The recent report from CBRE Group Inc. shows that Phoenix, Arizona, is the best place in the country to work in the field of life sciences. This is great news for the state’s economy, and it didn’t happen by accident.
Medicine, bioscience, biotechnology, and biomedical informatics are all part of the life sciences industry. Arizona State University and other community leaders have been working together for more than two decades to grow and expand life sciences research, create new spinout companies, attract new businesses, and train more graduates in the life sciences fields. This effort has led to more graduates trained in these fields.
During the 2000s, a six-tenths of a cent sales tax increase was approved by the voters. This money was put into the Technology and Research Initiative Fund (TRIF). This huge investment in higher education has made a big difference in the research infrastructure at Arizona State University.
ASU made a smart decision to spend the majority of its TRIF funds on bioscience and other technology areas through the Biodesign Institute. The Biodesign Institute was started by the university in 2002 as a way to improve scientific research and development.
“We knew we needed a new way to get the most out of our research,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “We needed hundreds of researchers from the life sciences and the physical sciences to work together to come up with new ways to solve global problems.” Creating the Biodesign Institute was the first time that ASU tried to do cross-disciplinary research. Scientists from different fields come together and work with industry to turn their findings into products and clinical practices. The effects of that effort have been huge.
The Biodesign Institute now has three buildings on the Tempe campus that house more than 1,300 people who work to improve human health and the health and security of our planet. When the U.S. Department of Defense asked researchers at the Biodesign Institute to make at least 1,000 doses of therapeutic antibodies that were resistant to any unknown pathogen in a week, they said they could do it. It also helped develop the first saliva-based COVID-19 test in the Southwest, which has been used to test hundreds of thousands of people across the state.
The expansion of the downtown Phoenix Biomedical Campus (PBC) and the Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University Alliance for Health Care, which is now based at the Health Futures Center next to the Mayo Clinic in north Phoenix, show that the university has played a big role in the growth of Phoenix’s life sciences business.
There are nearly a dozen different ASU colleges, labs, and research centers on the PBC in three different buildings. The most recent is the 850 PBC Innovation Center by Wexford Science and Technology, which is designed to help students and businesses work together and speed up research and commercialization. Over time, ASU plans to build another 2 million square feet of space on the campus. Most of this space will be used by private businesses that want to be near a major research university.
At the Phoenix Biomedical Campus, researchers from ASU and other universities have turned their findings into businesses, said Rick Naimark, an associate vice president for program development planning at ASU. People who work on these spin-offs naturally want them to be near their home lab and close to each other. We have built a strong knowledge community in the middle of a bustling downtown that any health care or bioscience company that is thinking about moving to Arizona would want to live.
Discovery Oasis is a biotech corridor that Mayo Clinic is building in the north part of Phoenix. ASU is the first company to work with Mayo Clinic on this project through the Health Futures Center. They plan to work together even more in the future. Research and a world-class talent pipeline will help feed the growing health care technology industry in Arizona. ASU and Mayo Clinic will work together to do this. ASU plans to build out Discovery Oasis to 1.5 million square feet.
To meet the growing need for people who work in the field of life sciences, ASU has 31 programs that can be taken on campus or online. They’ve seen a big rise in enrollment in the last decade. In fall 2012, about 5,000 students were taking life sciences courses. Today, there are close to 11,000 students in the school. In the same way, the number of people who have graduated from these fields has soared from about 900 in 2012 to almost 12,000 today.
ASU’s research in the field of life sciences has also led to the creation of 79 new businesses over the last decade through a group called Skysong Innovations (SI). In addition to companies like OncoMyx Therapeutics and Calviri, there are companies like iNanoBio and iNanoBio that are working on new technologies for genome sequencing and personalized health care. A company called Skysong Innovations says that three Phoenix-based businesses alone have raised more than $110 million in funding to help them do their work and have hired dozens of new people. There has been a lot of money invested in businesses started by people who did research for SI at ASU. This money has helped the local economy grow and support a lot of jobs.
It’s a good thing that there is a big public research university in the area, Crow says. This is one reason why. “We want to do research that has a real-world impact, research that saves lives, boosts the economy, and moves society forward.”