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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

UH wants world-class biotech research center

By John Duchemin
Advertiser Staff Writer

Acting on the advice of one of the world's foremost scientists, University of Hawai'i officials want to create an independent scientific institute conducting private industry-financed research to supplement the planned UH medical school, now under construction in Kaka'ako.

Edwin Cadman, dean of the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine, said the medical school wants to spawn a center modeled after world-class research institutes that collaborate with the faculty of affiliated universities. The institute would operate outside the university's bureaucracy so that it can be flexible and open to cooperation with private industry. The best institutes bring in hundreds of millions of dollars each year from industry and government sources.

Planning is in the early stages, but Cadman and other proponents are crafting a business plan and preparing to seek private endowment money. They want to place the institute on state or private land near the medical school — and have it ready to go by the $150 million school's scheduled completion date of 2005.

"Having all three — the school, the cancer center, and a private biotech institute — would really be synergistic," Cadman said yesterday.

The idea received an emphatic endorsement yesterday from Leroy Hood, a member of the UH medical school's advisory board and a world authority in biotechnology.

Hood, a world-renowned scientist whose lab developed the automated DNA sequencing technology that enabled the Human Genome Project, yesterday told an audience of Hawai'i business and political leaders that a private research institute is critical for the UH medical school's success.

Such an institute would set UH apart from most of its peers by freeing its faculty from the bureaucracy imposed by most academic institutions, Hood said.

"It's really hard to get medical schools to say, 'Gee, maybe we should recast our school for the future, and not the past.' You could be the exception," said Hood, speaking to a Pacific Club gathering of venture capitalists, major Kaka'ako landowners, UH officials and eight state representatives and senators.

In 2000, Hood founded the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, near the University of Washington, which has raised hundreds of millions of dollars in research grants and private money, hired a research staff of 170, and attracted dozens of Washington faculty members and corporations to collaborate on genetic and molecular research.

Cadman and other Hawai'i leaders visited Hood's institute during 2002. Cadman said a Hawai'i institute would be patterned after that institute and others including the Salk Institute for Biotechnology near the University of San Diego, and the Whitehead Institute, near the Massachusetts Institute for Technology. The Whitehead Institute, founded in the 1980s, has a $115 million annual budget — much of it from government grants.

The new medical school, for which ground was broken in October, is being supported by $150 million in state bonds. University officials hope modern lab space will draw top medical researchers to UH, bring in millions of government research dollars and add hundreds of research jobs.

Reach John Duchemin at jduchemin@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8062.