A new $100 million center to update and expand Wistar Institute’s research facilities in line with a team approach to science broke ground earlier this month and will help allow it to increase staff by 50 percent.
The seven-story, 89,700-square-foot research tower will be located at its current address at 36th and Spruce streets in University City in Philadelphia.
Dr. Russel E. Kaufman, CEO of Wistar Institute, told MedCity News that the development of the center has been in the works for the past seven to eight years.
“We have known for seven to eight years that our existing building was out of date scientifically, not organized for collaborative science.
“The principal that’s driving the future of biomedical research is team science [consisting of] basic biologists, chemists, mathematicians, computer biologists — these teams are critical now,” Kaufman said.
To that end, five of the floors will house laboratories designed to support “team science.” Each laboratory floor will accommodate up to four principal investigators and their laboratory staffs.
The new center will also facilitate partnerships between Wistar and other institutions that have been an important part of its work. Last month, Wistar announced a partnership with Christiana Care Health System’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center to provide access to human cancer tissue banks and patient outcomes.
The Wistar Institute, founded in 1892 and named after Caspar Wistar, the author of the first American textbook of anatomy, was the country’s first independent biomedical research facility.
Kaufman, who also co-chairs the Greater Philadelphia Life Sciences Congress, said that partnerships like this and with the University of Pennsylvania Medical School give the organizations several advantages.
“One of the things that’s apparent is when teams come together, they can go together for funding. All of this is coordination through synergy. Almost no one can do it by themselves anymore. Even huge medical centers need partnerships. It’s not about shared expense, [so much as] it’s about shared knowledge and resources.”
Identifying sources of funding for the project began in 2008. They include an $18 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a capital campaign and $70 million in debt financing through Citizens Bank.
Kaufman noted that the institute funds one-third of all its research and had to make sure financing was such that its endowment and reserves were large enough before it could move ahead with the project.
The new center will help the institute expand its staff by 50 percent. It currently has 425 employees, including 175 scientists, and it is seeking to add 200 to 250 employees consisting of scientists and their support staff, plus people to manage grants.
In addition to cancer research, the institute also has many regional and global partnerships to develop vaccines and cures for diseases such as malaria.
“The world is changing and when it changes that dramatically and quickly, we have to have the resources to work under those conditions,” Kaufman said.
The target for completion of the new center is Spring 2014.