Romancing the Genome
Richard Mallery is a master of the art of the deal.
A Fullbright Scholar and Stanford Law graduate, Mallery is entranced with the power of words and the allure of drama.
"I'm a fuzzy who deals in metaphors," Mallery says, employing a term used at Stanford to describe liberal arts majors. "I understand ambiguity. I understand mystery and mysticism."
Mastery of these nuances has served Mallery well throughout his career as one of Arizona's most powerful attorneys. His political alliances have ranged from former Democratic Governor Bruce Babbitt to ex-Republican Governor Fife Symington, a longtime friend and client.
Few Arizonans carry the political and financial clout of Richard Mallery. The doors of Arizona's most powerful political, business and civic leaders swing open when he knocks.
In the last few months, Mallery has been pounding on quite a few of those doors in his quest to bring the most important project of his life to Arizona the International Genomics Consortium. Mallery is chairman of the board of the nonprofit research group that has brought together an impressive array of some of the world's top genetic and cancer researchers.
By analyzing 10,000 tumors, the consortium plans to create a database that details the relationship between genes and cancer. The database, Mallery says, will accelerate research into finding treatments and cures for cancer and a host of other diseases.
Mallery has been extraordinarily successful in his quest to raise the $114 million needed to attract the top genomics and cancer researchers in the world to the biosciences backwater of Arizona. Nearly $93 million has been raised, from public and private sources, for the consortium and for construction of the Arizona Bioscience and Biomedicine Institutes, a state-of-the art laboratory to be run by IGC's chief scientist, Dr. Jeffrey Trent.
IGC will act as a public utility, freely providing genomics data on the Internet that will be used worldwide by research centers seeking to develop treatments for cancer and other diseases.
The Arizona Bioscience and Biomedicine Institutes will be one of the research centers striving to develop marketable products. The institutes will include faculty and funding from the state's three universities. Most of the money being raised will finance $98 million in projected operating losses during ABBI's first five years.
Mallery's remarkable efforts to bring IGC to Arizona is laced with the "fuzzy" aspects of life he holds most dear: Ambiguity. Mystery. Mysticism.
The death last winter of Mallery's wife from cancer has draped a mystical aura over the entire affair. It was Francie Mallery's diagnosis and ensuing two-year struggle with cancer that led Mallery to the doorsteps of the world's leading cancer and genomics researchers who have joined him to form IGC.
Mallery says the consortium will conduct revolutionary research that will help change the face of medicine.
"I think we are in a time of renaissance in medicine and health care," he says. "I think it really is that significant."
IGC also provides Mallery with a worthy cause to support in the aftermath of his wife's death.
"I want to do something," he says.
That something, however, is clouded in the mystery of genomics, and in the consortium itself. Few understand the science and technology that the consortium wants to employ.
Equipped with special silicon chips called microarrays and a supercomputer to decipher the data, IGC will study how genes "express" themselves and transmit information to cells.
Whether this information will quickly lead to cures for a host of diseases ranging from cancer to bipolar disorder, no one knows. There are more questions than answers, including whether the database IGC intends to create is duplicative of what already is being done throughout the country.
Equally perplexing are the duplicitous suggestions of competition between other regions and Arizona to attract IGC. Throughout the spring, daily newspapers breathlessly reported that Arizona was in a heated battle with Maryland and Georgia. The Arizona Republic reported in February that Georgia was putting up $50 million. There was never such a commitment. But the illusion of regional competition helped fuel fund-raising efforts in Arizona.
One reason there may not have been a serious interest in IGC from other areas of the country is that the consortium had already set up operations in Arizona. IGC has been conducting preliminary trials of its gene expression technology at Scottsdale Healthcare since October.
Looming over the entire effort is uncertainty whether IGC will be able attract the $42 million in pharmaceutical funds needed to pay for its centerpiece project. Ongoing negotiations between IGC and the drug companies are cloaked in secrecy. If the pharmaceutical funding for IGC doesn't materialize, development of the Arizona Bioscience and Biomedicine Institutes will be slowed significantly.
Given the rapid evolution and somewhat chaotic nature swirling around genomics, it isn't too surprising that the consortium's projected impact on Arizona is fairly ambiguous. Some say it will act as a magnet, attracting the world's top genomics scientists and young researchers to Phoenix to rub elbows with the IGC brain trust. IGC is seen as a way to jump-start Arizona to the forefront of biomedical research that promises to attract billions of dollars in federal spending. The hope is that IGC will stimulate the creation of a biosciences corridor stretching from Flagstaff to Tucson.
