Biomedical Marvel

Downtown Phoenix campus a hub of research and economic development.

Tucked amidst the bustling shops, restaurants, entertainment venues and sports arenas in downtown Phoenix is the home to one of Arizona’s most significant and impactful resources—not only for the state, but for the world.

Located in the heart of downtown is the 30-acre Phoenix Biomedical Campus, home to the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen). Nearby, the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix operates on the campus at Seventh Street and Van Buren. Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University also operate colleges there and more than a dozen other biomedical businesses have sprung from TGen’s work and discoveries.

The campus is expected to generate more than $1 billion in economic impact this year, says Christine Mackay, the community and economic development director for the City of Phoenix.

In 2000, Mackay explains, Phoenix leaders began meeting with visionaries in science, medicine, government and business about establishing a new economy in the bioscience industry. A site formerly identified for a professional football stadium was designated as the home of the Phoenix Biomedical Campus (PBC).

In May 2002, the International Genomics Consortium (IGC), a nonprofit medical research foundation established to expand on the discoveries of the Human Genome Project, chose Phoenix for its headquarters. A month later, TGen launched as a companion research institute to assemble its own genomics research platforms. The work being done there focuses on transforming genetic information from diseases into new diagnostic tests, and developing innovative therapies to treat cancer and other life-threatening diseases.

A year-and-a-half after the groundbreaking in December 2004, TGen and IGC moved into new state-of-the-art quarters on the biomedical campus.

In 2005, Mackay says, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases leased space in the TGen/IGC building. The following year, the UofA College of Medicine-Phoenix opened and a year later, admitted its first class of 24 students.

Today’s tenants also include the University of Arizona Cancer Center at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center; UofA’s Colleges of Pharmacy, Nursing, Public Health and Management; ASU’s College of Health Solutions, School of Nutrition and Health Promotion and Department of Biomedical Informatics; NAU’s College of Health and Human Services and three allied health instruction programs; and Ashion Analytics, a TGen spinoff company that provides precision medicine testing and genomic interpretation services for cancer doctors.

Since 2005, the campus has pumped billions of dollars’ worth of jobs, services and products into communities throughout Arizona. The economic impact of the PBC documented in 2013 (the most recent year for which total figures have been compiled) was $1.3 billion, according to Tripp-Umbach, a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm. More than 9,300 jobs were located on the campus in 2013. By 2025, those statistics are expected to more than double to $3.1 billion, while generating 22,000 jobs.

In 2014, TGen and 15 affiliated businesses it has generated in the past decade—including Ashion Analytics and Scottsdale-based Translational Drug Development—accounted for 1,400 jobs and a total economic impact of $174 million on Arizona. “

Despite the recent economic environment, government budget limitations and increased competition for research grants, TGen has managed to produce and grow a highly significant economic return for Arizona,” says TGen chief operating officer Tess Burleson.

Three years ago, TGen launched one of its most significant research projects, a first-of-its-kind online memory test to help better understand human cognition and how it might relate to Alzheimer’s disease and other brain disorders. Called MindCrowd, the study seeks to attract 1 million participants, ages 18 to 80, who will be asked to complete a 10-minute online memory test. To date, 69,000 people around the world have completed the test. Researchers will use the test results to build a database for further study on how cognition and memory change as people age.

TGen supports seven medical research divisions within its organization. Early next year, the UofA’s Biosciences Partnership Building will open, becoming the largest building on the campus with 245,000 square feet devoted to developing partnerships between researchers, clinicians and industries. The facility is expected to create 360 bioscience jobs.

In 2018, the first phase of a partnership between ASU and the medical research firm Nantworks will begin operating in a 200,000-square-foot facility. Initially, the focus of that venture will be on advancing cancer detection and treatment.

Ultimately, more than 6 million square feet of biomedical-related research, academic and clinical facilities will comprise the campus.

Story by Debra Gelbart

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