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Long Island's path to prosperity in pandemic response

In researching treatment and vaccines for the coronavirus,

In researching treatment and vaccines for the coronavirus, Long Island incubators, labs, hospitals and research institutes might help to save the region's economy, too. Credit: Getty Images/FilippoBacci

They’re researching treatments and vaccines. They’re developing tests, and distributing personal protective equipment.

But as the region’s biotechnology companies and research institutions have turned their attention to the coronavirus, they will do more than try to keep Long Island, and the nation, healthy.

Together, our incubators, labs, hospitals and research institutes might help to save, restore and sustain Long Island’s economy, too.

That ray of hope comes amid dismal economic news for the region. Since the week ending March 14, a stunning 317,497 Long Islanders have filed unemployment claims. The region has long tried to build a biotechnology industry in tandem with the research universities and institutes that dot our landscape. Now, that work is front and center.

Our hospitals have conducted clinical trials of drugs touted in political circles, like convalescent plasma, remdesivir and, previously, hydroxychloroquine. Northwell Health has seven ongoing clinical trials studying potential COVID-19 therapeutics.

Researchers at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Northwell Health, Stony Brook University, Brookhaven National Lab, and companies across the region, are racing to discover therapeutics, vaccines, computer models, tests and more.

Then there are companies hoping for their own breakthroughs. Henry Schein is distributing a rapid blood test for COVID-19. Codagenix, a company based at Farmingdale’s Broadhollow Bioscience Park that counts billionaire Jim Simons as one of its big investors, is collaborating on the development of a vaccine. Applied DNA Sciences, a firm based in a Stony Brook incubator, is working on vaccination and testing efforts, and has had some success in animal testing on one vaccine candidate. Enzo Biochem in Farmingdale has announced the development of an antibody test. Amneal Pharmaceuticals, with offices in Hauppauge and Brookhaven, had produced a generic version of hydroxychloroquine that it provided to New York institutions early on, and its COVID-19-related research continues. Other startups are developing technology to help us get back to work, or are making personal protective equipment we continue to need.

Such essential work has emerged out of decades-long efforts to develop a tech corridor here. One big breakthrough came last year, when BNL received federal approval to construct an electron-ion collider. The lab is using its facilities for COVID-19 research.

Now add the possibility that our biotech companies could be at the forefront of the necessary and complicated research that could move us toward answers about the coronavirus. Imagine if an Island-based firm gets to market with a vaccine, or develops successful therapeutics. Such a breakthrough could lead to growing companies, more jobs, and a burgeoning industry key to the Island’s future.

We will need our science corridor more than ever. The Long Island economy is decimated. Industries we used to depend on, like retail and tourism, are collapsing. State and federal officials need to consider ways to further invest in our research, manufacturing and technology firms, which could be a rare and important bright spot.

In them are the tools that could heal us individually, and at least start to heal our region.

— The editorial board