least 600 genes that contribute to tumor development.

Quoting Tyler Jacks, the David H. Koch Professor of Biology and director of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, he has spent much of his career trying to unravel the roles of some of these genes, in hopes of designing better cancer treatments. As an offshoot of MIT’s Koch institute, so far 42 companies have been created by faculty members or with intellectual property developed at the institute. 

At this juncture one may ask – can the dream of Malta Enterprise flourish so that in the near future we do succeed to attract scientists and innovators to study cancer and related diseases at the laboratories available at the Life Sciences Park in San Gwann. This is a bold vision to upgrade our island as a hub of science and technology in the Centre of the Mediterranean.

Could this be just a pipe dream or could we succeed in bringing together international scientists and engineers to pursue innovative approaches to diagnosing, treating, and preventing life threatening diseases. Surely, it is not an easy task as many countries have joined in the furrowed race to reach this goal. Imagine if with proper funding and a non-partisan approach our political leaders unite to back this ambitious project, which can launch many cutting edge enterprises in the field of healthcare. 

It goes without saying that over the years, MIT admits some of the most talented students in the world to experiment at its laboratories how cancer cells take some of their first steps to mutate away from their original tumor sites. This spread is responsible for 90 percent of cancer deaths and studies are ongoing on how to combat it. Such tests developed in laboratories at MIT could help doctors to determine whether a patient’s tumor is likely to spread or not, and possibly to guide the patient’s treatment.

In conclusion, the journey for Malta to seek the entry ticket to join the elite club of scientific research is hard but not unattainable. One hopes that the modest attempt by PKF to pioneer this ambitious task will lead to fortune.