Arizona Bioscience Update

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The Flinn Foundation has commissioned a report to analyze the performance of Arizona’s bioscience industry. It’s part of a long-term strategy called the Bioscience Roadmap, meant to guide Arizona in the bioscience industry through 2025. Brad Halvorsen, Flinn Foundation executive vice president, and Mark Slater, vice chair, Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap Steering Committee, will tell us more about the report.

Ted Simons: The Flinn Foundation's commissioned a report to analyze the performance of Arizona's bioscience industry. It's part of a strategy to guide the state's bioscience industry for the next 10 years. Here with more on the report is Brad Halvorsen, Flinn Foundation executive vice president, and Mark Slater, vice chair of Arizona's bioscience roadmap steering committee.. Good to have you both here, thank for joining us.

Ted Simons: The bioscience road map in general, what are we talking about?

Brad Halvorsen: The bioscience roadmap is in its 15th year, it's a state-wide strategic plan to advance the biosciences in Arizona. It's currently the longest serving strategic plan for a state in the biosciences in the nation. It's a living and breathing plan, it changes and evolves and has a lot of input from the bioscience leaders throughout the state.

Ted Simons: If it's living and breathing, how is it doing?

Mark Slater: You know, it's just been amazing, the past decade or so, it's shown enormous growth in the science as well as the opportunities for patients, so that's the angle I tend to think about this is Arizonas are now able to get advanced care here in their own community that wasn't available before and bringing in new jobs and new science that was not available before this.

Ted Simons: As far as the state of bioscience in general, in Arizona, what are you seeing?

Mark Slater: Well, we're seeing an industry that's thriving. We're seeing collaboration among the various players, from universities to research institutes to the hospital segment and to private industry. We're seeing care for patients that is also bringing patients from outside of the region, just at honor health, for example, we've had patients from 49 states and two dozen countries that have come here for clinical trial that are not available elsewhere and so Arizona has become a destination site for this type of innovation.

Ted Simons: Is that destination site transferring to more jobs?

Brad Halvorsen: It is. We just had a report released last week, an update on the metrics how we're doing in Arizona's bioscience sector. On the jobs side, the growth continues on a positive trajectory. Bioscience jobs are growing here almost four times as fast as the rest of the nation. They're high-paying jobs, $62,000 for job, that's a third higher than the private sector average would be.

Ted Simons: As far as risk capital investment, how's that going?

Brad Halvorsen: Risk capital has been a challenge for Arizona but that's been coming along the last three or four years. It's improved dramatically. We have a ways to go but the environment is getting a lot better for early stage companies to find risk capital and help get off the ground.

Mark Slater: And I know you referred to a university, a tech transfer and these sorts of things. Again, give us an update.

Mark Slater: We're seeing improvements in tech transfer and we're seeing a very competitive market for federal grant funding and that remains a challenge for getting that early stage research that can be the basis for developing new tech and new transfer.

Ted Simons: I think I saw on your report 24% increase in biorelated university startups, that's not too shabby.

Brad Halvorsen: Yes. In the last two years there have been 21 bioscience startups that have been spun off from Arizona's universities and that's picking up quite a bit from previous years which weren't too bad either so that's 21 new firms in the biosciences getting off the ground here in Arizona.

Ted Simons: Well, it's not all butterflies and daffodils here because we're hearing a lot of positive but there is some concern and the concern is over research funding. We're not seeing as much as we should. What's going on out there?

Brad Halvorsen: In the first decade of the bioscience road map Arizona made a concerted effort to really keep up with the rest of the nation and even exceed it in terms of getting grants from the national institutes of health and did so. We've seen over the last couple of years, though, that relative to the rest of the nation the pace is slowing. It's a challenging environment; the budget is less for NIH grants, a lot of competition for these grants so we've seen a slight downturn in Arizona's performance. So we'll be looking that with statewide bioscience leaders.

Ted Simons: How does Arizona compete better on that level?

Brad Halvorsen: How do we compete better on that level? Collaboration has always been one of our assets that we've had. I think the universities, research hospitals, others that are in the sphere to get together and figure out ways that we can regain the success that we had from the first decade.

Ted Simons: It sounds like academic are in the expenditures, as well. Not where they should be. Talk to us about this.

Mark Slater: I think there's an opportunity there for us to regain ground. Other regions are competing, they're putting a lot of dollars in play. It's been a challenge I think for Arizona to keep up in that regard. We've made up for that through collaboration among institutions and leveraging the advantages of multiple parties to be able to make advantage rather than one all alone.

