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Switzerland's ambassador visits Marshall

Apr. 06, 2011 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Switzerland's ambassador to the United States, Manuel Sager, spent more than an hour Tuesday morning with research officials at Marshall University.

Sager was in town to attend the opening of a new facility near Lesage by Alcon, whose parent company is based in Switzerland. He wanted to find out more information about the university's research arm through the Marshall Institute for Interdisciplinary Research.

During a meeting with researchers Eric Kmiec, Joan Wilson, Jingwei Xie and Eric Blough, Sager found out about the research being done in the biotechnology fields and the corporate partnerships being developed with pharmaceutical companies.

"In Switzerland, we have a lot of biotechnology and pharmaceutical production and research companies," Sager said.

He noted that Switzerland is the fifth-largest investor in the United States, which is why the meeting was so important, said Kmiec, the director of MIIR.

"This kind of meeting opens doors," Kmiec said.

Sager said the institute has a lot of potential and was pleased to hear about the work being done in translational genomic research and the cyberinfrastructure capabilities that Marshall has at its disposal.

"I had no idea these things are happening here in Huntington and Marshall," Sager said. "It's an eye opener to see this cutting-edge research."

Mario Brossi, Sager's senior advisor, said the biotechnology industry in Switzerland is booming, with more than 225 companies engaged in very rigorous work. He said he is encouraged by MIIR's pursuit of public-private partnerships and offered to help Marshall make some international contacts.

Sager added that there is a balance for smaller research universities that aim to stick with a long-term plan while also not missing other cutting-edge trends. Kmiec said MIIR's plan to be a research tool for corporations helps maintain that balance while also establishing credibility among those corporate giants.

Sager and his wife, Christine, also toured the labs in the Robert C. Byrd Biotechnology Center with officials from Marshall and the West Virginia Development Office.