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University pushes to bring gene-mappers to Arizona

MATT HEISTAND/ Arizona Daily Wildcat

Dr. Ray Woosley, UA vice president for health sciences, addresses UA President Peter Likins and faculty yesterday afternoon in the Chemistry building. The forum was held to discuss the possibility of the International Genomics Consortium, a non-profit organization of biomedical research, coming to Arizona.

By S.M. Callimanis
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday Feb. 27, 2002

Housing the International Genomics Consortium could increase UA's national prominence, Likins says

Arizona and its universities might play host to one of the most modern and cutting-edge organizations in biological research, UA President Peter Likins said yesterday in an open forum to faculty members.

The International Genomics Consortium, a non-profit, biomedical research organization, is seeking a permanent location from which to organize researchers and collect data.

A joint effort between Arizona's three state universities and each city's government is being formed to encourage the group to move to the state, Likins said.

"We are in danger in the state of Arizona of being passed over," he said. "We need a game plan to move up to the competitive level nationally."

The IGC, a group of 18 universities and medical centers around the country, is involved in a variety of biomedical projects, including the application of the data derived from mapping the human genome to cancer studies.

Arizona is in competition with Baltimore, Atlanta and Houston to house the IGC. Part of Arizona's proposal would include the creation of an Arizona Biotechnology and Biomedicine Institute, or ABBI, another non-profit organization that would conduct research and share data with the IGC.

"We are trying to fund (ABBI) so we can provide the right kind of host environment for IGC," said Dr. Ray Woosley, UA vice president for Health Sciences.

The proposal to bring the IGC to Arizona maintains that it will be independently funded from the universities, and in addition to a branch in Tucson, it will have locations in Tempe, Scottsdale and downtown Phoenix.

The model would be "a collaboration of some sort where the universities can offer the academic environments that we have for the IGC, and that investment would bring core technology that would be valuable for everybody in the state," Woosley said.

Of the 100 faculty members and researchers who were at the forum, some expressed concern over the use of scant university money to fund the IGC. Others were optimistic, encouraging any prospect that would bring biological research at UA into the mainstream.

"I can't guarantee that there wont be some erosion of resources in some parts of our university," Likins said. "But I feel sure that the pie will get bigger and it will be distributed differently."

The model relies heavily on donations from organizations like pharmaceutical companies and private foundations, Likins said. Without them, "we do not have the financial wherewithal to be a player in this competition," he said.

The Flinn Foundation and the City of Phoenix have already pledged $10 million dollars each to the fund-raising effort, if needed.

Woosley asked the faculty members for advice, saying "There are lots of landmines when you bring together academics, politics and business. We want to make sure that we don't sacrifice anything that we hold dear in academia but we also don't want to miss an opportunity."

The IGC is "exactly what we need in Arizona. I'm extremely encouraged and it's imperative that we don't lose momentum. If it's not IGC it should be someone else," said Dr. Bill Dalton, dean of the College of Medicine.

Despite the possible costs of trying to secure the deal and the indeterminate effects it may have on UA, Likins encouraged the faculty members to remain positive, saying that bringing the IGC to Arizona would not only enhance healthcare but provide economic benefits.

Likins stressed that even if the IGC did not relocate to Arizona, the ABBI project would still be a priority.


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