Arizona has taken significant actions to strengthen its competitive position in the new “biosciences economy.” Though a step ahead of many, with the pump primed to accelerate the pace, Arizona continues to lag the top states.
Leader states have recognized that they have neither the capacity nor the assets to excel in all areas of a highly diverse field. They, too, had to focus limited resources and commit to a sustained multi-year investment. Arizona is learning from their example.
Throughout 2003-2004, more than 300 Arizona leaders in science and technology, business, government, education, philanthropy, and the arts have worked together to identify strengths and gaps, and to develop targeted plans to position Arizona competitively. We have a five-point strategy, and are beginning to move it forward.
Without a strong medical research base, any state or region will find it difficult to initiate or sustain major industry growth in the biosciences. Arizona’s universities and medical centers have nationally recognized capacity in several basic research fields – most notably in cancer therapeutics, neurological sciences, and bioengineering – that can serve as platforms upon which to grow our bioscience future.
Historic strengths in the optical sciences, electronics, materials sciences, and computer technology also provide a potential competitive advantage, as these fields increasingly overlap and converge with the biosciences. Arizona scientists have strategic plans to make the state more widely known for the development and testing of new drugs and other therapies for cancer patients; the early detection and treatment of persons with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other neurological diseases; and one or more discipline-crossing areas such as medical imaging, bioinformatics, tissue collection and analysis, and molecular diagnostics.
Arizona’s strengths are spread among a host of disciplines and institutions. The key will be our effectiveness in fostering collaboration among scientists and institutions unaccustomed to working together. To realize these plans, targeted funding and incentives to sustain collaboration are needed.
Thanks to the mapping of the human genome, physicians will soon be able to decide which patients are genetically predisposed to specific conditions. Arizona’s new Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and the International Genomics Consortium (IGC), in collaboration with other Arizona researchers, are working to convert the knowledge of the human genetic blueprint into effective individualized patient-care treatments.
For patients to benefit from earlier, targeted treatments, a clinical research system linked to research teams is needed to conduct genetic analysis and replicable clinical studies of promising new therapeutic approaches.
Arizona has a large concentration of patients – American Indians, Hispanics, and the elderly, for example – with disproportionately high rates of targeted diseases, such as diabetes, asthma, and neurological impairments thought to have a genetic basis. We also have a remarkable pool of capable scientists, experienced in the design and testing of new drugs, but we have yet to assemble these elements into a cohesive plan. Hospital leaders, university faculty, and city officials have begun to explore the best options for making this a reality.