City leader vital to genomics, bioscience success

August 27, 2003

By hammersmith

The biosciences renaissance unfolding in downtown Phoenix features some of the leading names in scientific circles: Jeffrey Trent, renowned genomics expert; Dan Von Hoff, leading anticancer drug designer; Paul Keim, top authority on anthrax; Dietrich Stephan, neurogenomics expert; Sheryl Sculley, assistant manager, City of Phoenix.

Sheryl Sculley?

OK, she’s no scientist. But if not for this city administrator’s leadership and perseverance, the others likely would not be in Arizona’s capital city today.

Sculley has helped to run city governments for nearly 30 years, the last 14 in her present role for the City of Phoenix. From the moment the word “genomics” first crossed her desk in early 2002, Sculley’s economic-development endeavors began to crystallize. Today, downtown Phoenix is undergoing a transformation spurred by genomics institutes, public universities, community colleges, startup firms, and resulting commercialization projects and real-estate developments.

Sculley has been the city’s primary workhorse making sure that the impossible would become reality.

Opportunity knocks

In early 2002, word spread that Jeffrey Trent, the National Institute of Health’s senior scientist, was including Arizona on his short list of possible headquarter sites for his International Genomics Consortium (IGC). Governor Jane Hull hastily rounded up a task force of top public- and private-sector leaders to create an immediate strategy and raise the necessary funds. Phoenix Mayor Skip Rimsza and City Manager Frank Fairbanks assigned Sculley to represent the city.

The task was daunting: raise $100 million in six month–in a soft economy. Sculley quickly became a vital force in a widespread collaboration among state and local governments, universities, businesses, economic developers, foundations, Indian tribes, and influential individuals. The City of Phoenix would become the largest contributor, ultimately devoting $46 million in prime real estate and a six-story, 170,000-square-foot building for a new genomics group, the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).

“We were charting new territory here,” says Sculley, who oversees a city workforce of 14,000 people and 25 city departments as the city’s second-in-command. “Certainly there are biomedical science clusters around the country, mostly on the coasts. We studied some of those models in terms of putting together a consortium to be able to attract and fund IGC and TGen here in Arizona.”

Sculley’s efforts landed her a spot on the seven-member interim board that crafted TGen’s original organizational plan.

“It’s impossible for me to think of TGen without thinking of Sheryl Sculley,” says Mayor Rimsza. “Quite simply, without Sheryl, there is no TGen in Phoenix. As I said in my State of the City Address, “If you want big things to happen in Phoenix, you can always count on Sheryl’s enormous talent to win the day.” From where I sit, no star shines brighter.”

A downtown rebirth

Revitalizing downtown Phoenix has been one of Sculley’s prime objectives since being wooed from her post as city manager in Kalamazoo, Mich., in 1988. The TGen/IGC headquarters, known today as the Phoenix Bioscience Center at Copper Square, is the catalyst she has awaited.

The main building, slated for completion in fall 2004, will sit on 15 acres bounded by Fifth, Seventh, Fillmore, and Van Buren streets. Long ago, the site accommodated the Phoenix Union High School campus. Recently, it was envisioned as a multipurpose convention center and stadium for the Arizona Cardinals. Its rebirth as a center for science, technology, and business innovation will create a new identity for the downtown area.

Phoenix initially committed $31 million to TGen, then added $15 million more to accommodate additional space for two new key tenants–a National Institutes of Health diabetes research program and Alexandria Group, a real-estate investment trust that will sublease lab space for startup companies working on pre-clinical drug trials.

Sculley’s efforts didn’t stop after winning the TGen prize. She is driving a large-scale endeavor to develop the bioscience campus, including:

  • Moving the Arizona Health Sciences Center, currently a few miles away at Third Street and Indian School Road, to downtown.
  • Expanding dramatically Arizona State University’s adjacent downtown campus to 10,000-15,000 students.
  • Attracting Maricopa Community Colleges to develop a downtown biotech training program.
  • Exploring with the Phoenix Union High School District the idea of creating an accelerated high school downtown with a specific focus on the biosciences.

