Flinn Foundation-sponsored study identifies three bioscience growth areas to advance innovation and economic growth in greater Phoenix

June 13, 2024

By brianpowell

Precision oncology/medicine, digital health, translational neurosciences to advance Phoenix Bioscience Core, new hubs

A new study of the Phoenix area’s bioscience ecosystem has identified three areas poised for rapid growth and global impact at the Phoenix Bioscience Core and in surrounding regional hubs of research and innovation.

The report, “Leveraging the Phoenix Region’s Bioscience Assets for Sustained Economic Growth,” released June 13, identifies how Phoenix’s strengths can grow the state’s bioscience and biomedical industry through partnerships between industry, clinical care, and academic research and development:

  • Precision oncology/medicine, providing personalized targeted cancer diagnosis and care through molecular diagnostics.
  • Digital health, weartech and medtech, including wearable electronic devices, telehealth, disease detection and remote monitoring.
  • Translational neurosciences that bridge the gap between brain research and treatments.

The report was commissioned by the Flinn Foundation, which in 2002 launched Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap—the state’s long-term strategic plan to guide the progress of the biosciences. TEConomy Partners, which reports Arizona statewide bioscience data on a biennial basis, performed the new study.  

“While we have tracked bioscience data for more than two decades, it is important to dig even deeper to identify where the Phoenix region is excelling with the greatest potential to lead nationally and globally,” said Tammy McLeod, Ph.D., Flinn Foundation president and CEO. “We believe this study can enhance our already strong collaborations, leading to new research, clinical trials, and companies that will ultimately improve health outcomes.”

Precision oncology/medicine

The Phoenix region is home to major grants and research centers, with about 1,400 active clinical trials in cancer, according to the report. A base of researchers and precision-diagnostics companies grows each year, with startups emerging from universities and research institutes. A primary focus today is cancer diagnostics, with opportunities for convergence with data sciences, especially AI tools and engineering, according to the report.

After an emphasis on precision medicine during the past 20 years, recent growth has been in molecular diagnostics companies that focus on personal cancer diagnostics, including Caris Life Sciences, Castle Biosciences and Exact Sciences.  

Digital health, weartech and medtech

This growing area of research and industrial innovation has seen an outsized share of venture capital investments during the past five years, including $240 million for digital health and $188 million for medical devices, the study found. Mayo Clinic’s MedTech Accelerator in north Phoenix and the WearTech Applied Research Center at the Phoenix Medical Quarter at Park Central in midtown Phoenix are two examples of regional assets. In addition, this growth area is aligned with regional strengths in semiconductors, microelectronics and precision medicine.

The study found more than 300 active or recruiting device-related trials that includes hospitals highly rated in rehabilitation, orthopedics and cardiology. Other examples of strengths in this area are the Cardiac 3D Print Lab at Phoenix Children’s Hospital and the medical simulation training facility at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center.

Translational neurosciences

Phoenix is known nationally and globally for its neuroscience research, including brain surgery at Barrow Neurological Institute, Alzheimer’s disease research at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute and nearly 350 active or recruiting clinical trials. While still an emerging area for industry development, a growing base of labs can help advance startups, research and collaborations, the study found.

Greater Phoenix also has unique large patient data assets such as the MindCrowd memory test at Translational Genomics Research Institute—with nearly 500,000 participants—that can be used to recruit for clinical trials. The report also cites a local emphasis on better understanding and serving diverse and rural populations that have been underrepresented in clinical research studies.

“The city of Phoenix is home to globally recognized research excellence and innovation institutes,” said Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego.

“After years of planning and executing a strategic plan to leverage Phoenix as a bioscience and innovation core, it’s no surprise that precision oncology and medicine, digital health, and translational neurosciences are leading the way in growth and development in our city. We are continuously preparing for what the future looks like in Phoenix. This study provides valuable insights we can leverage to continue sharing our story.”

Phoenix Bioscience Core leads way

The Phoenix Bioscience Core in downtown Phoenix is a 30-acre innovation cluster that includes the highest concentration of research scientists in the state. The Core is home to leading research institutes, including TGen and International Genomics Consortium, the area’s major health care systems, Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona, including the UArizona College of Medicine-Phoenix. Emerging life sciences companies located there have access to labs and office space at the 850 PBC building developed by Wexford Science & Technology. The Core is also the planned home of the ASU School of Medicine and UArizona’s Center for Advanced Molecular and Immunological Therapies, or CAMI.

The 20-year-old hub has been joined in recent years by other concentrations of bioscience activity, including the Phoenix Medical Quarter, Discovery Oasis at Mayo Clinic’s Phoenix campus, and the Cotton Center.

“This report will help the members of the Greater Phoenix bio and life sciences ecosystem to focus efforts and messaging regarding the region’s strengths. The city of Phoenix, Greater Phoenix Economic Council, Discovery Oasis, Arizona Bioindustry Association, and other partners work together to expand on our successes throughout our region,” said Scarlett Spring, Phoenix Bioscience Core executive director.  

“And while there will be a definitive focus on these three identified areas of growth, we will continue to pursue many other areas of research and innovation within our fast-growing bioscience industry.”

In addition to the growth areas, the report recommends a more coordinated, proactive regional business development effort, increasing networking and collaboration activities, developing deeper business knowledge to assist emerging startups and gaining access to high-quality population health databases.

The study’s advisory committee included members from Arizona’s state universities, the Arizona Board of Regents, regional hospitals and health systems and affiliated biomedical research institutions, the city of Phoenix, and others. More than 40 interviews were conducted with regional industry, research, and economic development leaders, complementing TEConomy’s data research.

Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap, the long-term strategic plan, was last updated in 2014. The next iteration will be introduced by the Phoenix-based Flinn Foundation in 2025.

Read more: “Leveraging the Phoenix Region’s Bioscience Assets for Sustained Economic Growth