Guest Column: Southern Arizona plays critical role in the state's bioscience drive

2012-12-02T00:00:00Z Guest Column: Southern Arizona plays critical role in the state's bioscience driveJack B. Jewett, Ron Shoopman and Leslie Tolbert Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Ten years ago, in December 2002, Arizona launched an ambitious decade-long strategy to become a competitive region in one of the nation's fastest-growing industries, the biosciences. The sought-after rewards: a stronger, more diversified economy and health benefits to Arizonans.

The vision of Arizona's Bioscience Roadmap was bold, as the majority of states already had formal bioscience initiatives. Many cities and regions - San Diego, Boston, the Bay Area and more - had a lengthy head start in building their research infrastructure and concentration of bioscience companies.

A decade later, Arizona is considered one of the nation's top emerging bioscience states. Our statewide research base has rapidly matured, and research innovations are increasingly turning into new products, jobs and companies.

Today, bioscience jobs and firms are growing considerably faster in Arizona than the rest of the nation -for jobs, nearly four times faster. The growth even continued during the Great Recession, when the state lost 300,000 jobs. Bioscience jobs are high-wage, paying nearly 30 percent more in Arizona than the private-sector average.

Southern Arizona has played a key role in the state's emergence.

The University of Arizona is the state's leader in generating research grants from the National Institutes of Health. It features numerous bioscience assets - a college of allopathic medicine, a major multidisciplinary bioscience research institute, a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, an academic medical center, a technology park, strong programs in agriculture and biomedical engineering, and excellence in physical sciences and other areas that complement the biosciences. One more is in the works-a 65-acre bioscience park that was formally dedicated in October.

Tucson is home to a unique research institute, the Critical Path Institute, which works with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory agencies worldwide to bring safer drugs, diagnostics and medical devices to market more quickly.

The bioscience industry base in Southern Arizona has grown substantially, featuring companies from multinational giants to emerging startups. Oro Valley, 10 years ago a retirement destination of about 30,000, has become a bioscience hotspot, with two of the world's top five pharmaceutical firms in Sanofi and Roche. Roche acquired Ventana Medical Systems in 2008 for $3.4 billion and has committed to investing millions of dollars to expand its local operations. Oro Valley also hosts a new branch of UA's BIO5 Institute focused on drug development.

The progress hasn't happened by accident. It's the result of following carefully crafted strategic plans and working collaboratively to implement them. The 2002 Roadmap assessment specified 19 major actions that hundreds of bioscience leaders from the public and private sectors have been working together to achieve.

The Roadmap was compiled by Battelle, a national research-and-development leader, and commissioned by the Phoenix-based Flinn Foundation.

In 2006, Battelle compiled regional roadmaps for southern and northern Arizona, identifying strategies specific to the distinctive assets of each region. The Southern Arizona Roadmap needed a champion to galvanize the local bioscience community and address the proposed recommendations. The Southern Arizona Leadership Council became that champion.

SALC formed the Bioscience Leadership Council of Southern Arizona (BLCSA), a coalition of regional leaders in research, academia, business and government. Co-chaired by UA's Leslie Tolbert and Tim "T.J." Johnson of HTG Molecular Diagnostics, BLCSA works to achieve a coordinated approach among all entities that have a role in furthering the biosciences in the Tucson area.

The Roadmap is not ending after its 10-year run; the Flinn Foundation has committed to extending and updating the plan. Arizona still has miles to go to achieve its ambitious bioscience goals, and Southern Arizona will continue to play a pivotal role in the state's success.

Jack B. Jewett is president and CEO of the Flinn Foundation. Ron Shoopman is vice chair of Arizona's Bioscience Roadmap Steering Committee and president of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council. Leslie Tolbert is senior vice president for research at the University of Arizona.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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