Raising Arizona

Jun 1, 2006
Aaron J. Bouchie
<figcaption> Credit: © GREG PROBST/GETTY IMAGES</figcaption>

Arizona's most recent bid for boosting biotech within its borders is a $100 million pledge to fund bioscience research in the state. The pledge comes from businessperson and philanthropist Jerry Bisgrove, who made the pledge - via his Stardust Charitable Group - to Science Foundation Arizona (SFA), a nonprofit organization founded earlier this year to coordinate bioscience research in the state. But there's a catch: The pledge is good only if the state matches it.

A measure to commit $150 million to SFA (which would include funds to match a $50 million grant from the Virginia C. Piper Center) was passed by the State House and a Senate Appropriations Committee, and should next be heard by the full Senate, though it has yet to be scheduled for review. The SFA, created to coordinate all state funding of biomedical research through one mechanism, takes its organizational cue from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI). Indeed, in order to emulate Ireland's recent success in growing a biotech industry, SFA hired William C. Harris as its CEO starting this summer. His current job? Founding director of SFI. John Murphy, CEO of the nonprofit Flinn Foundation and founding director of SFA, explains: "We thought, 'We should get somebody like Dr. Harris.' Then we thought, 'We should get Dr. Harris.'"

Harris is proud to say that, while there is a trend for top young scientists to leave most European countries, Ireland has begun to experience a "brain gain" over the past five years, and he aims to achieve the same goal in Arizona. "The scientific talent pool is deeper in Arizona than it was in Ireland," explains Harris. "We intend to create a stable knowledge-based economy that will encourage our young brains to stay here in Arizona."