Others are far more skeptical. IGC plans to put all of its information on the Internet for free use. While this may be wonderful for researchers worldwide, it makes Arizona simply the host for a very expensive genomics Web site. ABBI, meanwhile, will be competing with research centers worldwide to create marketable products, with no guarantee of success.
IGC suddenly appeared on the political landscape last winter, at about the same time political leaders were caoming under increasing fire for failing to restructure Arizona's low-wage economy, driven for decades by real estate speculation.
After a meeting with Mallery in January, Governor Jane Hull seized upon IGC as a "legacy" project for her administration and dispatched the state Department of Commerce to ensure funding would be available for IGC and ABBI.
IGC was quickly embraced as the high-profile, intellectually driven project that that would symbolize Arizona's commitment to becoming a significant player in the "New Economy."
Not only did the Legislature earmark $30 million for genomics at the same time it was cutting $1 billion from the budget, Mallery's IGC initiative triggered the three state universities to set aside longstanding animosity and distrust to work together to create ABBI.
Ironically, politicians are pinning their hopes for economic transformation on a project being promoted by a man who made his fortune, and the fortunes of others, in real estate speculation.
Mallery is an icon of Arizona's notorious, fast-buck, cutthroat real estate economy.
During his long career, he has had his share of eyebrow-raising deals as a senior partner at Arizona's most prominent law firm, Snell & Wilmer.
He was nearly indicted by federal prosecutors during the Symington criminal investigation. Mallery was Symington's longtime real estate attorney and close friend. Symington was convicted of bank and wire fraud related to his real estate development business in 1997 and forced to resign as governor. (He was later pardoned by President Clinton.)
In the 1980s, Mallery was ensnared in two high-profile, publicly financed projects in which he stood to make a private gain.
But now Mallery finds himself in a different time personally a time of mourning and reflection. There is no indication that Mallery's current effort to bring IGC to Arizona is motivated by anything but the highest calling. There is reason, nonetheless, to be cautious, as the state moves forward in forging a possible long-term partnership.
Can IGC and ABBI live up to their billing as economic catalysts?
Is IGC's genomic research really revolutionary?
Will taxpayers directly benefit from any profits resulting from the research?
Will IGC deliver on its promise to conduct gene studies on 10,000 tumors?
Incredibly, Mallery has raised nearly $100 million in public and foundation monies, and yet the final terms of the deal who will share in what have yet to be negotiated.
IGC is now in its most powerful bargaining position to attract millions of dollars in public, private and pharmaceutical funds. The consortium says it won't come to Arizona unless the biosciences institutes that will be run by IGC's Trent get another $20 million in start-up capital.
Mallery is doing what he loves most putting together a deal. He is carefully playing his hand to get the most money he can on the genomics table.
"I'm doing brinkmanship," he says. "But in a nice sort of way."
Richard Mallery and his wife Francie were true partners with widely different interests.
He is the man of letters, a self-described "fuzzy".
She was the "techie" with a passion for nutrition and biochemistry.
Their wide divergence of expertise was in fact a magnet that tightly bound the two in everything they did.
"We really were inseparable," Mallery says of his wife of 38 years.
She learned law and actively participated in his activities.
And he learned about diet and biochemistry at least enough to be conversant on the subjects.
Cancer struck Francie like a lightening bolt. All her relatives had lived into their 80s and 90s. She was healthy and very fit.
"It was just a stunner for both of us," Mallery says.
She was stricken with a rare and very aggressive form of gynecological cancer. The cancer wasn't discovered until she underwent surgery. Discovery of cancer was shocking enough, but also troubling was the way the surgery was conducted, Mallery says.
"The surgeon who did the surgery on her threw away all the tumor," he says.
Tossing cancerous tumors is standard practice but it is a policy, Mallery says, that he immediately realized is a mistake.
"I came out of that (operation) with a sense it was a missed opportunity."
The cancerous tissue, Mallery explains, could have been studied to determine in more detail the type of cancer his wife was facing.
Mallery started investigating how cancerous tissues are studied and was disappointed by what he discovered. Tumors are sometimes given to private tissue banks that do little to cooperate on the research they conduct and the insights they gain.
"I found that the for-profit tissue banks don't talk to each other," Mallery says.
More important, he adds, is that tissue research banks view cancerous tumors as their property.
"As a lawyer and somebody who has been involved in public policy, I thought, 'Hey, they don't own the tissue. We own the tissue. She grew the tissue. We own it.'"
