Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Executive Spotlight: Dr. Ed Holmes, President and CEO of the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine

Dr. Ed Holmes
The Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine combines the intellectual resources of four of the world's leading biomedical research institutions (UC San Diego, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the Sanford-Burnham Institute for Medical Research and The Scripps Research Institute) to pursue collaborative research projects that advance the search for breakthrough cures. The Sanford Consortium unites San Diego's brightest researchers to work side by side to harness the regenerative power of stem cells to diagnose, treat and cure degenerative diseases and injuries. The Sanford Consortium integrates the collective knowledge of these foremost biomedical research institutions, with the support of surrounding industry and local community, to create a global resource for stem cell research.

Dr. Holmes is a distinguished professor of the University of California and vice chancellor/dean emeritus of Health Sciences at UC San Diego. He is also executive deputy chairman of the Biomedical Research Council and chairman of the National Medical Research Council, Singapore. Holmes has served on numerous advisory boards including the National Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Advisory Council of the National Institutes of Health, the board of directors of Tularik and the scientific advisory board of GlaxoSmithKline, which he chairs. He is a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation and the Association of American Physicians. He is also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. He holds a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

Q: Tell me about the origins of the Sanford Consortium.

A: We came into being after the bond issue (Prop. 71) was passed and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) was formed. The San Diego community, including UCSD, Scripps, Salk and Burnham, decided to approach this by working together.

Q: The Sanford Consortium seems unique in that way. How did scientists in San Diego overcome the boundaries that can typically block them from coming together?

A: I think what’s interesting about this is it is really something that sort of happened on three levels. One, that the scientists actually wanted to work together. Also, the four institutional leaders (UCSD, Salk, Scripps and Burnham) saw an advantage to working together. And, then, we had community leaders in the form of Malin Burnham and John Moores and Irwin Jacobs in the beginning. And, now, Denny Sanford.

I think the four institutions and the scientists within them all working together is really what got us started. And that’s continued to be the foundation of what we do.

Q: Tell me about the building itself. What kind of progress has been made to date?

A: To get started, we need a place to house our folks. But it is important to recognize that, certainly, CIRM providing a $43 million major facilities grant was essential in this, but we would not have gotten there without the $30 million gift from Denny Sanford.

This is a beautiful location in every sense of the word—both views and the prime space. Chancellor Marye Anne Fox and UCSD helped us in that regard. This is one example of her vision—without her support we wouldn’t have gotten the loan we needed (public debt guaranteed by the UC Regents).

Denny gave us the $30 million and we’ll be using less than $20 million of that for construction of the building; the rest will be used to fund research. As for the rest, $43 million came from the CIRM grant and we sold $62 million worth of bonds, but it yielded $65 million worth of proceeds.

We are now on track for Sept. 22, 2011. We will be able to get in there July 1 and start installing equipment so that, by and large, we have a certificate of occupancy and, by the end of September, we’re ready to go.

Q: We’re at a dynamic time for stem cell research—especially with the first human trial on spinal cord injury. What excites you most about the research about to happen here?

A: We’ve begun to engage a wide group of scientists from all four institutions and you can see the genuine excitement. We’ve also begun to identify three theme areas to work in. Neurosciences, because that’s an important area for stem cell research. Also, in the area of cancer biology we’ve got a tremendous amount of strength, and in cardiovascular disease.

But what we’ve discovered is there’s so much more and we don’t want to exclude people, so we’ll probably concentrate on these three areas but embrace, though special projects, other things that would be important to bring into this.

We’re in the position to choose among the very best people, but, at the same time, we envision the consortium to be more than this building. It’s the science but it’s also all four institutions. Just because you’re not located in the building does not mean that you’re not a part of the Sanford Consortium. So, they’ve come up with some clever ways to engage people who might not be in the building long-term with special projects.

Q: Are there plans for engaging the local business community?

A: What we see as a tremendous opportunity as we build this out is, “How can we leverage what we have with partnerships in the private sector?”

One example is the basement in this building has a phenomenal capability for doing preclinical imaging studies that we think would be valuable to our investigators, but might also represent an opportunity to partner with the private sector. Some biotechs, particularly small biotechs, who cannot afford to buy some of the equipment that we will have.
We would like to leverage both our science and our resources to work with this private sector and we’re just beginning our conversations.

We eventually want to do something with people. And it’s very hard to come up with things you do for people that don’t involve collaborations with the private sector. So, we have begun some very preliminary conversations right now with some of the biotech people in town. We’re also interested in talking to pharmaceutical and medical device leaders.

Q: A lot of this depends on the leveraging of federal funds and right now this is still up in the air, with stem cell research held up in the courts. What concerns do you have there?

A: Nobody can predict what’s going to happen in Washington and obviously it’s an up and down situation. But I would say the disquiet in Washington has been a boon for California. You find people who want to come anyway, but they want to come even more now. It’d be really nice if the federal government gets it sorted out—and I, personally, think they will. I’m optimistic the federal government will straighten itself out and begin to make investments.

Q: What kind of design plans does the building call for to get scientists working collaboratively?

A: For collaboration to work, first you need opportunity. And you need to run into people at the water cooler. We have rooms intended to reduce certain types of behavior and encourage collaboration. We have team rooms so six people can hook up computers at a time. It’s a smartboard, so they can write on the screen so it captures the image plus what they annotate on their screen.

We also learned that scientists go 10x horizontal before they go 1x vertical. Or, as we say, “The ability to collaborate is inversely proportional to the square of the distances.”

The building calls for wide open staircases and large open spaces that connect. It should allow people to more vertically circulate.

Q: Did you model this building after any other facilities in the country?

A: The exterior was designed to acknowledge that it has to fit contextually with the iconic structure that is the Salk. It started with the scientists back in 2007. They said, “This is what we think we need.” We had a lab planner work with them and come up with a program. And the architects then worked with the program to develop it.

This is a LEED gold building. We’re using chilled beams throughout.

We’re also taking advantage of the fact that we live in a great part of the world. We face the ocean here on top of the Torrey Pines Mesa, which allows for some fantastic views. We plan to build an open-air reception space and fully take advantage of the Southern California climate.

CHI-Advancing California biomedical research and innovation

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