Promising developments Featured

11:52am EDT September 22, 2003
The Ohio State University Medical Center is serious about biomedical research, so serious that it will soon break ground on a $120 million facility -- the Biomedical Research Tower -- devoted to it.

The Tower will be located on 12th Avenue adjacent to the Medical Center.

Peter Geier, chief operating officer of the Medical Center, says the tower is part of OSU President Dr. Karen Holbrook's plan to become one of the country's top research institutions.

"We took a look at the space available and realized we did not have good quality space," Geier says.

The facility, expected to be complete by December 2006, will house 100 research scientists and other personnel in its 230,000 square feet.

"The research there will be designed to translate into better patient care," Geier says.

"The primary areas of medical research which have traditionally been strong at OSU are cancer, neuroscience and transplantation," says Dr. Carol Whitacre, associate vice president for health sciences research. "These are the areas in which OSU has invested significant resources over the past decade and hired strong leaders. At the present time and looking forward, these areas are continuing to be emphasized."

OSU is also expanding its research into other areas, says Whitacre. Experimental therapeutics for cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurobiology of disease, bioinformatics, microbial pathogenesis (infectious diseases including protection from the agents of bioterrorism) and diabetes are some of the new research areas receiving investment.

Jeffrey Wilkins, senior consultant to the Medical Center for commercialization, says these areas were targeted because of changing demographics.

"There are a higher percentage of older people in the country," Wilkins says. "And that's what's really driving the biotech or biomedical research field. There's been a tremendous increase in funding for that research over the last few years."

Wilkins has also seen increased activity in software technologies, tools to help researchers advance developments more quickly. Software would come under the title of enabling technologies or platforms to help advance products and services.

Whitacre says the university is pushing forward in disease prevention, one of the areas of greatest medical need for the next decade.

"Medical science has traditionally focused on disease treatment only after disease has been detected and is sometimes far advanced," she says. "New approaches include using some forms of genetic testing to detect risk for disease even before its appearance, as well as research into reduction of risk factors. Much of the research on disease tracking and risk factor reduction is carried out as part of the expanded emphasis of the School of Public Health."

Wilkins' mission is to assist the university in turning its discoveries into products and services companies can license and use. He sees a growing awareness of the importance of technology transfer.

"In the last few years, we have seen an increase in emphasis on the tech transfer process throughout the country," Wilkins says. "This emphasis has shown up in the focus that various institutions put on the process, illustrated by how often it is mentioned in their external reporting."

He is working to develop an efficient tech transfer business model at the University and communicate its importance to all members of the research team.

"At the Medical Center, I'm working to discover how to build a sustainable business process which is very efficient," Wilkins says. "That process starts with education and training -- making people aware of the importance of tech transfer so the process becomes part of their work."

The result will be a win-win situation for the university, patients and local economic development.

"New research dollars result in the attraction and recruitment of high-income professionals and support staff," says Wilkins. "Secondly, research can drive spin-out companies, start-ups that attract investment dollars, new employment, facilities and demand for local services.

"And finally, reputation for growing research attracts top faculty and students, which drives more research funding and the cycle continues."

How to reach: The Ohio State University Medical Center, (800) 293-5123 or medicalcenter.osu.edu.