Mallery was quickly enmeshed in a public policy issue that would soon lead him to some of the top cancer and genomics researchers in the world. This engagement would be an effort unlike any he had undertaken with money and power as the spoils.
This mission was triggered by his wife's tortuous battle with cancer.
"She went through everything. She went through chemotherapy. She went through radiation. She went though five major abdominal surgeries," he says. "She was so fit, she would bounce back each time.
"But after two years of chemotherapy, your body just sort of wears down. That's poison. That's all it is. It's like taking a shotgun, like fighting a terrorist on a plane with a shotgun. Eventually you are going to destroy the plane if you don't get 'em right away."
Francie was treated at the Arizona Cancer Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson an institution Mallery considers to be one of the best in the world. The long, exhausting drives between Phoenix and Tucson for chemotherapy treatments allowed time for thoughts about the future and ways to ease patient suffering.
Mallery's first goal was to eliminate the tedious 200-mile round-trip drive to Tucson. He got involved with helping to raise money to open the Arizona Cancer Center North at Scottsdale Healthcare.
"They needed $25 million, and I pitched in and helped them to get that going sooner rather than later, because 70 percent of the patients in Tucson at the Arizona Cancer Center drive there from Phoenix," he explains.
During this effort, Mallery worked closely with Arizona Cancer Center director Daniel Von Hoff. Mallery was soon drawn into discussions about fundamental cancer research. Von Hoff, an expert in the development of anticancer drugs, introduced Mallery to his longtime friend, Jeffrey Trent, who was leading a team of 500 scientists in mapping the human genome.
A graduate of Arcadia High School, Trent earned his masters and doctorate in genetics at the University of Arizona before moving on to the University of Michigan and then to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Since 1993, Trent has served as NIH's scientific director of the National Human Genome Research Institute and as chief of the Cancer Genetics Branch.
By December 2000, the three men highly distinguished in their respective fields the lawyer, the anticancer drug developer and the genome scientist were working together under the umbrella of the International Genomics Consortium.
The IGC mission is straightforward: create a carefully controlled database in which thousands of cancerous tissues would be analyzed for their genetic traits. Its goal is ambitious: 10,000 tumor samples would be analyzed in three years, and all the information would be freely available on the Internet. Researchers worldwide would use the information to help develop customized treatments to fight cancer and perhaps even cure it before it has a chance to manifest itself.
Rather than throwing away cancerous tissues, 19 medical centers across the nation would collect tumors and send them to IGC for genome analysis. Patients would remain anonymous, but a system would be employed to track their responses to treatments that may develop.
Mallery says genomics holds the promise of creating targeted treatments for diseases, based on which gene is malfunctioning.
"The beautiful part about genomics is that you can individualize patient diagnosis and therapy," he says.
The promise of genomics and custom cancer treatments will come too late for Francie, who passed away last December at age 59. The couple had time to reflect on her impending death. When Mallery speaks about his wife, it's as if she's still next to him, encouraging him in his latest quest.
"She said it best," he says. "Someday when we are looking back on our lives, she will say that it didn't matter how long she lived, whether it was 59 or 95. The important thing is that she achieved everything that was important to her. She had just a great marriage, a wonderful family and lots of friends.
"And frankly, I'm very thankful for what we had and will have, and I simply want to use my time well.
"I cannot think of better use of time than doing something about cancer and other such disease. It's doable now, thanks to genomics."
While the press is focusing on efforts to raise $114 million to attract Jeffrey Trent and his team of scientists to Arizona, it has virtually ignored the salient fact that IGC has been here since last October.
Last fall the consortium quietly set up "temporary" headquarters at Scottsdale Healthcare's newly dedicated Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center. There, IGC began a series of tests using its microarray gene expression technology on brain and colon tumors. These tests are laying the groundwork for IGC's centerpiece program, the Expression Project for Oncology, which will study 10,000 tumors.
Despite the widespread perception that IGC is being courted to set up operations in downtown Phoenix, the most important research by the consortium the Expression Project for Oncology is planned to be conducted at Scottsdale Healthcare, says Phoenix assistant city manager Sheryl Sculley.
The opening of the Piper Cancer Center last December heralded a new alliance between Scottsdale Healthcare, U of A's Arizona Cancer Center, the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust and the International Genomics Consortium.
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 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.
Phoenix City Councilman Greg Stanton a strong proponent of the project says he's confident that IGC will do everything possible to raise the funds needed to do the promised project. But he concedes he has no idea how successful IGC has been to date in securing the needed drug money.
