Pawlenty, U, Mayo advance partnership plans

The University and Mayo Clinic will develop more specific proposals, then meet with Pawlenty again.

by Dylan Thomas

Plans for a proposed genomic and biotechnology research alliance between the University and Mayo Clinic advanced in a meeting with Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Tuesday.

The three parties met in Rochester, Minn., to outline in broad terms the possible joint venture. The clinic and the University will now develop more specific proposals before meeting with the governor again soon, officials from both institutions said.

Mark Paller, vice president for research at the University’s Academic Health Center, said a partnership would combine the two institutions’ resources to develop new diagnostic tests and therapies for diseases. A goal would be to transition from research to commercial products “that hopefully could be developed by Minnesota companies,” he said.

Paller said the possibility of the collaboration receiving seed money from the state to initiate the project was discussed, but he would not go into details.

Dan Walter, the governor’s communications director, said it “would be fair to say” the governor views the possible economic benefits of the joint venture as outweighing current concerns regarding the budget shortfall.

“It’s such a fast-moving and competitive area,” Walter said. “We might as well work together and capitalize on all the opportunities this will offer.”

Eric Wieben, director of Mayo’s Genomics Research Center, said he found the governor’s support for the plan “very encouraging.” He expressed optimism that an alliance could transform Minnesota from “players” in the biotechnology and genomics arena into “leaders.”

Paller said although there are “no definite plans,” the two institutions will continue talks on the joint recruitment of scientists and the sharing of laboratory equipment to avoid duplication of resources. He said there have been “ongoing discussions on a daily basis.”

Paller added the possibility of constructing new buildings at both locations to house researchers and equipment had come up in news reports last week, but such proposals were the result of preliminary discussions before the governor was fully involved.

Paller said he did not think the buildings were being planned in the short-term, but could enter discussions on a long-term partnership.

Paller said the University’s need for the proposed Translational Research Facility was separate from any partnership between Mayo Clinic and the University.

More specific future proposals will evaluate each institution’s strengths and determine what both can bring to the table.

“We’re working very hard to not drag our feet on this,” Wieben said.