Three years on, ‘Roadmap’ reports significant progress

January 11, 2006

By hammersmith

Three years into a 10-year plan to bring Arizona to national competitiveness in the biosciences, initial measures of progress show encouraging signs that Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap is on track.

Such was the message delivered in a progress report by Dr. Walter Plosila, vice president of Battelle’s Technology Partnership Practice, at December luncheons in Phoenix and Tucson. About 250 leaders in science and business, as well as elected officials, attended the two events, which were emceed by Martin Shultz, chair of Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap Steering Committee and vice president of government affairs for Pinnacle West Capital Corporation.

“I said back in 2002 that the stars are aligning for the biosciences in Arizona, and that continues to be the case today,” Plosila said, adding that progress has been made on three-fourths of the actions outlined in the 2002 report.

Plosila reported that opportunities in the biosciences in Arizona have flourished since the release of the Roadmap. He said one of the most encouraging signs is that Arizona has matched the top-10 states in the annual growth rate of grants it received from the National Institutes of Health—a goal achieved three years earlier than its 2007 benchmark.

Plosila also reported that, between 2000 and 2004, the numbers of Arizona bioscience firms and employees have increased 6.6 and 11.8 percent respectively, and wages for bioscience workers have risen 27.6 percent. In addition, while venture capital funding to Arizona firms continues to need improvement, VC for biotech and pharmaceutical firms soared to historic heights in 2004 and throughout the first three quarters of 2005.

Additional highlights included:

  • Establishment of research anchors, including TGen, C-Path, Molecular Profiling Institute, SABRE at Northern Arizona University, BIO5 at University of Arizona, and the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University;
  • Passage of a tax credit for “angel” investors by the state Legislature;
  • Initiation of $440 million for construction of university research facilities;
  • Apportionment of $100 million bio/health training at Maricopa Community Colleges;
  • Movement of Covance, InNexus, and other companies to Arizona; and
  • Expansion of local firms such as W. L. Gore and Aventis.

In addition to Plosila, Dr. Dawn Schroeder, executive director of the Arizona Biomedical Research Commission, presented a report on interim progress of a Roadmap project on translational research—the process of coordinating among basic scientists and clinicians to take lab discoveries to the marketplace more efficiently and effectively. Schroeder described the work of the Arizona Biomedical Research Commission, one of the nation’s few state agencies devoted to medical research. In 2005, the commission supported 63 contracts totaling $6.1 million, including 11 translational research awards totaling $1.7 million.

About half of the researchers who received ABRC grants went on to receive outside funding, Schroeder said.

Shultz praised the collaborative spirit that he said is helping to drive the state in its quest to become a leader in the biosciences, highlighting major awards won by Arizonans. Last month two Valley high school students under the tutelage of TGen mentors won the top prize at the national Siemens Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science, and Technology; and University of Arizona senior Ajit Divakaruni won the prestigious Marshall Scholarship for doctoral studies in biochemistry at Cambridge University in England.

“What these incredible achievements demonstrate is that when we work together and strive for excellence, great things happen,” he said.

But Shultz also stressed that there is still more work to be done.

“We have a long way to go because we have not involved all the great minds that are in Arizona,” he said. “But we can make the 10 years successful if we dig into the details in our respective areas and maintain the sense of urgency that we have had thus far.”

For more information:

Moving Forward 2005 progress report

Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap

Arizona Biomedical Research Commission

“Arizona advances in biosciences,” Arizona Republic, 12/20/2005

Bioindustry gains seen as Arizona heeds plan, Tucson Citizen, 12/14/2005