ABBI officials at Arizona State University say the institutes are assuming that IGC will obtain the full funding needed to do its planned research. If IGC funding is derailed, momentum to start ABBI also will slow.
"If IGC isn't fully functional, my guess is Jeffrey Trent is not going to come out here," says Jonathon Fink, vice provost of research at Arizona State University. "If he doesn't come, that reduces some of the urgency to get ABBI launched."
Officials in the governor's office take a different view.
Tim Lawless, Hull's executive assistant for business, says Trent and his team of researchers will be employees of ABBI and are expected come to Arizona no matter how much funding IGC is able to raise from drug companies.
"Having the IGC is important, but it's not the overriding thing," Lawless says. "The scientists are coming here to ABBI."
As ambiguity swirls around IGC's financial underpinnings and the impact on ABBI, fund-raising on the local level continues. IGC and ABBI promoters have secured major financial commitments from the state ($30 million), Phoenix ($21.5 million), Maricopa County ($5 million), private foundations ($15 million), universities ($8 million), local hospitals ($1.5 million) and private contributors that include several banks ($3.5 million) for a total of $84.5 million. ABBI is also hoping to receive funds from the federal government ($10 million).
But even more locally raised money is needed.
At a hastily scheduled press conference last month to announce, to no one's surprise, that IGC had selected Arizona as its prime location, it was made clear that another $20 million needed to be raised for ABBI.
For all practical purposes, IGC and ABBI are part of the same chromosome.
ABBI will be run by Trent and his handpicked team of IGC scientists. Its goal is to generate marketable products from the information generated by the consortium.
"IGC is not going to come here unless the people who are going to be involved with running IGC also have a place for them to do their work," says ABBI fund-raiser Steve Roman. "Therefore, we are trying to create that infrastructure, which is ABBI."
ABBI is expected in time to become a profit center but only after sustaining substantial losses in the first few years. A PricewaterhouseCoopers study paid for by the state estimates that ABBI will lose $98 million in its first five years of operations.
IGC wants to make sure ABBI has enough public and private funds to cover the projected losses. So far, about $78 million in public and private funds has been committed towards ABBI. That's why IGC says it will come to Arizona, but only if an additional $20 million is raised for ABBI.
Negotiations between the state and Trent's team are continuing over the final structure of ABBI, which is expected to be a nonprofit corporation. While ABBI will receive significant public funding, its board of directors is expected to be controlled by private interests. ABBI is also expected to set up a for-profit subsidiary to market any products that might be developed.
Even as ABBI is preparing to offer Trent the top scientific job at the institutes, there is no definitive agreement on what percentage of ABBI's potential profits will be returned to the state.
This is a crucial issue for the universities, which are diverting $8.2 million in Proposition 301 money that was allocated for on-campus research projects into ABBI, an organization that will fall outside university control.
"There needs to be a way for profits to get back to taxpayers from inventions that come from publicly funded research," ASU's Fink says.
IGC's work conducted so far at Scottsdale Healthcare has been supported primarily by the manufacturers of the microarray chips used to analyze the tumors. Motorola is one of three companies that have contributed to the effort.
Motorola spokeswoman Nancy Schmelkin says the company has provided microarray chips that are produced in Tempe and administrative support to help IGC conduct gene expression studies in Scottsdale.
In what may be an indicator of private sector interest in the IGC effort, Motorola says it is not prepared to contribute cash to the project even though IGC could potentially become a major consumer of the company's microarray chips.
"At this time, we are not considering a financial commitment," Schmelkin says.
The underwhelming financial response to IGC outside of Arizona appears to be tied to the fact that the consortium's fundamental mission to conduct microarray analysis of how genes relate to cancer is already being conducted throughout the United States.
The National Cancer Institute has invested several hundred million dollars in microarray gene expression research at laboratories throughout the country. As a result, there has been an explosion in the amount of microarray data being created.
"Proficiency in generating data is fast overcoming the capacity for storing and analyzing it," according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. "As more laboratories acquire this technology, the problem will only get worse."
As the amount of data is becoming overwhelming, it is also becoming increasingly fragmented. Scientists use a variety of microarray analysis methods, making it difficult for research results generated by one scientist to be immediately compared with what is found at other centers.
NCI-funded studies usually allow individual researchers to control their data and the timing of the release of the information to the public. Most NCI-funded research is for specific diseases and cancers, and the number of tissues examined is relatively small.
