With the approval of more than 200 spectators, representatives from Virginia Tech, Carilion Clinic, Roanoke, and the Commonwealth of Virginia ceremonially opened the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC Addition on Tuesday.

Guests earlier had settled beneath a tent on the Riverside Circle to hear remarks before touring the state-of-the-art research facilities and meeting scientists who work there. The $90-million, 139,000-square-foot expansion enables the institute to double its workforce by 2027.

During the ceremony, Virginia Tech’s President Tim Sands underscored the importance of biomedical research – especially now, in the wake of a global pandemic.

“As the past several months have demonstrated, the nexus of health, science, and technology is the place where humanity confronts the challenges of the future,” Sands said.

Michael Friedlander, Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology and the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute’s founding executive director, echoed Sands and emphasized the powerful public-private partnerships that have led to the institute’s rapid growth and success.

“This effort demonstrates the commitment of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Carilion Clinic to discovery in the service of health,” Friedlander said. “I am certain that even beyond the timeframe of the careers and lives of those of us who have the privilege of serving in this enterprise today, what you have all built here will continue to provide life changing discoveries in the service of health and a catalyst for the economic vitality of this region for decades to come.”

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Noting the transformation of the region’s economy and Roanoke's growing position as a hub for the biosciences, Carilion Clinic President and CEO Nancy Howell Agee said, “One of my favorite proverbs describes 'collaboration' well: 'If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.' Well, we’ve gone far and fast. Just look at what we’ve accomplished.”

Watching the proceedings was Heywood Fralin, whose family donated a record $50-million gift to name the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC in 2018. He helped spur the institute’s rapid progress. Four years have passed since the groundbreaking ceremony, which followed a 2016 appropriation of $45 million by the Virginia General Assembly to support the new development.

“It truly is remarkable how this place has transformed in the past decade,” said Roanoke Vice Mayor Patricia White-Boyd.

Founded in 2010, the research institute currently employs more than 400 faculty, staff and students, including 37 faculty-led research teams addressing addiction, brain health and disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer, children’s health, infectious disease, and neurorehabilitation. These research teams have cumulatively published more than 1,000 discoveries in leading scientific journals and currently hold $140 million in active research grants and contracts, with over $200 million in grants awarded.

Eileen Filler-Corn, speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, expressed gratitude for the institute’s “incredible scientists” and their contributions to research benefitting families in Virginia – particularly in addressing substance use disorders and mental health.

“On behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia, I want to express how grateful I am to the incredible scientists and all of you who have contributed to the research that has already done so much to help Virginia families, especially during such a difficult time for mental health,” said Filler-Corn, who mentioned state priorities for mental health and substance services. “I know I am only preaching to the choir – the Fralin [Biomedical Research] Institute’s innovations in the development and implementation of addiction treatment have been critical as we navigate this public health crisis.” 

Reiterating the importance of brain and mental health research, Walter Koroshetz, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the National Institutes of Health, emphasized the importance of translational health research operations like the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute during his video address to the outdoor audience.

The research institute’s faculty currently provide training and mentorship to 130 Virginia Tech graduate and medical students conducting innovative research. Among the institute’s 80 previous doctoral trainees, graduates have acquired competitive positions at Duke, Mayo Clinic, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and in private industry.

The campus has attracted award-winning students from across the world, including Rachana Deven Somaiya, a first-generation college student from India. Somaiya is a graduate student in Virginia Tech’s Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health Program and expects to defend her doctoral dissertation this spring.

“As a first-generation college student, I did not know any scientists nor what research was growing up. When I started graduate school, I questioned my ability to succeed,” Somaiya said.

“This institute gave me a chance with a great education and a welcoming environment to conduct extraordinary scientific research.”

A virtual tour of the new facility and the archived ribbon cutting ceremony are accessible via the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute’s website.

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