Tuesday, January 19, 2021 / by Juan Grimaldo
The bioscience sector in Phoenix is heating up and the world is taking notice, as exclusive licensing agreements are forged, lab space is being built and medical schools are expanding.
Construction is underway or about to begin in Phoenix on bioscience health facilities with a capital value of more than $3 billion, according to data compiled by Phoenix Community and Economic Development. More than 7,000 new bioscience health care jobs will be created in Phoenix during this time.
The Translational Genomics Research Institute just forged a worldwide exclusive licensing agreement for its proprietary technology that uses a blood test to catch tumors even before X-rays and CT scans. TGen, an affiliate of the City of Hope, now has a deal with Madison, Wisconsin-based Exact Sciences Corp. (Nasdaq: EXAS)
The new technology measures DNA in the blood to identify any cancer DNA, said Dr. Jeffrey Trent, founder and medical director of TGen.
"It's particularly useful for early detection of recurrence of cancer," Trent said. "This is a monitoring test that can identify early that something is coming back, even before you can see it with conventional scanning like X-ray or even a CT scan."
While he wouldn't disclose financial terms of the exclusive licensing agreement, Trent said it will allow the nonprofit research group to invest in new technologies for the future.
Creation of bioscience hub
Deals like this are helping to put Phoenix on the map when it comes to its efforts to grow its bioscience hub — an effort that began in 2002 when Trent decided to leave the National Institutes of Health to come back home and start TGen.
Christine Mackay, economic development director for the city of Phoenix, was part of a huge group back then focused on building a biosciences hub in Phoenix.
At the time, she was told by many people across the country to not waste her time because a small town such as Phoenix was never going to be able to compete with the big dogs.
Today, Phoenix is among the top 10 emerging life science clusters, according to a report issued by CBRE Group Inc. in October.
Before the Great Recession, construction was always the leading sector in job creation in Phoenix and across the state, Mackay said.
"After the recession ended, construction is no longer leading our new job creation," Mackay said.
Manufacturing is No. 1, health care and biosciences are No. 3 and construction is No. 4, she said.
"Those knowledge-economy jobs are now driving that growth, and construction is supporting the growth, as opposed to leading the growth," Mackay said. "What that's doing is creating a sustainable, more recession-proof economy. We're proving that here through the pandemic."
Medical school fuels growth
Sharon Harper, chairman and CEO of Plaza Cos., who has served on the TGen board and other health foundation boards, has been instrumental in revitalizing the midtown Phoenix area, where Creighton University School of Medicine is building a $100 million campus next to St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center and 800 yards away from Banner Health's Phoenix headquarters.
"The world's view has escalated tremendously in terms of the quality and people coming to receive the services," Harper said, adding that Creighton is the largest Catholic medical school in the country.
Creighton is a "tremendous asset" to the growing health sector in midtown Phoenix, Mackay said.
Medical students tend to grow roots in the areas where they complete their residency training programs, she said.
"Having Creighton here to complement Mayo Medical School and University of Arizona Medical School is just enhancing those residents who stay here who ultimately become world-class doctors that set up shop in Phoenix," Mackay said. "We have become a destination medicine location, bringing medical tourists from around the world who want their procedures done in Phoenix at Mayo Clinic, Barrow Neurological Institute, Valleywise Burn Center and Phoenix Children's Hospital. These are world-class assets that sometimes I think because we're here we take for granted what we really have in our own backyard."
Adding Creighton into the mix is another tremendous asset for the area, she said.
"They are globally recognized for the medical students that come out of their university," she said.
Two miles away, the $77 million, 226,000-square-foot Wexford Science + Technology building on the Phoenix Biomedical Campus will provide space to attract researchers and bioscience firms to the Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix. Also on that campus are the three state universities and TGen's headquarters.
With those companies comes more high-tech, high-paying jobs in the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, areas.
"The more STEM jobs we have here, the less brain drain we have," Mackay said.
Ten years ago, Phoenix was No. 2 — right behind Texas — for losing college graduates to STEM jobs in other parts of the country, Mackay said.
"Now we are not even in the top 10," she said. "We all worked diligently to create a place those graduating students can stay. They are finding the jobs they want here. Brain drain is gone. It's not even part of our vernacular anymore. We don't even worry about it anymore."