SYDNEY, Australia - Australia's academic institutions are staking their place in the fast-growing biotechnology industry by building a string of new research centers, including two major, recently announced biotech institutes.

Both the new institutes, at universities regarded as second-tier but still with considerable research expertise in biotechnology, are in addition to the recently announced Centre for Chiral and Molecular Technologies now being built at Deakin University near Geelong in the state of Victoria. (See BioWorld International, April 19, 2000.)

Academics involved in the chiral center and the two new centers said that as well as conducting basic and applied research, the centers are being organized with an eye on the possibilities of commercializing any discoveries.

One of the new centers is the A$13 million (US$7.8 million) Centre for Biomolecular Science and Drug Discovery being built at the Gold Coast campus of Griffith University in Brisbane. The other is the Victoria Institute of Biotechnology, which will be based at a campus of the Victoria University of Technology (VUT) in the western suburbs of Melbourne. To be run as a joint venture with the Austin Research Institute, also based in Melbourne, the center may receive up to $38 million from Austin, the VUT and the Victorian State Government.

VUT pro vice chancellor Vaughan Beck said that Victoria University and the Austin Research Institute had previously cooperated in the training of Ph.D. students.

Beck said that the first part of the new institute to be established would be a Centre for Drug Design and Development, which will design drugs for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and for cell FC receptors. As well as conducting basic and applied research, the institute will focus on the commercial outcomes.

The Centre for Biomolecular Science and Drug Discovery on the Gold Coast in Queensland will emphasize drug design, as its name suggests. But a spokesman for the center said it also will conduct basic research.

The spokesman said that the center was already working on borrowed premises, while new buildings are constructed, and its researchers were looking at antiviral treatments for the rotavirus that affects children.

Among other design aspects, there will be a special "incubator area" for ventures commercializing the work of the center, the spokesman said.