Monday, April 13, 2009

TGEN Founder Targets VA for $245M Institute

Dietrich Stephan, founding scientist from TGEN is planning to build a 300,000 square foot, $245M personalized medicine institute that will employ more than 500 scientists. Another great story by the WBJ's Vandana Sinha.

Friday, April 3, 2009 | Modified: Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Geneticist wants to open research center in N. Va
Washington Business Journal - by Vandana Sinha Staff Reporter
Stephan Dietrich
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When Dietrich Stephan plans his next career move, he plans big.

As in a $245 million research institute focused on personalized medicine in a 300,000-square-foot Northern Virginia building that would employ up to 500 top-rated scientists recruited from the far corners of the world.

That may be Stephan’s vision, but he will have to persuade federal, state, local, university, nonprofit and charitable money holders — in the midst of a painful recession — to make the institute a reality in the next five years.

Stephan speaks from experience. He was a founding scientist of the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix, where a discussion among 50 government, business and science leaders in 2002 led to the rustling up of $90 million for a six-story, 176,000-square-foot, green-glass research building that opened two years later.

Now Stephan has set his sights on the Washington area, where he says a new president has raised hopes for a transformed health care system and where he would like to launch a specialized center for personalized medicine, the act of tailoring treatments to a patient’s DNA.

A former faculty member at the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health, The George Washington University and Children’s National Medical Center, Stephan is working with Chesapeake Crescent, a regional economic development organization, to connect with potential investors and partners.

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP is helping him develop the business implementation plan for the project, preliminarily called the Ignite Institute for Individualized Health.

So far, Stephan has recruited George Washington University, George Mason University and Inova Health System to commit $500,000 toward PwC’s operational design and planning phase and, when that finishes by the end of May, to consider becoming permanent partners.

The Ignite Institute would dedicate many of its 60 to 90 investigators and 500 researchers to basic personalized medical research, focusing on the most common and least treatable diseases within the neurological and mental health, cardiovascular, metabolic, cancer and pediatric fields.

The institute’s researchers would use complex equipment to drill down into the molecular makeup of diseases and patients afflicted by them, hoping to discover in the process new drugs, devices and diagnostic tests that could be custom-made to a patient’s genetic profile.

“There is no other place in the country or world where people are thinking about this in a holistic way,” said Stephan, a 20-year geneticist who served as the Phoenix institute’s deputy director of discovery research and headed its neurogenomics division before stepping down last year.

“Right now, it’s happening very haphazardly around the country,” he said. “But there’s a way to do it that’s systematic and focused and that will result in higher yield in the back end.”

But front and center is the funding search. The institute’s organizers need an estimated $140 million for construction of the building and $105 million for operations during the first five years until the institute is self-sustained from research grants and charitable giving.

The institute’s building would sit on land donated by one of the university or medical partners in Prince William, Fairfax or Loudoun counties. The organizers also envision a D.C. location on land owned by George Washington University.

Arguing that government backing is crucial, the organizers have begun talks with Virginia leaders to get their support for the project. They also are pursuing stimulus funds and philanthropic avenues, though they acknowledge they’re facing long lines and limited dollars.

“The timing, in terms of the economy, isn’t perfect, but on the other hand, the opportunity is great,” said George Vradenburg, vice chairman of Chesapeake Crescent, which was formed by Maryland, Virginia and D.C. leaders and has made this institute of one of its top projects. “If neither Virginia nor Maryland is prepared to do this, other regions in the country are itching to get their hands on this opportunity. It would be a real loss to the region.”

Their pitch is simple: Check out the Phoenix institute, which began on the same trajectory and with the same team.

The institute generated $21.7 million in economic payback to Arizona and created 220 jobs in 2006, according to a recent study by Pittsburgh consulting company Tripp Umbach, which expects the economic impact to grow to $31.7 million next year and $72.1 million in 2025, when as many as 900 new jobs could result from the venture.

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Anonymous said...

Dietrich Stephan was not the founder of TGen...Dr. Jeffrey Trent was. Dietrich was one the original investigators (along with around 10 others).

Mark Herzog said...

Thanks for the clarification!

Anonymous said...

Dr. Stephan was part of the TGen founding team, the founding director of the neurogenomics division of the institute, culminating in his role as Deputy Director of Discovery Research where he oversaw the TGen research program.