There’s a large mesquite tree on the north side of BIO5 Oro Valley, the University of Arizona’s new research laboratory and business incubator space dedicated Friday afternoon.
Ken Wertman, who runs the combinatorial chemistry work up the road for pharmaceutical company Sanofi-aventis, said “a great many spirited conversations and innovations” took place in the tree’s shade when his company was housed in the 27,464-square-foot lab now in UA hands.
“I encourage you to spend much time beneath it, with collaborators,” Wertman told the assembled crowd at Friday’s event. Take in a sunset, set up overnight reactions, “and let the spirits take over.
“This building is a really good house,” Wertman said. “It’s a great place to do this. It served us well for 18 years.”
Wertman cautioned UA scientists that “the house is haunted” by many “spirits,” among them the spirits of discovery, of innovation, of collaboration, and of entrepreneurship.
“Those spirits will be critical,” Wertman said. “I’m sorry to tell you we packed them up when we left. It’s up to you bring your inspirations with you.”
BIO5 Oro Valley is “the newest addition to the University of Arizona’s efforts for drug discovery and development,” said Dr. Fernando Martinez, head of the BIO5 Institute. Those efforts are intended “to expand the spirit of research collaboration beyond the traditional borders of our campus.”
“We have the potential, ultimately, to benefit patients not only in Arizona, but across the nation,” Martinez said. Those who work at BIO5 Oro Valley have “that passion to help improve lives and health … that drives all you will see here.”
Dr. Leslie Tolbert said the university “dedicates this wonderful new space today in recognition of our commitment to fast-tracking” discoveries toward the marketplace. “This is just the right space in just the right neighborhood.”
A number of people “moved mountains to make this happen today,” Tolbert said. “We are really fortunate to have a tangible presence now here in Oro Valley.”
Martinez pointed out the “vision and leadership” of Meredith Hay, UA’s provost. “With enormous conviction, she told us all the time here is where we need to be.”
And Martinez offered “a special warm welcome to our neighbors here in the Town of Oro Valley.”
BIO5 Oro Valley is “a prime example” of “how many levels of organizations, and different organizations, it takes to make something this successful happen,” Mayor Satish Hiremath said. “You may be unnamed, but it doesn’t go unnoticed. A heartfelt thank you.
“Everyone watch out,” Hiremath said. “This is the first in a long line of collaborations” between Oro Valley and the university in the next several years.
Wertman, “incredibly thrilled to be here,” said the transfer of ownership to the University of Arizona is “the end of a long road for us in a lot of ways.”
Selectide, the predecessor to Sanofi-aventis in Oro Valley, came to the community in the early 1990s to occupy 5,000 square feet of space in a nearby building. At that time, there was a stop sign at First and Oracle, and little more.
“We came here because the rent was cheap,” Wertman said. Scientists built the first laboratories themselves, from materials purchased at a Home Depot. Scientists from Eastern Europe “came here really oozing innovation,” Wertman said. And, he added, “the University of Arizona has been a source of much of the talent at this site.”
Wertman presented Shelton with a collage including photographs of Selectide founders and the company’s earliest employees. “It is a token of the spirit of the building,” Wertman said.
“It will find a prominent home,” Shelton said, serving as “a reminder of how fortunate we are to be in this facility.”
Lab, incubator show UA ‘momentum,’ Shelton says
Dr. Robert Shelton, president of the University of Arizona, took no credit for the university’s acquisition of laboratory space in Oro Valley that is now the home of BIO5 Oro Valley.
“What I love most about this day is it so reflects the University of Arizona,” Shelton said. “I had nothing to do with this. I am up here as a pretender.”
People came to Shelton with the idea of buying the former Sanofi-aventis laboratory and office space, and converting it into a facility that will house drug discovery and development as well as incubator space for promising start-up businesses. People shared with Shelton the steps needed for its achievement, “and I just said ‘do it.’ My thanks to all those folks that just made it happen.
“This is visible, tangible proof of the momentum we are building here together,” Shelton said. “We are enlarging our ability to move innovation into the marketplace.” He wants Arizona to “lead in the advancement of modern-day drug discovery and development. … We know there will be hundreds of faculty, staff and students here conducting intensive research.” His focus is on “attracting and retaining the very, very best minds in this endeavor.”
When it offered the Hanley Boulevard laboratory for sale, Sanofi-aventis “created an incredible opportunity for this university, to save a lot of money,” Shelton said. Regent Rick Meyers, in the audience Friday, “really gets it,” and was supportive of the investment. “He knows why this institution, and this partnership, are so crucial to the future of Arizona,” Shelton said.
— Dave Perry