The International Genomics Consortium seeks to remedy this problem by studying a very large number of tumors, using a standardized collection process and uniform data presentation.
The information will be compiled in a "common language," Mallery says, so that IGC will provide drug companies and other researchers a standardized set of data that can be used to initiate further studies.
Dr. James W. Jacobson, chief of NCI's Technology Development Branch Cancer Diagnosis Program, says IGC's work will be an important contribution to cancer research.
"I think it is going to be a very valuable resource for investigators to go in and mine that data and begin to develop hypotheses and support biological discovery," he says.
In a May editorial, the prestigious journal Nature Genetics lauds IGC's effort. The journal says IGC "represents a marriage between academic centers and industry" that will provide "a powerful resource" for future research.
The question, however, concerns how unique the marriage really is.
At the same time IGC is attempting to launch its project, the National Center for Biotechnology Information is implementing a program with similar goals.
NCBI has begun the Gene Expression Omnibus project to help standardize the microarray analysis data being generated at an ever-increasing rate.
Data generated by the International Genomics Consortium will be included with information collected from research centers in the Gene Expression Omnibus project, says NCBI scientist Alex Lash.
Thus, the highly touted work that IGC intends to do in Arizona will become a subset of a huge mountain of data already being collected elsewhere. It's like another volume in a set of encyclopedias.
IGC's plan is raising critical questions at at least one major genetics research center at the University of Michigan, where IGC's Trent once worked.
Dr. Samir Hanash, a pediatric oncology professor specializing in the impact of proteins on cancer cells, questions the usefulness of IGC's plan to study 10,000 cancer tumors using microarray technology.
"Right now, this technology is practically available to every lab and every institution," he says. "It's off-the-shelf stuff."
Hanash says he's perplexed as to why IGC is investing so much money and effort in analyzing cancer tissues using only microarray technology.
"Everybody and their brother knows that, if you are looking at cancer, there is no one technology platform that can give you all the answers," he says. "If you are going to the trouble of developing this mammoth structure, it's like operating a restaurant where you are only serving cheeseburgers.
"What is the point? Why don't we have a wider menu?"
Hanash says the pharmaceuticals are already overwhelmed with microarray data that they have collected in their own labs, not to mention the amount of information already publicly available.
The problem with microarray data, he says, is that it generates information that is too unrefined for drug companies to use to make crucial decisions on developing new products.
"When you talk to pharmaceutical companies, they say they are not interested anymore in trying to get very early leads as to what could be potentially targeted for a drug," he says.
Instead, drug companies are becoming more focused on the proteins created by genes and how these proteins impact cancer.
"When you look at where the field is going, it is clear right now that a lot of the best work is in the area of proteins," Hanash says.
E-mails and phones calls requesting interviews with top IGC scientists, including Jeffrey Trent and Scottsdale Healthcare president Max Poll, were not returned. Arizona Cancer Center director Daniel Von Hoff could not be reached.
New Times also attempted on several occasions to interview Grace Colon, IGC's acting chief operating officer. Colon is on loan to IGC from Affymetrix Inc., one of three companies in the world that manufactures microarrays.
IGC's close association with a manufacturer of microarrays may shed light on the question that was bothering Hanash about the consortium's fixation on microarrays.
"This outfit may well become a consumer (of microarrays) as opposed to one that will really further develop any kind of technology," he says. "And it sure beats me what kind of biotechnology that will benefit the state of Arizona will come out of this."
Arizona's political and civic leaders are certainly hoping that Samir Hanash is wrong in his assessment of IGC's potential impact on the state. They are quick to make grand, sweeping but somewhat ambiguous statements about their expectations of genomics research in Arizona.
Governor Jane Hull hailed IGC's announcement last month that it wanted to locate in Arizona as a "landmark decision" for the state.
"The arrival of IGC is perhaps the biggest event since after World War II, when Motorola came to town," Hull said, perhaps trying to justify her decision to devote $30 million to genomics while she's cutting the state budget by nearly $1 billion.
Motorola is a big hurdle for IGC to match especially when the consortium is expected to create only about 30 jobs. ABBI, meanwhile, is projected to have about 250 employees.
Motorola's expansion into Arizona eventually generated tens of thousands of well-paying jobs and triggered billions of dollars in investments in high technology industries in Arizona.
Genomic supporters believe IGC and ABBI could have the same long term impact.
John Murphy, executive director of the Flinn Foundation, which is contributing $10 million to ABBI, says IGC will have a major and long-lasting impact on Arizona.
