U medical building will boost research

by Matt Graham

If you want to be a top-three research institution, you must invest in research.

With this in mind, University officials have crafted a relatively large 2006 capital budget request to bring to the state Legislature. The $269.1 million preliminary request is almost $50 million more than last year’s request.

The final request must be approved by the Board of Regents in November before University officials can take it to the Legislature in the spring.

Included in the request is a $60 million Medical Biosciences Building for Academic Health Center research.

“It is a fairly aggressive (request),” said University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter.

But, he said, the University needs to spend the money.

“The days of $20 million science buildings are over,” Pfutzenreuter said.

Mary Koppel, assistant vice president for Academic Health Center public relations, said there have been many changes over the past decade in the way research facilities are designed and built. The buildings are now geared toward facilitating communication, which is important in the era of interdisciplinary research.

“The best science happens where disciplines or different ways of looking at things rub shoulders,” Koppel said.

For example, Koppel said, the development of medical devices is increasingly bringing technicians together with biologists, allowing experts from diverse fields to share knowledge.

Earlier this month, University President Bob Bruininks and Senior Vice President of the Academic Health Center Frank Cerra emphasized to the Board of Regents that the building will pay for itself by bringing research conducted off campus back to the University.

Cerra said the University spends $10 million a year to conduct research off campus.

But Pfutzenreuter downplayed the cost-saving potential of the building.

“I don’t know if this will really bring people from off campus back on,” he said.

Instead, he said, the University will use the building to expand on the research already being conducted.

Expansion of research is an important priority for the University, he said.

In an effort to shore up funding issues, Vice President for Research Tim Mulcahy said, the goal is to create five start-up companies per year, taking advantage of intellectual property developed at the University.

The University’s most profitable intellectual property to date has been the HIV drug Carbovir, and Koppel said the new facility will help the infectious disease program that developed the drug to be even more effective.

Ultimately, Koppel said, the facility will help the University attract the world’s top medical talent while helping it become the world-class research institution it aspires to be.

“Part of this is a recognition that for the University to drive to top three, we need to have a very vital health sciences enterprise,” she said.