U, Mayo ask state to fund research

Doctors from the University and Mayo Clinic are seeking support for a bill that would provide $20 million in state bonds for a joint genomics research facility in Rochester, Minn.

The two institutions’ representatives appeared before a House committee Wednesday to discuss their proposal.

The bill is part of a larger plan that would require $70 million in state funding during the next five years. Supporters said the facility could create 4,000 jobs in the state by 2010, and would generate approximately $30 million annually in direct state revenue.

“This is a race,” Rep. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said. “While we’ll all get health benefits, the economic benefits from genomics will go to those who develop the technology.”

Mark Paller, assistant vice president for research at the Academic Health Center, said the partnership between the University and Mayo Clinic would create new business in Minnesota.

“The hope is that the 15, 20, 30 startup (companies) would want to stay in Minnesota,” Paller said.

Liz Bogut, spokeswoman for Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s office, wrote in an e-mail that Minnesota has an advantage in bioscience and medical devices. The genomics project is important to keep Minnesota ahead of the curve, she said.

Eric Wieben, director of Mayo Clinic’s Genomics Research Center, said the project’s scientific impact outweighs the economic prospects.

“We think it’s going to have a very big impact on medical practice,” Wieben said. “It’s going to improve the quality of medicine for people living in Minnesota, and around the country, and around the world.”

Committee members showed support for the $20 million bill, but expressed some concern about additional funding in the future.

“I think the big question is probably not the bill before us – the $20 million – but will be the funding of the $70 million and how that is handled if we continue to have budgetary difficulties,” Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, said.

Wieben said he has received positive feedback from legislators.

“So far, I sense significant support and only minor issues about the budgeting, and where the numbers come from, and how well justified and thought-out it is,” Wieben said.

“I’ve been really impressed by the degree of knowledge and interest of the legislators,” he said.

The University has also requested $155.5 million for bonds for capital improvements. Pawlenty proposed $76.6 million.

Carlson said the $20 million requested for the genomics project should not affect the capital bonding request.

The $20 million genomics bill should reach a full house vote in late March, Carlson said.