Passion pours from Chris Hulme when he talks about his beloved Bolton Wanderers football side in the English Premier League.
His love for soccer is not unrivaled. As the BIO5 Institute member walked about the new BIO5 Oro Valley laboratory, and described what it can mean to the University of Arizona, to the search for new drugs and products, and to the possibilities it offers for a growing bioscience corridor and economic development in greater Tucson, Hulme could not contain himself.
“It’s just the ideal fit for what we’re trying to do,” said Hulme, who leads the Arizona Drug Discovery Center.
BIO5 Oro Valley is the result of the university’s purchase of the former laboratory and research facility of Sanofi-aventis, on Hanley Boulevard directly across Oracle Road from historic Steam Pump Ranch. A dedication event takes place this Friday.
When Hulme learned the Sanofi-aventis laboratory was available, and learned what was in it, his advice was simple — “just buy the whole thing. It’s $3 million. You’ll make profit in five years.” To replicate the lab would cost “$25 million,” he believes. The sale closed June 10.
Remodeling, acquisition and preparation have ensued. Last week, Hulme walked past packages of chemicals bearing his name, among ventilation hoods, boxed equipment, and cabinets freshly painted by scientists. He moved past shrink-wrapped evaporators, which he hauled himself in a U-Haul from Thousand Oaks, Calif., several years ago. “Someday, we’ll use them,” he said at the time.
Someday is arriving.
Hulme is an associate professor of medicinal chemistry in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Arizona. The Oxford Ph.D. work-ed in drug discovery for three major companies, Amgen, Eli Lilly and a predecessor to the current Sanofi-aventis. He ran high-throughput combinatorial chemistry labs, specializing in “lead generation,” specifically analyzing small molecules and their protein-binding capability, which in turn can suggest potential merit as disease-fighting and disease-preventing pharmaceuticals.
It’s not a simple science. Think of a line of dominos. One protein elicits a response in a cell, which elicits another response, and so on.
“If you take out one of the dominos in that aberrant signal pathway, that signal cannot be passed,” Hulme said, and perhaps a disease can be blocked.
A small molecule could take a protein out of the domino chain by binding to it. But it’s got to bind tightly, it’s got to be of sufficient concentration to be effective in cells, it’s got to be able to permeate the small intestine if taken orally, it’s got to withstand metabolization in the liver, it’s got to get to the site of action ….
“It’s kind of like child’s play in some ways,” Hulme said. “In some ways, we are molecular sculptors.”
Molecular sculpture is about to occur at fast pace in BIO5 Oro Valley.
The University of Arizona has secured a $7.5 million National Institutes of Health grant to “fill the high throughput biochemistry void,” as Hulme explained it. The void is being filled at BIO5 Oro Valley, where the infrastructure — to include building and equipment — the personnel and the process combine with “the academic freedom to think out of the box.”
“We can really, truly follow the science,” Hulme said. “We’re looking to be part of (provost) Meredith Hay’s ‘innovation ecosystem,’ as she coins it. Now’s the time for people in academia, through partnerships with industry and investors, to transfer that knowledge.
“You have to collaborate to translate,” Hulme said. “It’s a cultural paradigm shift.”
The UofA has “a very, very strong collaborative ethic,” dating back decades. Through BIO5, “we want to turn that into a nimble organization that can work quickly,” he said.
“The wonderful thing about the University of Arizona is the sheer amount of fundamental biology discoveries that have been made by UofA instructors and students,” Hulme said. “For someone from industry, I view these tremendous collaborative opportunities as being golden eggs, waiting for somebody who knew the translational drill.”
Faculty members will work in the building, some of them coming from industry, “free to operate in an outreach mode,” communicating among disciplines to explore the possibilities. At BIO5 Oro Valley, chemists and biologists will be “getting together with a sharp mutual focus to expedite the delivery of new therapeutics,” Hulme said.
Portions of the building are dedicated to cancer prevention inquiry, and to “incubator space,” allowing faculty to “develop these advanced molecules to a point of significant value to patients,” and to investors.
Innumerable factors and people have come together to make BIO5 Oro Valley a reality.
“There is a group of people in the local community who want to see things happen in Tucson, for no self-gain,” Hulme said. “There’s this community spirit, per se, behind this, from non-scientists and scientists alike. We’ll see what happens with all this.
“It’s been an incredible ride, the last year and a half,” Hulme said. “This will enable the leveraging of the fantastic biology that’s going on” at the U of A. “It’s filling a void to complement all these amazing strengths Arizona has.
“It’s just all lined up,” Hulme said. “I’m stunned.”
Bio5 OV Dedication
3-5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 19, 1580 E. Hanley Blvd.
The new building
On June 10, The University of Arizona closed its $3.05 million purchase of the former sanofi-aventis laboratory at 1580 E. Hanley Blvd., just off Oracle Road.
The building has 27,464 square feet of space that will be the new home of BIO5 Oro Valley.
It sits on approximately 4.6 acres. Just under half that space has been used for research and development by sanofi-aventis and its predecessors for more than 20 years, until sanofi-aventis moved into new quarters in Oro Valley’s Innovation Park last year.
What is BIO5?
According to its website, the BIO5 Institute harnessed five disciplines on the University of Arizona campus in 2001 to find solutions to the complex biology-based challenges affecting humanity today: How do we prevent, treat and cure the myriad diseases we face? How do we create more resilient crops, nutritious foods and new sources of fuel? How do we address the many environmental problems that surround us today?
Scientists from the five disciplines — basic science, agriculture, medicine, pharmacy and engineering — are capitalizing on breakthroughs in the molecular life sciences to improve the quality of life in the 21st century and beyond.
BIO5 collects more than 200 UA faculty working in agriculture, medicine, pharmacy, science and engineering.