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Congressman Tom Cole

Representing the 4th District of Oklahoma

The Oklahoman: Business of Health: Outlook for Oklahoma City's bioscience sector remains strong in 2016

January 4, 2016
News Stories

The Oklahoman - Stephen Prescott, M.D. 

For the sake of Oklahoma's energy sector, let's hope the New Year brings a bump in oil and gas prices. But even if that doesn't happen, there are still plenty of economic silver linings to be found in the state.

In particular, the ongoing development of the bioscience sector has helped diversify our state's — and particular Oklahoma City's — economy. For 2016, here are five bioscience success stories that should just keep getting better.

Making cancer history

With the support of the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, the Stephenson Cancer Center at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center has emerged as an innovative and impactful research center that also delivers outstanding patient care. In particular, Stephenson has developed strengths in clinical trials and cancer prevention and control research.

Since 2013, Stephenson's research funding from the National Cancer Institute has nearly quadrupled, and the NCI designated Stephenson as one of just 30 lead academic sites in the nation. These achievements will serve as keystones in Stephenson's planned 2017 application to become the state's first NCI-designated cancer center.

A foundation of giving

When the Presbyterian Health Foundation sold its research park on Lincoln Boulevard to OU in 2013, it marked the end of an era. For years, PHF had provided subsidized space to dozens of start-up biotech companies. With the sale of the research park, many wondered who would step up to help incubate fledgling bioscience initiatives?

The answer, it turns out, was right in front of us. With sale proceeds that boosted its endowment to $160 million, PHF has jumped right back into the bioscience pool. But instead of providing incubator space, it's now providing research and equipment grants to scientists.

Last year, those grants totaled more than $3 million. And with PHF aiming to double that number over time, the foundation's philanthropic impact will only grow.

Federal funding boost

Following a decade of minimal to no increases in the budget of the National Institutes of Health, in December President Obama signed into law a bill that will increase the NIH's 2016 budget from $30 billion to $32 billion. As Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, was instrumental in securing this much-needed funding boost, which also won support from a majority of Oklahoma's other representatives and both senators.

This additional $2 billion will allow the nation's leading supporter of academic and non-profit medical research to fund a variety of promising new scientific projects—including, we anticipate, quite a few right here in Oklahoma.

Autoimmune excellence

Okay, I'm a little biased on this one, but I just have to crow about the Arthritis and Clinical Immunology Research Program at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.

In November, a blue-ribbon panel of independent scientific advisors from Duke, Stanford and other leading academic institutions reviewed this group of researchers who study lupus, multiple sclerosis and other diseases in which the body mistakenly turns the immune system against itself. Their verdict?

“Nowhere in the world is there a better program than this one,” they told OMRF's board of directors. By blending laboratory and clinical research, program leader Dr. Judith James and her colleagues have created a model for how physicians and scientists can work together to create better outcomes for patients.

Innovation District

The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce devoted its board retreat in October to the emerging innovation district that encompasses the Oklahoma Health Center and Automobile Alley. At the retreat, the Brookings Institution and the Project for Public Spaces announced a new 18-month study of the area (which I'm lobbying to call the Nucleus).

This new project should put some more wind in the sails of an initiative that is rapidly gaining momentum: To reinvent this area as a mash-up of institutions, public spaces, and mixed-use development like residences, office space and retail.

Already, we have a  strong core bioscience base from which to build. As Bruce Katz, of Brookings, said at the retreat, “You put all that together, and you've got an innovation ecosystem.”

Stephen Prescott is president of the Oklahoma Medical Research 

Online: The Oklahoman