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Posted: June 19, 2008
Indiana University, Purdue today will unveil a far-reaching research alliance
(Nanowerk News) For decades, Indiana University and Purdue University have competed fiercely for faculty, students and research money.
Now, with a new president at the helm of each school, IU and Purdue are putting aside their rivalries and working together to build a life-sciences research powerhouse.
The two universities plan to announce today that they will seek $35 million a year from the Indiana General Assembly in each of the next two years to help fund an alliance aimed at boosting Indiana's life-sciences industry in such areas as pharmaceuticals, bio-energy and nanotechnology.
They say the funds also would help increase the number of physicians trained in the state and improve public health.
The two schools now operate their own research parks and business incubators, but say it makes sense to share resources. The plan is to create a broad-based research alliance that would bring together the state's two major research universities, along with a wide spectrum of businesses, government and perhaps other schools.
"This would be a new level of collaboration for us," said Victor L. Lechtenberg, vice provost for engagement at Purdue. "The reality is the state of Indiana needs us to work together. These two institutions have a heck of a lot to offer, and it makes sense if we work together."
Two years ago, IU unsuccessfully sought tens of millions of dollars from the state to help create an ambitious life-sciences plan.
The move comes at a time when Indiana is trying to expand its life-sciences economy as it loses jobs from its traditional manufacturing base. In 2006, Indiana helped attract or create about 3,700 life-sciences jobs with an average wage of $43,867. But the state's per-capita income still lags the national average.
The money would be spent in several ways, although the plans are still fairly vague. The biggest chunk, about $25 million, would go to upgrade and maintain expensive research equipment. Such a move could help them attract more research programs and contracts from big life-science companies, such as drug maker Eli Lilly and Co.
"It's a quite competitive field, but we think we can distinguish ourselves in this area if we can work together and exploit our resources," said William B. Stephan, IU's vice president of engagement.
About $5 million would go toward helping the IU School of Medicine expand programs from two to four years at its eight regional centers, while increasing enrollment by 30 percent over six years to head off an expected shortage of doctors.
Another $5 million would go to Purdue's statewide initiative that helps companies try to contain employee health-care costs.
The two universities say they expect the alliance to help attract increased funding for research and development, attract and retain researchers and increase the number of health-care professionals statewide.
IU and Purdue have internationally recognized programs in engineering, pharmacy, agriculture, veterinary medicine, imaging, informatics and other academic areas.
For years, they have shared some resources and programs and even brought together major programs on a single campus at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
"But I think this move does mark a new era of collaboration," said Stan Jones, Indiana's commissioner for higher education. "There are not many states that have two flagship research universities, and I think this partnership could give their resources that much more power."
The state ranks about the "middle of the pack" nationally in attracting research funding, he said.
The spirit of collaboration was evident at a life-sciences conference last month in Indianapolis, when IU President Michael McRobbie and Purdue President France Cˇrdova, who both are in the first year of their presidencies, promised to work as partners to boost the state's life-sciences economy.
And two weeks later, the universities heralded a $25 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health, saying it would help them work together to turn scientific discoveries into treatments for patients.
But the new alliance would need the blessing of lawmakers, who are trying to deal with competing requests for money during an economic downturn.
State Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, who chairs the powerful Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, said he likes the idea. "But as to whether or not we'll have $35 million available, that's something we're going to have to take a good, hard look at," he said.
The alliance must be approved by trustees of both universities in meetings today and Friday.