Groundbreaking at La Jolla site a landmark for stem cell collaboration


Hailing the advent of a stem cell “revolution,” biotech, medical and community leaders broke ground Friday on a $115 million collaborative stem cell research center on Torrey Pines Mesa.

“We need more than just isolated scientists working on their own,” said Larry Goldstein, director of UCSD’s stem cell research program about the significance of the four-story facility being built at 2800 Torrey Pines Scenic Drive across from UCSD and the Salk Institute.

“This building will serve as a focus where people from engineering, chemistry, biology and clinical medicine will work together ... let us build some critical mass.”

Goldstein said stem cells represent a “new kind of technology” with great potential to solve problems with disease.

“We have strong projects in cancer, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Alzheimer’s, bone and heart disease,” he noted. “The thing about research is you never know what you’re going to find next: There are promising avenues and you’ve just got to go down them.”

Being paid for by a combination of private donations, state stem cell grants from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, and a bank loan, the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine is named in honor of South Dakota entrepreneur T. Denny Sanford who donated $30 million to the project.

After voters approved Proposition 71 in November 2004, enabling $3 billion in state bond funds to be issued for stem cell research, the consortium was formed in March 2006. The four founding entities are The Scripps Research Institute, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Burnham Institute for Medical Research (since renamed the Sanford-Burnham Institute) and UCSD.

At the groundbreaking, UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox talked about it being a special day.

“This is a historic day for our stem cell consortium and for stem cell science,” she said. “Our ultimate goal is to save and improve lives. Together we are greater than the some of the parts. That’s why we’ve harnessed the power of these four institutions. That’s why we’re here today, to lay the foundation for our future.”

T. Denny Sanford, a key donor for whom the center is named, added: “There will be cures for several diseases here, not in the next few days, not in the next few years, but ultimately this will make a big difference because we will have the best minds working together. This is the health of the future. This is the medicine of the future.”

Mayor Jerry Sanders characterized the development of the Sanford consortium and its new collaborative stem cell center as a “uniquely San Diego story.”

“We lost the bid to be the site for the center of regenerative medicine,” Sanders said. “And yet nobody took that to be the last word. Instead everybody joined together, in very difficult times, to join these institutions together. This is what San Diego is all about, collaboration and leveraging the resources that everybody brings to the table.”

Business and civic leader Malin Burnham recalled the past history of the site overlooking the Pacific Ocean, noting it was the Camp Callen Army barracks before there was UCSD or biotech on the Mesa.

“To see all this happen in all these years is a real thrill to me because I know that these four great research institutions under one roof will be the most outstanding research center in medical stem cells that anybody can ever imagine in the entire world,” he said.