Washington University and the School of Medicine announced Nov. 17 that they will spend more than $300 million to rapidly bring the new knowledge of the human genetic blueprint to the patient’s bedside and to change how illnesses ranging from diabetes to Alzheimer’s disease to various cancers are understood, diagnosed and successfully treated.
This new strategic research initiative is called “BioMed 21,” a reference to its potential to redefine how biomedical research will be conducted and medicine will be practiced as the 21st century unfolds. The program will include faculty from the schools of Medicine, Engineering & Applied Science and Arts & Sciences.
BioMed 21, a positive step toward making St. Louis a biotech powerhouse, will be supported through gifts, federal research grants and internal resources.
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The announcement was made by Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton and Larry J. Shapiro, M.D., executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. They said more than $200 million in endowment, construction and programmatic funding had already been committed in support of BioMed 21.
As part of BioMed 21’s unveiling, the University announced that the medical school’s renowned Genome Sequencing Center, under the direction of Richard K. Wilson, Ph.D., will receive new funding totaling more than $130 million over three years from the federal government’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).
The funding is part of the next generation of national, large-scale gene-sequencing projects, designed to decipher the genetic code of nonhuman species and, through comparison with the human genome, shed light on the complex interactions between genes that regulate normal or disease processes in humans, as well as the origins of the diverse forms of life that inhabit our planet.
More than a third of the human genome was decoded at the Genome Sequencing Center with financial support from NHGRI, a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
NIH research funding at the University has more than doubled, from approximately $170 million in 1996 to $366 million in 2002. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, every $1 million in federal research support awarded to a university generates 29 jobs in the local community.
“Washington University’s investment in BioMed 21 is anticipated to attract distinguished new faculty as well as additional federal, foundation and corporate support to further enhance the economic consequences for St. Louis,” Wrighton said.
To accommodate the growth and reconfiguration of research teams associated with BioMed 21, a $150 million, 250,000 square-foot research facility is anticipated. It will be built in stages in the heart of the Medical Campus, most likely on the site of an existing parking structure at the corner of Euclid Avenue and Children’s Place.
The new research building will be in immediate proximity to the facilities in which Washington University Physicians provide patient care — Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, the new Center for Advanced Medicine and Siteman Cancer Center. It will also be conveniently located next to the new Farrell Learning and Teaching Center — expected to be completed in 2005 — an important teaching component of BioMed 21.
“BioMed 21 represents a new paradigm in basic and life science research,” Wrighton said. “We will expand our research at multiple levels and profoundly change the way we deploy resources and group faculty from multiple disciplines encompassing the biological, physical and computer sciences and engineering.
“By bringing together basic scientists and clinical researchers of different expertise, we will address the most important questions in biomedical science and translate our findings into new therapies and potential technologies.
“Our history has been one of continuous improvement and achievement on both the Medical and Hilltop campuses,” Wrighton added. “We have demonstrated repeatedly that we can convert investments in education and research into sustained progress and growth, while serving as an economic engine for the community.
“We are enthusiastic that BioMed 21 will represent a step forward for the greater St. Louis region as it sustains its efforts to remain a powerhouse in plant and life sciences and especially in biomedicine.”
Although the new BioMed 21 research building is in the design stage, other medical facilities are already being built or renovated in the early stages of BioMed 21.
The floor just above the existing Genome Sequencing Center at 4444 Forest Park Ave. will undergo a $13.5 million reconstruction. It will provide space for the first cadre of interdisciplinary researchers in a new Genome Sciences Program.
Additionally, an $18 million, 40,000-square-foot research facility designed to spur development of mouse models for human diseases is being constructed near the corner of Clayton and Taylor avenues.
A previous Danforth Foundation gift will provide a $30 million endowment for “start-up” funds to stimulate research.
Of that $30 million now dedicated to BioMed 21, $6 million will be set aside to endow eight Danforth Foundation Career Development Professorships. These professorships will be awarded to young faculty members, speeding their ability to launch collaborations, projects, grants and laboratories at an early phase in their careers.
Also now committed to BioMed 21 are $6 million from John F. McDonnell and the JSM Charitable Trust to endow four new professorships, and a gift from Philip and Sima Needleman establishing the Philip and Sima K. Needleman Professorship.
The Needleman professorship will be held by a senior leader recruited or appointed to play a leadership role in a new Division of Clinical Sciences devoted to developing translational research to advance patient care.
“These transforming gifts from the Danforth Foundation, John McDonnell and the Needlemans, for which we are so deeply grateful, will make it possible to recruit key faculty and stimulate creation of the interdisciplinary units that are the core of BioMed 21,” Wrighton said.
More than 50 new faculty positions will be established as BioMed 21 develops. These positions will enable the University to recruit or promote faculty who will be successful in competing for outside research funding and philanthropic support.
Additionally, the career-development professorships for young faculty committed to pursuing clinical research and financial support for an additional 50 students earning their Ph.D. or combined M.D./Ph.D. degrees will assure that BioMed 21 energizes faculty and students at every level of career development.
“Resources channeled through BioMed 21 will enable Washington University scientists and physicians to harness genomics and other evolving disciplines in order to cure diseases,” said Shapiro, a geneticist and pediatrician. “The interdisciplinary approaches that characterize BioMed 21, the strength and reputation of our Genome Sequencing Center and our medical faculty’s record levels of funding from NIH and other sources will cement the School of Medicine’s roles as an international leader in biomedical science and as a model community of scholars alluring to top researchers and students everywhere.”
The remainder of the more than $300 million needed for BioMed 21 will come from further philanthropic support, additional internal resources and anticipated increases in peer-reviewed research and training awards from the NIH and other sources.
Diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, neuropsychiatric, cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases, plus a wide range of cancers and infectious diseases, will all be areas of importance in BioMed 21. As the initiative progresses, the creation of interdisciplinary teams is expected to enhance research efforts in an even wider range of diseases and involve faculty in every department of the medical school and a number of departments on the Hilltop Campus.
Three focus areas
Initially, BioMed 21 includes focused efforts in three broad-based, interdisciplinary programs:
• A new Genome Sciences and Human Genetics Program to complement and amplify the ongoing research in the medical school’s Genome Sequencing Center;
• A Division of Clinical Sciences, through which a new generation of clinical researchers can be trained, and established specialists in patient-focused research can translate basic discoveries into new treatments; and
• A University-wide Center for Biological Imaging to enhance imaging at wide-ranging scales, from single molecules to whole organs.
“Within each of the three focus areas, much opportunity to collaborate exists among medical school faculty and physicists, chemists, biologists, engineers, psychologists and computational scientists on the University’s Hilltop Campus,” said Edward S. Macias, Ph.D., executive vice chancellor and dean of Arts & Sciences. “BioMed 21 will fuse our Hilltop engineering and Arts & Sciences faculty and Medical Campus faculty into teams with intellectual and technical vigor, poised to make discoveries that can enhance our effort to improve human health.”
BioMed 21 was developed by a team of medical school leaders, including all of its department heads, with input from the School of Medicine National Council and the University’s Board of Trustees.
A subcommittee of the national council will be created to serve as an important resource regarding the implementation of BioMed 21. Philip Needleman will chair the subcommittee.