Mission: Impossible

The Arizona Legislature may prove to be too much for ASU's unsinkable Michael Crow

Even then, there is no guarantee that a major biotechnology economy will develop.

It is extremely unlikely that Arizona can afford to commit to such a long-term investment.

"In the wonderful world of economic development, $300 million is a lot of money," Cortright says. "In the world of biotechnology, it really isn't that much."

ASU's president Michael Crow
Emily Piraino
ASU's president Michael Crow
Arizona regent Chris Herstam says he didn't know about Michael Crow's CIA affiliation prior to Crow being named ASU president  in March 2002.
Arizona regent Chris Herstam says he didn't know about Michael Crow's CIA affiliation prior to Crow being named ASU president in March 2002.

Crow is quite aware of the pitfalls of diving headlong into biotechnology without a well-thought-out plan.

"If you wanted to pound me and say, You're a Johnny-come-lately coming into the game, everybody is doing biotech. How are you going to beat these guys?' I would say, You know what? You're right.' But that's not the angle we are taking.

"The angle we are taking is biodesign."

Led by the AZ Biodesign Institute, Crow says ASU will undertake work unlike any other university in the country -- or, for that matter, in the world.


The AZ Biodesign Institute is being directed by world-renowned pharmaceutical scientist George Poste, who brings immediate clout to ASU's research efforts.

As the former president of research and development for the drug manufacturer SmithKline Beecham, Poste was associated with 29 drug and vaccine registrations in the U.S. and internationally. A naturalized U.S. citizen, Poste was awarded the rank of Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in 1999 for his work in biotechnology.

Poste retired from SmithKline in 1999 and settled in Scottsdale where he served as chief executive officer of Health Technology Networks, a consulting group specializing in the impact of genetics, computing and other advanced technologies on health care.

Poste was part of Arizona's successful effort last year to attract the International Genomics Consortium to downtown Phoenix. Crow began discussions with Poste soon after becoming ASU president.

"This guy is an unbelievable genius," Crow says of Poste.

And, indeed, Poste's ASU appointment has triggered a resounding round of accolades.

"He will initiate a creative and ambitious strategy that will set the AZ Biodesign Institute on a trajectory for international prominence," says Stephen Benkovic, a prominent chemistry professor at Pennsylvania State University.

"There are only a few people in the world who have the background in bioscience and genomic research that George has, and who have taken vaccines and pharmaceuticals into the marketplace," says Jeffrey Trent, founder of Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix. "He will help ASU and Arizona take a major leap forward."

The Biodesign Institute's mission is broad and bold: "Our intention is to build the science and engineering capacity to design new machines, plants, systems, material and molecules to enhance the general quality of life," Crow states.

The institute initially will be funded by tapping $30 million over the next five years from Proposition 301 money, a voter-approved initiative that earmarks a percentage of the state sales tax to university programs. Federal grants and corporate sponsorships are expected to bring another $70 million into the institute during the first few years.

Like Crow, Poste is also connected to the highest levels of the country's national security structure.

Poste is a member of the U.S. Defense Science Board and is chairman of the Pentagon's task force on bioterrorism. He's considered one of the top experts in the world on biothreats and the spread of infectious diseases.

Poste, who will be paid $300,000 annually, is expected to immediately attract a cadre of premier researchers to AZ Biodesign Institute, along with their federal grants.

The fledgling institute will be housed in a new $69 million, 170,000-square-foot research laboratory under construction on the east side of ASU's Tempe campus.

Like Crow, Poste also has Grand Canyon-size ideas and goals. He's urged creation of a new life-sciences defense industry to counter what he believes is an increasingly growing threat from bioterrorists. ASU's Biodesign Institute appears poised to be on the leading edge as this industry emerges.

In interviews with trade journals, Poste paints a stark picture of the dangers inherent in biotechnology and the need to immediately bolster security in America's research laboratories.

Basic biomedical research under way in top private and public laboratories could prove useful for insidious weapons development, Poste told New York writer Laurie Garrett in a December 2000 interview.

For example, Poste told Garrett that "gene therapy's goal is creation of stealth viral vectors that can introduce a gene, bypassing immune system recognition. What a perfect biological weapon!"

The bottom line, Poste said in the interview, is the so-called "dual use dilemma": Every breakthrough in biomedical research also has the potential of destroying significant segments of humanity.

Crow says ASU is preparing to handle the moral, ethical and security issues that come with ASU's entry into the world of biodesign.

"We have to be very careful of unintended consequences," he says.


Crow's curriculum vitae runs 12 pages and includes detailed references to 56 professional presentations, 34 articles in various journals and three books. It notes that Crow graduated from Iowa State University in 1977 with a degree in political science and environmental studies.

It states that Crow obtained his doctorate in public administration from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University in 1985. It provides summaries of all his teaching, research and administrative positions held at Iowa State, University of Kentucky and for the 11 years at Columbia University that preceded his appointment as president of ASU.

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