Jeffrey Trent may be more at home in a laboratory than a construction site. But that didn't prevent the world-renowned genome scientist from taking the controls of a huge earthmover Friday to break ground on a bioscience center that supporters hope will spur a powerful industry in the East Valley and throughout Arizona.
“In the next decade this is going to be a stepping stone, putting Arizona on an even footing with the best and the brightest around the world,” Trent told hundreds of dignitaries marking the start of construction of the Phoenix Bioscience Center in downtown Phoenix.
“What we are saying is ‘we are a big state with big ambitions,’ ” added Gov. Janet Napolitano.
The $46 million project will serve as the headquarters of the Translational Genomics Research Institute, which Trent, a former genomic researcher for the National Institutes of Health, is heading as its president and scientific director.
The goal of the public/private joint venture is to “translate” scientific discoveries into improved treatments for cancer, diabetes and other complex diseases that are influenced by a patient's genes.
The six-story building also will be the home base of the International Genomics Consortium, a nonprofit |venture |of |medical centers and other biotech entities that is creating public databases of genetic information that can be used in treating cancer and other diseases.
The institute and consortium both have strong ties to the East Valley. The institute has established temporary quarters at the Papago Arroyo complex at 1275 W. Washington St., Tempe, where the scientists are occupying space provided by Sonora Quest Laboratories and subleased from OrthoLogic Corp.
Also the consortium is operating from lab space provided by Scottsdale Healthcare's Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center. The institute will move out of its Tempe space when the Phoenix center is finished, but the consortium plans to maintain a lab at the Piper center even after the new quarters are completed. Institute scientists also are expected to work closely with Arizona State University's growing biotechnology program.
ASU is building a new Arizona Biodesign Institute on the Tempe campus that will combine several ASU programs in one location to develop technologies such as nano-biosystems that will help identify and treat diseases. Former ASU President Lattie Coor, who has played a key role in building bioscience studies in Arizona, said the ASU program would not have happened without the arrival of the genomics consortium and translational institute.
“The beauty of this endeavor is it will energize biological science programs throughout Arizona,” he said at Friday's groundbreaking. He added that each of the state universities is using its ties to the consortium and institute to enhance biology research areas where they are the strongest. “ASU is building on its strengths in bioengineering,” he said. “Now we can move on to another level.”
The translational institute has made rapid progress since its creation was announced last June. Just one year later, the program has 104 employees, including scientists and administrative staff. It also has launched several major research efforts to determine the underlying causes of autism, address health issues faced by Hispanics, study the genetic basis of diabetes in a partnership with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and develop ways to identify early and treat Alzheimer's disease.
In the process the center is expected to spawn start-up companies that will commercialize scientific ideas developed by the institute, creating high-paying jobs while contributing to improvements in human health.
Construction of the center, located near Fifth and Van Buren streets on the site of the former Phoenix Union High School, is expected to be completed in late 2004.