"We believe having IGC based in Arizona is the key to positioning Arizona on the international biosciences map," he says.
The Flinn Foundation will contribute another $5 million to ABBI if it is matched by another donor. The $15 million allocated to genomics research is the largest single grant in the Flinn Foundation's 37-year history.
There are reasons to be hopeful that the state's investment in IGC and ABBI will reap dividends.
The state had already allocated about $15 million a year to biosciences programs at its three universities, using money raised from Proposition 301.
When Mallery and Trent started talking about bringing IGC to Arizona, the universities decided to pool their resources and support the creation of ABBI. Rather than slowly growing ABBI from scratch, economic development officials and university leaders saw the opportunity to attract some of the top researchers in the world to ABBI.
Arizona, which ranks 41st in the nation in biosciences spending, would suddenly have world-class talent to guide the development of ABBI into a major research center if Trent and his IGC team set up permanent operations in Arizona.
"Our return on investment into ABBI happens much more quickly," says ABBI fund-raiser Steve Roman.
Trent's presence in Arizona is expected to result in millions of dollars worth of federal grants flowing into ABBI. The institutes also are expected to attract other biosciences companies to Arizona as well as talented faculty and students to the state's universities.
The hope is that the combination of IGC and ABBI will spur the creation of biosciences industry clusters in Flagstaff and Phoenix, which would join a fledgling sector emerging in Tucson.
Is Arizona expecting too much from IGC?
Larry Mahan thinks so.
Mahan is the senior biosciences executive with the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. He specializes in assessing and recruiting biotechnology companies to a state that is at least a decade ahead of Arizona in developing this sector of the economy.
Mahan says Arizona is expecting IGC to have a much greater impact on the state's economy than is realistic.
"What kind of expectations for growth of the biotechnology industry in the state can one expect from this single entity? I guess I should just say that one should be cautious," he says.
In recent weeks, there has been an effort to slightly tone down the rhetoric about IGC transforming Arizona's economy.
"I think there is a feeling that there has been a tendency on the part of the politicians to overstate the ramifications of doing this," says Jack Pfister, vice president for institutional advancement at Arizona State University.
Pfister has long been involved in economic development issues in Arizona. Prior to joining ASU, he was the general manager for Salt River Project, the state's second-largest electric utility.
Pfister, who is also a member of the Flinn Foundation's board of directors, says he's confident that IGC will implement a "solid scientific approach" that will be complimentary to work already underway at the state's universities.
At the same time, Pfister says IGC "is not going to necessarily propel Arizona into the forefront of biological sciences, but it will certainly increase its capacity several fold and therefore is worthwhile."
In the 1980s, Arizona was on the verge of constructing a domed stadium in downtown Phoenix. Mallery was playing a key role in rounding up support to build the facility near Seventh Street and Van Buren the same location where the International Genomics Consortium and ABBI plan to build their new headquarters. The stadium deal collapsed after it was discovered that Mallery owned land near the site.
A few years later, Mallery was promoting the construction of a massive amphitheater in a north Phoenix neighborhood. That deal, too, fell apart after it was learned that Mallery had an interest in the company slated to build the facility.
In the early 1990s, Mallery represented Fife Symington in a series of crucial real estate meetings with a group of union pension funds financing a downtown development project called the Mercado. Mallery made representations about those meetings to First Interstate Bank that federal prosecutors alleged were false.
Mallery was never charged in the Symington matter, and the jury acquitted Symington on the extortion count related to the Mercado.
Now, Mallery is promoting a project that holds great promise for discovering breakthroughs in treating cancer and other diseases.
While there are disturbing signals that IGC may have some shortcomings, the broad political and private foundation support for IGC and ABBI underscore its importance.
In a state that is willing to spend $1.3 billion on football, baseball and basketball arenas that generate nominal economic impact, a $114 million investment in genomics is a check worth writing, says Phoenix City Councilman Greg Stanton.
"This is a worthwhile project that I'm proud to support," he says.
Perhaps no one in Arizona other than Mallery could have marshaled the amount of money from a variety of sources in such a short period of time. The shear magnitude of Mallery's effort no matter the criticisms about the funding, scope and potential of the International Genomics Consortium is impressive.
There is a fundamental difference in Mallery's role with this project than in past real estate deals that have made him a very wealthy man. Mallery says he expects no financial return from the time he's invested to bring the International Genomics Consortium to Arizona.
"I have received nothing, and I don't expect anything," he says. "I'm in this for the patient. I'm in this because my wife died of cancer in December."
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