Ted Simons: Indeed, it's got to be tough to grow without research money, it just has to be very difficult and if that research money has fallen off, why? And if it's a more competitive environment again, again the same question I asked Brad, why are we not more competitive? What's going on out there?

Mark Slater: You know, it's difficult to sustain these efforts. I think Arizona has been a leader in investigating in these opportunities in the past and much of the success that we see today has been because of those investments that have come in the past, as we're looking forward, the key challenge will be to sustain those investments and to move forward from the public sector as well as from the private sector.

Ted Simons: Was there a bit of it's new, it's shiny, it's exciting, let's get on board when things started off, and now, it's hitting those teenage years?

Brad Halvorsen: Yeah, I think there's some growing pains. I think that the first decade of the road map was really focused on building the research infrastructure and a good job was done of that and that has paid off in these promising industry numbers that we've seen. But yeah, more attention to the research side of things is necessary to keep that industry growth continuing in the future.

Ted Simons: Is that the major goal for the next decade, research money?

Brad Halvorsen: Well, it's that plus especially private risk capital to help get young firms off the ground and through the valley of death as they call it. Those two would probably be our two priorities that we have on mind today.

Ted Simons: How about turning research into products, into treatment? That's got to be a goal.

Mark Slater: That's really I think what it's all about. There's no value in just research for research's sake. It's what can come out of that to have an impact? We look at having an impact right here and right now in our own community. And how we can turn these findings and translate findings from the sciences into products that make a real difference in patients' lives so that they live better quality of life and longer lives. We have an opportunity to do that here in Arizona. There's the talent to do that, there's collaboration to do that and the world is much more connected, so we can do that within our community as well as bringing people from outside the community.

Ted Simons: That's a really good point, you mentioned competition, you mentioned the connectivity of the world. You put those two together that can be -- make it a little bit tougher but it can also help couldn't it? It could grease the skids a little bit couldn't it?

Brad Halvorsen: As far as connectivity with other regions?

Ted Simons: As far as getting Arizona better up to speed.

Brad Halvorsen: Yeah, one of the goals of the biosciences road map right now is connectivity with other regions as far as establishing other outposts where we're doing our business. Getting back on where Arizona stands relative to other regions, we're not one of the hot spots in the country but we're one of the fastest growing. The industry is significant. It's $14 billion annual economic impact and that's without including the hospitals in that figure so we're not really one of the big players yet nationally but it's still a substantial industry here in Arizona.

Mark Slater: And to add to that, we are already international players. So there are collaborations now that are going on with Asia, with the Americans through Europe that are happening right here and are connected. So although there's still room to go to be one of the big players, we have had an impact and it's also brought talent and brought technology from other regions of the country here. That was a motivator for me coming nine years ago from San Diego because of the collaboration and the opportunities that we see here in Arizona.

Ted Simons: With that, big question, major question, how best to turn Arizona into a bioscience powerhouse?

Mark Slater: That's really a multipronged effort. I think we all need to get behind recognizing the importance of that for our community, for our culture, for our business opportunities and for the quality of life that we all want to see. That will take investment, that takes collaboration among the talent and it really takes a will to make that happen.

Ted Simons: Same question to you.

Brad Halvorsen: Well said, well said, it takes a coordinated effort among and between the public and private sectors, just as Mark pointed out. That's the key to work together and pool our strengths and our resources to leapfrog over other areas of the country that have been at this longer than we have.

Ted Simons: Is everyone ready to pool resources? Is it working?

Brad Halvorsen: We've had a good track record of that. In fact, a national reputation for that that we hear when we are outside of Arizona, that you guys are the guys that collaborate. So we need to continue that collaborative gene and grow that collaborative gene as it's called.

Mark Slater: An example of that has been the stand up to cancer awards for dream teams for major innovation in cancer. Three of those awards, the only community to be able to achieve that, which brings in not only local institutions like T.gen and honor health but national institutions, John Hopkins, Penn, Columbia, that's the way we can advance in this community.

Alright gentlemen, good to have you here, thanks for joining us.

Brad Halvorsen: Thank you, Ted.

Ted Simons: And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening. ¶¶ ¶¶ ¶¶ ¶¶

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Brad Halvorsen: Flinn Foundation Executive Vice President, Mark Slater: Vice Chair, Arizona's Bioscience Roadmap Steering Committee

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