America has pockets of scientific and business synergy, places where education and industry meet. San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston, and North Carolina’s Research Triangle thrive in part because academia and industry are intermingled.

The University of Arizona’s BIO5 Institute is working to create such synergy in Southern Arizona, according to its director, Dr. Fernando Martinez. He sees the opening of BIO5 Oro Valley as a step toward its formation.

“It’s very exciting for the university, and something we are taking very, very seriously,” Martinez said. “We provide the connection with the university as a whole. There’s a need for BIO5 to assume that responsibility, and I’m assuming it with great enthusiasm.”

In each of America’s hubs, “a crucial role has been played by the local universities who have become part of a collaborative in which a certain group of scientists were amalgamated, put together by the university. We need to be part of that.

“Universities put all these hubs together,” Martinez said. “The not-for-profit mandate of creating collaboration, of fostering collaboration … we want to be where the action is. We have the role of activating those exchanges that, in the final analysis, may allow us to transform that Oro Valley” concentration into a hub.

“The way that happens is exactly what is happening in Oro Valley,” Martinez said. “We need to create what is called critical mass.”

Oro Valley has Ventana Medical Systems, it has sanofi-aventis, and now, the University of Arizona.

“There’s a group of people going to meetings, attracting, competing,” Martinez said. “It becomes good to go there. You’re not isolated. Science doesn’t work in isolation, it works in collaboration and competition.”

Proximity to Ventana Medical Systems and Sanofi-aventis is advantageous for all, Martinez believes.

“Both those places are concentrations of extremely high-quality researchers and research work,” Martinez said. “Both historically, and today, have ties with the university that proximity will make clearly easier. There is no doubt about it.”

Roche-Ventana and sanofi-aventis bring new products to the market. “It’s in their interests to see if we have things in the pipeline they could become interested in, and license,” Martinez said. “There is enormous, renewed interest in collaboration.

“Industry’s always searching for new targets, new ways in which they can address disease,” Martinez said. “They can find, in what we are doing, new possibilities to develop drugs, to develop devices, to find avenues through which they can bring things to the market.”

What will occur at BIO5 OV?

BIO5 Oro Valley laboratory and office space off Oracle Road will house three major components.

The Arizona Drug Discovery Center is directed by Dr. Chris Hulme, an associate professor of medicinal chemistry in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Arizona. Faculty, staff and students will conduct high-throughput biochemistry, investigating “target” compund derived from research done at the UofA.

Hulme’s drug development inquiry is “a very important part” of BIO5 Oro Valley, according to Dr. Fernando Martinez, director of the BIO5 Institute at the University of Arizona.

There are other parts, too.

“There is a whole group of people interested in developing new approaches to cancer prevention that are also going to be there,” Martinez said. They’re led by BIO5 member Eugene W. Gerner, PhD, a longtime professor of cell biology and anatomy and director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Program at the Arizona Cancer Center.

There is also incubator space, a place to allow common initiatives between private enterprise and university researchers. Together, they can move a discovery toward a product.

“They can now be tested, and can become eventually a medicine, a device, something that can be sold in the market to solve a human problem, a disease, or to prevent disease,” Martinez said.

Incubator space is “almost necessary to go to the next phase.”

“The most exciting new component of this building is that it will provide a space for our researchers in medicinal chemistry, pharmacy and cancer therapy working next door to start-up companies,” UA Provost Meredith Hay said at the time the university purchased the former Sanofi-aventis laboratory. “It will significantly enhance our capability to have our research discoveries commercialized and delivered to the marketplace.”

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