Unique hub for stem cell research opens doors in La Jolla


By Lynne Friedmann

La Jolla, already in the vanguard of scientific research, has become the hub of San Diego’s stem cell research community with the dedication of the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine (SCRM).

The four-story structure on Torrey Pines Scenic Drive contains 150,700 square feet of space designed to support both focused individual and collaborative team research. SCRM is a consortium of five research institutions on Torrey Pines Mesa: Salk Institute for Biological Studies, The Scripps Research Institute, Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, University of California, San Diego, and La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology.

Scientists from the collaborating institutes will focus on basic science as well as pursue projects to invent tools and technologies to advance stem cell research with the ultimate goal to discover and develop innovative diagnostics and therapies for chronic disease and injury.

Despite the building’s imposing size and science focus, the nonprofit SCRM is not a sixth research institute on the Mesa.

“We are not duplicating anything that already exists in partner organizations,” Edward Holmes, president and CEO of the nonprofit Consortium.

Rather, SCRM is a collaborative laboratory space where biologists, ethicists, physicians, mathematicians, computational scientists, and engineers will work together under one roof with the aim to speed stem cell research and its translation to the clinic.

“There is ‘something in the water’ that has made this area a more collaborative community,” said Holmes.

Nicknamed the “Collaboratory,” SCRM is the only site in California where five institutions have joined forces to create a research facility supported by Proposition 71, the stem cell research ballot measure approved by state voters in 2004. When move-in is complete later this month, 330 researchers and associated staff will take up residence.

The Consortium will hold no intellectual property rights or interests in discoveries, new techniques or therapies developed at SCRM. Researchers will retain those rights in accordance with patent law and the policies and procedures of their respective employer institutions.
Designed by Fentress Architects of Denver, in association with Davis Davis Architects of San Diego, and Jacobs Consultancy, SCRM features offices, open labs, and specialized lab cores with advanced imaging, state-of-the-art robotics, and protein and nucleic acid analysis facilities. Two-story break rooms interconnect on all floors, encouraging collegiality and unplanned “creative collisions” among researchers from various disciplines.
“You cannot get from point A to point B without walking through someone’s space,” said Larry Goldstein, Ph.D., director of the UCSD Stem Cell Research Program and chair of the Sanford Consortium’s Scientific Steering Committee.Wall surfaces throughout the building can be written upon, thus, ideas can be captured when and where they occur.Other major members of the construction development team included general contractor Hensel Phelps Construction Co. of San Diego; engineering firms Hope Engineering, Project Design Consultants and Exp, all of San Diego; and landscape architect Civitas Inc. of Denver.
The cast-in-place concrete structure, with adjoining conference center and café, features the latest sustainability innovations and is on track to achieve LEED Gold Certification. Natural daylight is optimized by opening spaces to views. The design also takes advantage of San Diego’s Mediterranean climate and ocean breezes to lower utility bills and improve the quality of the workspaces. Landscape design features include recycled and salvaged material used as part of a rainwater capture system and a water conservation strategy that eliminates any need for potable water for irrigation.
The $127 million center was funded in part with a $43 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the state agency created to disburse $3 billion from Prop 71. The project also received a $30 million donation from T. Denny Sanford, for whom the Consortium is named. The Sioux Falls, S.D., philanthropist lives also has a home here.“If you want your philanthropy to have the greatest impact on society, you can make no better investment than funding basic research in the life sciences,” said Sanford. “And there is no better place to make that investment than here in San Diego and La Jolla.”At the building dedication ceremony, speakers acknowledged the important role that the community and patient advocates have played in bringing SCRM to fruition.“If you look over the specs for this building, you will see that it provides 150,000 square feet of physical space. As patient advocates, we see something more,” said Lorraine Stiehl, CIRM Patient Advocate Coordinator. “We see 150,000 square feet of hope.”Twenty-four hours after its dedication, the SCRM conference center was front and center as one of two venues for Stem Cell Meeting on the Mesa. Now in its sixth year, the two-day gathering featured a nationally recognized scientific symposium of leading stem cell scientists and researchers reporting on advances in the fields.

Ultimately bringing stem cell research to the clinic will involve overcoming scientific challenges as well as regulatory and reimbursement hurdles. As stem cell discoveries are translated into marketable therapies, businesses in the area will also expand. With that in mind, this year’s Stem Cell Meeting on the Mesa included a first-ever Investor and Partnering Forum exclusively for regenerative medicine. Business, academic researchers, and investors from around the world met in one-on-one meetings to explore strategic partnering. Attendees also heard panel presentations from experts on commercialization, regulatory, access to finance, business models, and reimbursement issues.
“The horizon we see is near-term and incredibly bright,” said Greg Lucier, chairman and CEO of Carlsbad-based Life Technologies, a provider of systems, biological reagents and services for the research community worldwide.Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.