Romancing the Genome

The love story that may spark Arizona's New Economy.

The Piper Trust committed $15 million to the construction of the new cancer center at Scottsdale Healthcare, which will be operated by the Arizona Cancer Center. In addition, the trust has committed $5 million toward construction of the Arizona Bioscience and Biomedicine Institutes, which will be run by IGC's Trent.

Meanwhile, Arizona Cancer Center director Daniel Von Hoff is one of three directors of the International Genomics Consortium, along with Mallery and Sam Walker, a Washington, D.C., attorney.

Scottsdale Healthcare president and chief executive officer Max Poll is also affiliated with IGC, serving as the consortium's executive advisor.

IGC's gameplan: The consortium plans to collect tumor samples from around the country, analyze how genes relate to cancer cells and release the information on the Internet.
IGC's gameplan: The consortium plans to collect tumor samples from around the country, analyze how genes relate to cancer cells and release the information on the Internet.
Last fall the consortium quietly set up "temporary" headquarters at Scottsdale Healthcare's newly dedicated Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center.
Kevin Scanlon
Last fall the consortium quietly set up "temporary" headquarters at Scottsdale Healthcare's newly dedicated Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center.

IGC's pre-existing ties to Arizona go even deeper.

The consortium's chief medical officer, Dr. Robert J. Penny, is a U of A Medical School graduate. Helping with IGC's corporate relations is Dr. George Poste, chief executive of Scottsdale-based Health Technology Networks, a company that specializes in the impact of genetics on medicine.

Another link to Arizona is David Mallery — Richard and Francie's son — who serves as IGC's treasurer. David also works as director of venture and equity fund investments for Bethesda-based mutual fund company the Calvert Group. According to the Calvert Group's Web site, he specializes in investments in life sciences companies.

The younger Mallery combines the genes of his "techie" mother and "fuzzy" father. He graduated from Stanford with degrees in human biology and studio art. He did not return calls seeking comment about IGC.

And, of course, there are Trent's longtime links to Arizona.

IGC's strong pre-existing ties to Arizona appear to have had an impact on the lack of excitement the project generated in other cities that were being touted by IGC promoters as perspective locations.

According to IGC officials, the two leading contenders were Bethesda and Atlanta. But interviews with state and local officials in both areas revealed lukewarm support for IGC, particularly if it involved putting large amounts of cash on the table.

"We are trying to recruit IGC to Georgia, but we are not offering state funds," says a spokeswoman for Georgia Governor Roy Barnes.

Russ Toal, head of the Georgia Cancer Coalition, strongly denied that Atlanta was offering $50 million to IGC — an offer that was widely reported in the Arizona press and promoted by the state Department of Commerce.

"Somebody in Arizona is clearly driving this up to raise the ante inside the state of Arizona," Toal was quoted as saying in The Phoenix Business Journal in March.

Toal did not return calls from New Times seeking comment.

Maryland economic development officials were also tepid in their response to IGC, describing their conversations as "preliminary" even while IGC was setting funding deadlines in Arizona.

The genomics media frenzy in Arizona — which was carefully orchestrated by the commerce department — was viewed with amusement in other states.

"I thought they were renaming Phoenix, IGC," jokes Larry Mahan, senior biosciences executive for the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development.

Even officials closely aligned with IGC say privately that Arizona has been competing primarily with itself to raise funds for IGC and the accompanying ABBI.

The tight bonds already forged between Scottsdale Healthcare, the Arizona Cancer Center and the International Genomics Consortium raise the question as to whether IGC was set to come to Arizona regardless of how much public money is raised.

Few politicians were willing to question the headlong rush to pour public funds into a project billed as Arizona's footstep into the "New Economy."

One of the few is Senate president Randall Gnant. He likens the frenzy to attract IGC to Arizona to the hoopla generated when a city goes after a professional sports franchise.

"You have to ask the question, if we don't put that money in, will they definitely not come here?" Gnant says. "Or will they come here anyhow? And if they are going to come here anyhow, then why do we have to do it?"


While the ruckus over the race to raise money for IGC continues, the consortium is set to use a floor in the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center's new three-story, 35,000-square-foot research pavilion to begin the Expression Project for Oncology.

The only thing holding up work is the lack of money.

But this money has nothing to do with the $114 million being raised locally from public and private sources. IGC needs to attract an additional $42 million from pharmaceutical companies to underwrite the cost of conducting gene expression tests on 10,000 cancer tissues.

Mallery refuses to discuss the amount of money that drug companies have committed, although he says there has been a positive reception.

"We have several commitments. We need several more," he says.

IGC can proceed with the project without substantial pharmaceutical investment, Mallery says, but it will be on a smaller scale. IGC, he adds, is being created under a "flexible" model that will allow it to operate even with minimal funding from drug companies.

While IGC waits to see how much money it can attract from these companies — an industry that has been pounded by the recession — public and private interests in Arizona are raising funds on the assumption that IGC will conduct a full-scale project.

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