In 2001, the Flinn Foundation adopted a multi-year strategy to help advance Arizona to national bioscience prominence, and has since committed millions of dollars to help the state achieve this goal. Arizona has reason to celebrate a growing list of notable achievements in this relatively short time period. Bold investments and solid infrastructure-building have positioned the state to make great gains in the bioscience economy. Now comes the critical juncture — having the courage and patience to stay the course. Arizona must continue to invest in more talented people and technologies, expand collaboration across institutions, and focus resources on its established areas of excellence.
The news is spreading — Arizona is going after a share of the bioscience economy in a Big Way.
In 2002, it formed the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) to translate genomic discoveries into diagnostic and preventive tools in the fight against cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other complex diseases, and it recruited the International Genomics Consortium (IGC) to work alongside TGen in Phoenix. TGen and IGC now employ more than 200, have received millions of dollars in research grants, and have launched spin-off firms capable of benefiting persons suffering from major diseases.
In 2004, the Critical Path Institute (C-Path), an innovative pharmaceutical research group, was established in Tucson. With support from the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), nonprofit drug-development leader SRI International, and the University of Arizona, C-Path will explore ways to produce safer, more effective drugs and to accelerate the drug-approval process.
Arizona voters jumpstarted these endeavors in 2000 by approving an education initiative that is expected to provide $1 billion over 20 years for science and technology at the state universities. This has already led to the recruitment of outstanding research faculty and the formation of new research institutes at all three state universities.
The Arizona Legislature followed in 2003 by authorizing $440 million in funding to develop multiple new university research facilities, such as the headquarters of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University and BIO5 at UA.
And, to enhance commercialization efforts, Arizona universities have revamped their tech-transfer operations; community colleges and public high schools have taken steps to build a skilled biosciences workforce; and a growing number of biotech firms are choosing to locate or expand their operations in Arizona.
The biosciences is one of the fastest-growing segments of Arizona’s economy, according to Battelle, and Arizona is now keeping pace with the growth rate of the top-10 states receiving National Institutes of Health research grants. Yes, the seeds for a robust bioscience economy are planted and the first sprouts are promising.
More Opportunities Ahead
Boston, San Diego, The Beltway, and others in the forefront of the bioscience economy have no reason to fret, however. Arizona lacks the assets and capacity to excel in all segments of the highly diverse bioscience field, and without targeted and sustained financial resources and committed leadership, it will be 10 or more years before Arizona is likely to be considered among the frontrunners.
Arizona’s strategy is to target certain niche areas where it has nationally recognized capacity — most notably in cancer therapeutics, neurological sciences, and bioengineering — and historic research strengths such as optical sciences (biomedical imaging), electronics, and computer technology. As these fields converge with the biosciences, the key to continued success will be to foster greater collaboration among scientists and institutions unaccustomed to working together, and targeting local, state, and private funding to reward collaboration in these niche areas.
Without a strong medical research base, any state or region will find it difficult to sustain a competitive position in a bioscience economy. Expanding the UA College of Medicine in Phoenix is a promising next step. The stated goal for the downtown Phoenix campus, slated to begin in July 2007 and grow substantially after 2010, is a research-grade program that draws upon partnership opportunities with TGen and ASU faculty, as well as a strong set of teaching hospital affiliations in the Phoenix area.
To build a strong research and clinical care-focused medical school, teaching hospitals in Phoenix will need to make major strategic and mission decisions. Indeed, for Arizona’s bioscience economy to fully grow, its universities, teaching hospitals, and research centers must be loaded with top talent — and the research dollars needed to sustain their explorations and discoveries must be secured.