BIO5 boss excited about new 'bridge'
Photo courtesy Martha Lochert, Dr. Fernando Martinez, director of BIO5.

BIO5 Institute “is thought of as a place in which people from different disciplines converge and work together,” said its director, Dr. Fernando Martinez, a Regents professor of pediatrics at the University of Arizona.

“This is a new era,” Martinez said. “It’s not the era of any specific discipline.”

That’s exactly BIO5’s charge — to “bring disciplines together, and to foster the work we can do together that is more than just the addition of each of the parts,” Martinez said. “The results are getting increasingly more interesting, and more relevant.”

For many reasons, “translational medicine has become a major priority” for the university, Martinez said. Science has “advanced enormously in our understanding of disease. But the transformation of those advances into products the patients and the public can use has not gone as fast.”

At BIO5 Oro Valley, the new laboratory facility being dedicated this Friday, Nov. 19, “we need to give a very high priority to pushing the discoveries toward products that can address specific needs of the community,” Martinez said. “It’s the essential reason of why we’re doing what we’re doing. It’s knowledge, transformed into instruments. Those instruments, then, create the basis for development, in cooperation with the U of A, industry, Oro Valley and the Tucson region in particular.”

The University of Arizona has “a very, very strong basic science and biology,” Martinez said. “It’s one of the best-kept secrets nationally. We have such a fantastic research base.”

Many researchers are trained in basic science. Fewer think about “how can I transform what I’ve found into something that can be put on the market?”

At BIO5 Oro Valley, “now we have experts, who are going to be there,” who understand how to create a product that can treat disease, or prevent it. “It’s really the next step we needed to become more competitive in this specific area,” Martinez said.

As BIO5 Oro Valley ramps up, a collection of 30, 40, 50 scientists can grow to 200 or more, faculty, staff and students doing intensive research. People putting in long hours in the labs “are the ones from whom we’re going to see the best new ideas,” Martinez said. “The best young minds are there, and contribute to the process.”

There is “significant” federal support “for the kind of research we are doing at BIO5 Oro Valley,” Martinez said. With investment in translational research, decision-makers “want to also see, what are the practical results of what we’re doing.”

With BIO5 Oro Valley, “we’re going to be come very competitive for federal funding, there’s no doubt,” Martinez said. There’ll be investment from industry, too, “once they see the kinds of things we’re doing with targets, and potential avenues for new products.”

“Now all the literally hundreds of millions of dollars of funding we get here on the main campus can be geared towards, can be transformed into, potential targets” investigated at BIO5 Oro Valley. “Until now, they’ve been very separated,” Martinez said.

“This has allowed to create a bridge that will facilitate this translation. It’s really a very, very exciting opportunity.”

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