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.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty