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Phoenix-based TGen forms lucrative alliance

Mike Gartside, a senior research associate at TGen, studies melanoma and endometrial cancer. TGen is creating a partnership with the Michigan-based Van Andel Institute; the two groups will share resources and leadership.

Mike Gartside, a senior research associate at TGen, studies melanoma and endometrial cancer. TGen is creating a partnership with the Michigan-based Van Andel Institute; the two groups will share resources and leadership.

TGen, the Phoenix-based research organization that has been synonymous with Arizona’s attempts to build a bioscience economy, has struck a pact with a Michigan research institute that calls for the two groups to share resources and leadership.

The Van Andel Institute, of Grand Rapids, Mich., will invest an undisclosed sum in the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) as part of an alliance and affiliation agreement.

TGen President and Scientific Director Jeffrey Trent will be named president and research director of the Van Andel Research Institute, the research arm of the Van Andel Institute.

Each organization will maintain its own lab and scientific staff, but leaders of both groups envision independent and joint efforts to more rapidly advance research of diseases such as cancer from the lab to patients in clinical settings.

“This is a real positive for both (groups),” said Dr. Trent, who will split his time between Phoenix and Grand Rapids. “There was a recognition that we have done something in Arizona of true significance in the translational space that they wanted to partner with us.”

Van Andel Institute first attempted to recruit Dr. Trent two years ago to head its new research lab. The institute is undergoing a $178 million, eight-story research building expansion slated to open later this year.

Those negotiations, which started in better economic times, led to the pact approved Tuesday by TGen’s Board of Directors.

The agreement is scheduled to become effective July 1.

Steve Heacock, chief administrative officer and general counsel of Van Andel Institute, said the partnership makes sense for both groups in light of the bad economy.

“I consider it a bold step on behalf of both organizations in an effort to make both better in a difficult environment,” Heacock said.

Trent said that the recession was not the main catalyst for the alliance, but added that independent scientific research groups nationwide are feeling the financial squeeze due to the recession.

The move gives TGen access to a financial cushion that the research organization has lacked since it launched in 2002.

Van Andel officials would not disclose the size of the group’s endowment, but published reports last year said the group had a $1 billion endowment. It listed total assets of $933.3 million at the end of 2006, according to its tax filings with the Internal Revenue Service

TGen, which employs about 300, expects to add as many as 45 employees as a result of the pact.

Trent said Van Andel wants to improve its “translational” research that emphasizes moving lab discoveries to a clinical setting to benefit patients. TGen has emphasized translational research, particularly through agreements with hospitals such as Scottsdale Healthcare.

John Murphy, chief executive officer of the Flinn Foundation and a TGen board member said the two groups are a good fit scientifically and financially.

Murphy’s group has been one of TGen’s most generous donors, investing or committing about $30 million since the group’s launch.

Murphy said he has long envisioned TGen striking such a pact with a research organization with a solid financial backing.

“I always thought, at some point, that angel has to step forward to help TGen to get to the next level,” Murphy said, adding that he expects more independent research institutes to forge partnerships to save money and maximize their research efforts.

Trent will replace Dr. George Vande Woude, the Van Andel Research Institute’s founding director and a renowned cancer researcher. Vande Woude previously served in a high-ranking position with the National Cancer Institute since the early 1980s.

Prior to coming to TGen, Trent served as scientific director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.

Both research groups will maintain their respective boards. It is likely, however, that a couple of Van Andel Institute board members will be appointed to TGen’s board and vice versa.

The Van Andel Institute was established by philanthropists Jay and Betty Van Andel in 1996. In addition to research, the institute oversees an educational group.

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