Biodesign plays a key role in Arizona bioscience development (part 2)

Biodesign plays a key role in Arizona bioscience development (part 2)

June 6, 2014

June 6, 2014

The multiplier effect: leveraging Arizona's investment (part 2)
 
Capturing more NIH funding for ASU and Arizona
WIth new research infrastructure attracting top scientific talent at the Biodesign Institute, Arizona can be more competitive in garnering an increased portion of federal grants, a key driver for academic research innovation. 
 
Since the launch of the Flinn-sponsored Bioscience Roadmap, Arizona has become one of the top 10 states in growth for National Institutes for Health funding. Over the past decade, NIH funding in Arizona grew by at 31 percent, including $182 million last year, according to the report.
 
By way of comparison, the average funding growth for the top ten states in NIH funding was 23% from 2002-2012. ASU played a significant role in exceeded this metric, with a 30 percent increase over the same time period. The increase in NIH funding for ASU was due in part to the efforts of Biodesign Institute researchers, who secured 30 percent of ASU’s NIH funding in FY2013 alone, or $23 million of ASU’s $76 million total. This accounted for 42 percent of Arizona’s total NIH funding.
 
Because much of the increase in ASU’s NIH funding was due to a signfiicant growth in the number of faculty (more than fifty new faculty members have been recruited since Biodesign’s founding), Biodesign’s business plan will need to encompass a strategy for continued growth in funding despite a natural leveling-off in faculty numbers due to our current research infrastructure having reached full capacity.
 
Leveraging TRIF
 
Competitively-awarded research grants from federal agencies like the NIH comprise the single largest source of funding at the Biodesign Institute. Another major source of revenue comes from industry research contracts. We also receive support from a voter-approved fund (the Technology and Research Initiative Fund, or TRIF), that is derived from a percentage of sales tax revenues. This funding was used to launch the Institute, with the expectation that reliance on the fund would be decreased as the Institute is increasingly able to generate other funding.
 
Critical to Biodesign’s success has been the use of TRIF support as a seed funding base, to enable Biodesign scientists to more rapidly attain substantial research activity, to perform early-stage, high-risk, high-reward disruptive research, to provide funding for proof-of-concept and validation studies, and to leverage these funds for a larger return-on-investment through federal grants, industry contracts, spinouts, and philanthropic support.
 
For example, during the first five years after Biodesign reached operational status, TRIF support totaling $3.4 million provided the necessary foundation for professor Roy Curtiss, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, to develop a vaccine against bacterial pneumonia, a disease responsible for millions of childhood deaths around the world. Curtiss’ team subsequently secured a $14.8 million multi-year grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and total awards for his center were in excess of $33 million by 2007. 
 
Professor Stephen Albert Johnston, co-director of the Center for Innovations in Medicine, utilized $1.8 million in TRIF funding to support his research on developing a cancer vaccine. In July of 2009, he received nearly $9 million in grants from the Department of Defense’s Innovator Award and the W.M. Keck Foundation to further develop the basic technology and determine whether it could be applied to several other forms of cancer.
 
Lastly, TRIF funds were instrumental in establishing a renewable biofuels partnership among ASU, Science Foundation Arizona and British Petroleum. A multi-disciplinary team led by Professors Willem Vermaas, Bruce Rittmann and Neal Woodbury led a project that focused on engineering a bacterium to produce biodiesel and other valuable byproducts. The two-year, $4.7 million project was completed in 2009, advancing the genetic optimization of the bacterium along with engineering pilot-scale photobioreactors.  This research has been continued under a $5.2 million award from a branch of the US Department of Energy, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), to further the studies required for commercial scale applications.
 
There are many more examples, but in few, we have leveraged a total of $7.2 million of initial TRIF funds into $50 million of new federal, state and private funding, or a 7:1 return-on-investment.
 
Bioscience investments result in workforce development, economic diversity
 
In addition, these research projects resulted in a new source of high-paying jobs for a knowledge-based economy. The recruitment of scientific talent for Arizona, training of hundreds of students and postdoctoral fellows,  acquisition of significant capital equipment for the ASU, and the creation of the underpinnings of potentially entirely new industries have led to economic diversification for Arizona. Without Arizona's commitment to the biosciences, these jobs would simply have gone elsewhere, and a brain drain of talent left Arizona. 
 
As research projects mature and successfully garner federal and private support, TRIF funding and federal funding can be reallocated to incubate new opportunities and renew the research cycle of investment to foster the next wave of innovative research.
 
That's a real win-win for the state in training tomorrow's workforce and diversifying its economy.
 

 

Written by: Joe Caspermeyer