A solid foundation for health and economic well being is emerging from Arizona’s blueprint for success in the biosciences. Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap is reaching new heights during its fourth year of implementation, marked by invigorated leadership from the business community, sizeable investment from the private sector, and successful public-private partnerships. Its driving force — active collaboration — must continue in order to translate Arizona’s research assets into long-lasting, profound results.
What is so impressive about the expansion of Arizona’s scientific research base and efforts to develop a thriving, internationally competitive bioscience sector is the host of additional public and private sector investments made in 2005-06 and the growing cadre of “contributing architects.”
Other states and regions have made investments of similar or greater magnitude, especially through public sector funds, but perhaps none so systematically and strategically through a blend of public and private resources. The new commitments made to grow and expand Arizona’s scientific research base in recent months provide compelling evidence of this public-private sector partnership. Consider:
• Our colleagues at The Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust are working with Arizona’s research universities and lead medical institutions to identify and recruit a critical mass of new research investigators in personalized medicine — a collective investment that could exceed $100 million.
• The Governor and Legislature agreed to allocate $35 million to establish the Arizona 21st Century Fund to make timely investments in new medical, scientific, and engineering research programs, with prospects for additional funds in future years. Targeted research projects in autism and Alzheimer’s disease received an additional $10 million.
• The “21st Century” funds will flow to the new Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz) formed by Arizona’s principal business leadership organizations — Greater Phoenix Leadership (GPL), Southern Arizona Leadership Council in Tucson, and Flagstaff 40 — to build and nurture continued research partnerships in the bioscience and technology sectors. To further signify their commitment, these groups agreed to raise $15 million in private sector funds over five years to support SFAz’s operations.
• Phoenix business leader and GPL member Jerry Bisgrove pledged $100 million to SFAz through his Stardust Charitable Group, to match an annual $25 million commitment by the Legislature to the Arizona 21st Century Fund over four years.
• Adding experienced international leadership and luster to its aspirations, SFAz recruited Dr. William C. Harris, who guided the compelling growth of Science Foundation Ireland for the past five years and previously led research programs of the National Science Foundation. In shaping SFAz’s research investments, Harris will draw from the experience of Ireland, which has achieved remarkable economic growth.
Collectively, these efforts mark a significant expansion in the public-private sector partnership that has helped to author and guide Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap. This long-term action plan, crafted by the Battelle Technology Partnership Practice with Flinn Foundation funding and the counsel of a network of diverse statewide committees, recommends a series of strategic private, philanthropic, and public investments to stimulate and accelerate market-driven forces that have taken root and begun to spread.
A Bold Vision
Four fundamental action steps were identified by Battelle for Arizona to strengthen its position in the bioscience sector:
• Build Research Collaborations. Multi-institutional, public and private sector research collaborations in the basic sciences, pooling world-class talent and resources within niche fields, significantly exceed the power of single institutional approaches. Targeted areas of focus for Arizona include cancer therapeutics; diseases of the brain and central nervous system; and historic strengths in biomaterials and engineering (medical devices and nanotechnologies), the optical sciences (new and more accurate imaging diagnostics), and bioinformatics (information technology and computer science applied to biology).
• Translate Research. Basic research that yields invaluable knowledge of how biological systems work must be converted into such real-world technologies as drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic devices. To realize this goal and complement its bioscience research base, Arizona must build a full-scale translational and clinical research base. Arizona’s renowned gene-based diagnostic scientists, combined with experienced drug development teams and impressive bioinformatics capacity, position the state competitively in the fast-evolving research and patient care sectors.
• Strengthen Industry. The production, distribution, and marketing of these new discoveries drive the creation of new jobs and attract related industry to the area. Enhancements are necessary in licensing of new discoveries, seed funding for initial startup of promising businesses, and ready access to capital, wet-lab facilities, and management expertise — all key areas that help to nurture a critical mass of bioscience companies in proximity to university and research centers.
• Inform Citizens. Bioscience companies have special needs for workforce training and seek to function in environments where there is solid public understanding and support of the biosciences. To build a dynamic competitive bioscience industry base, Arizona must have a ready, capable, and skilled talent base, from technician to postdoctoral fellows. Success also requires informed, supportive citizens.
Progress has been achieved on each action step. In addition, the increasing number of firms and developing employment base attest to the biosciences becoming one of the faster-growing segments in the state’s economy. And, in just three years, Arizona has achieved its goal of equaling the growth rate of the top-10 states in funding from the National Institutes of Health, the research “gold standard.” These are important indicators that the Roadmap action steps and the hard work of hundreds of Arizona leaders are on target and producing the hoped-for results.