Plans for the campus could ultimately include a total of eight buildings and up to 1 million square feet of life-sciences research and education facilities.

The ripple effect is spreading. Several residential complexes are planned or under construction downtown. A nine-acre plot directly north of the campus is being considered for residential and commercial property to serve TGen’s 300-400 anticipated scientists and staff, plus students who will be on campus.

Universities unite

The university endeavors fit well into Sculley’s agenda. For the past five years, she has worked with the city council to increase the presence of the universities downtown. The time is ripe, as the universities are engaging in unprecedented collaboration, and their biosciences efforts will be centered in downtown Phoenix.

The three universities have agreed to form the Arizona Biomedical Collaborative (ABC), a partnership that will combine resources in the areas of clinical research, workforce, and policy issues. The group may ultimately reside in a new building on the biosciences campus.

“I think we’re on a trajectory to have a world-class academic medical center in Phoenix that will be integrated with ASU, UA, and NAU–an approach to healthcare education that will be a model for the rest of the nation,” said Ray Woosley, vice president for the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center (AHSC) and director of ABC. Woosley cites the opportunity to develop innovative collaborative programs for the AHSC in Phoenix as one of his reasons for coming to Arizona in early 2002.

“Instead of creating programs as classical departments, we want to have interdisciplinary teams of clinician scientists and basic scientists bringing a broad range of expertise to problems like melanoma, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, and heart disease,” Woosley said. “We want to grow the faculty based on teams. It’s an opportunity to teach medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and M.P.H. students in the same environment so that everyone appreciates each discipline’s unique contributions and works more effectively as team members.”

The presence of TGen on the campus will give the students an appreciation for how to incorporate contemporary science into their clinical practice and to establish a clear reason for life-long learning.

Venturing for capital

TGens potential is already being noticed. The Arizona Department of Commerce has identified 45 active biotech projects across the nation that are considering Arizona because of TGen companies looking to either expand or relocate to the state.

To help attract bioscience firms, Phoenix is confronting one of Arizona’s most pressing bioindustry dilemmas–a lack of venture capital. The city is offering $12 million in tax credits to encourage venture capitalists to invest in biotech in or near downtown. Under the program, venture-capital funds that raise up to $30 million in two years to invest in biotech would receive federal tax credits that could be passed on to fund investors.

It is the first time Phoenix has offered this type of incentive. The money comes from $66 million in tax credits awarded to the city by the U.S. Treasury Department. Phoenix was the largest recipient of the government’s New Market Tax Credit and the only one to use a portion of the funds to try to attract venture capital. The rest of the funds will be used to encourage commercial development.

The future is now

Sculley’s shining moment unfolded on June 13, 2003, when a parade of dignitaries broke ground on the new downtown bioscience campus.

While Governor Janet Napolitano, Mayor Skip Rimsza, Jeffrey Trent, and other VIPs took turns imparting insights on the historic significance of the day to the 400-plus onlookers, Sculley served as master of ceremonies. She adeptly handled the introductions, even good-naturedly correcting her boss, Mayor Rimsza, in a smooth and savvy manner that generated a hearty laugh from the entire crowd. It’s symbolic of a style that has enabled her to successfully bring together diverse constituencies to achieve a common goal.

The day was meant to celebrate not the amazing developments of the preceding 18 months, but the future.

“We’re in this for the long term,” says Sculley, who happens to be quite familiar with the concept. An avid runner who has completed the Chicago, New York City, and Boston marathons, she sits on the Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap Steering Committee, a group of private- and public-sector leaders overseeing a long-term strategy to develop the state’s biosciences industry.

“We don’t view this as a short-term investment. That’s consistent with economic development–we want big-wage jobs, and we’d like to see changes in science happen here in Arizona. We want to see companies start, develop, and grow here with Arizona’s residents as skilled and valued employees.

“This is very exciting; it has the potential to transform both healthcare and Arizona’s economy.”