The Parkville precinct of Melbourne, Australia, is quietly transforming itself into a leading, global life sciences district, but it needs to make some noise now and then. That is being accomplished this year as Melbourne's former Royal Dental Hospital is razed to make room for the Parkville Comprehensive Cancer Centre (CCC), which the State Government of Victoria defines as "a world class integrated cancer research, education and treatment facility."
Meanwhile, some, but not as much, noise will be made moving IBM's Blue Gene supercomputer into place at the University of Melbourne in Parkville. Researchers – lots of them – from IBM, the university and commercial parties will use the supercomputer to study human disease. The arrangement, according to IBM, "will enable collaboration between the 10,000 world-class life sciences and medical researchers in the Melbourne area, and IBM's computational biology experts, who are renowned for applying high performance computing to biological discoveries." Scientists from the Victorian Life Sciences Computational Initiative at the university and IBM Research will work on projects in four biomedical areas: medical imaging and neuroscience, clinical genomics, structural biology and integrated systems biology.
"The Victorian Life Sciences Computational Initiative (VLSCI) will provide Victoria's researchers with the necessary tools to solve some of the biggest challenges facing our health system and impacting our quality of life," said Victoria Premier John Brumby at the February 2010 announcement, adding that the supercomputer would further boost Victoria's reputation as a global center for excellence in life sciences research. "The Victorian Government is taking action to support our world-class researchers and to invest in innovative projects that secure the state's economy."
Tilak Agerwala, Vice President, IBM Research, put the collaboration's significance this way: "At IBM, we believe that giving our researchers the opportunity to go outside of the walls of our labs and collaborate with other institutions will further the reach and impact of our research. As the largest IBM Research collaboration in life sciences, the Victorian Life Sciences Computational Initiative holds great potential for driving new breakthroughs in the understanding of human disease and translating that knowledge into improved medical care, and gives IBM Research the opportunity to expand the impact of our Computational Biology Center." IBM's Blue Gene/P supercomputer will serve as the high performance computing foundation for much of the VLSCI and joint venture's work.
On the topic of Parkville-based joint ventures, the Parkville Comprehensive Cancer Center is the product of collaboration between six entities: the Peter MacCallum Cancer Center, Melbourne Health (including the Royal Melbourne Hospital), the University of Melbourne, the Melbourne branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, the Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research and the Royal Women's Hospital. The collaboration calls for joint cancer research, shared facilities and technologies and the purpose-built CCC, among other facilities.
The project is estimated to cost about A$1 billion (US$850 million), most of which is from the federal and state governments. When complete in 2015, Parkville CCC will occupy 1 million sq. ft. (93,000 sq. m.) of new space, including 194 inpatient beds, 323,000 sq. ft. (30,000 sq. m.) of research space (room for 1,400 researchers), a clinical-trials facility, education and training space, radiation therapy bunkers and parking.
"It's definitely a case of the sum being much bigger than the individual parts," noted Simon Guttman, investment manager in the New York office of the State Government of Victoria, in a meeting with a Site Selection Life Sciences Report writer at the BIO conference and exhibition in Chicago in early May. That's particularly true of the project's economic impact, adds Dr. Amanda Caples, director, biotechnology, and director of science and technology programs for Victoria. "We have been able to demonstrate a $2.50 to $3.50 return for every dollar of Victorian government investment, and that is over and above spending that money on other government services." Local labor and resources associated with the project will boost the Victorian economy during development, and the CCC is expected to act like a magnet to medical services companies from around the world once it's built, Caples explains, adding wind to the state's economic sails for years to come. The project is a public-private partnership administered by Partnerships Victoria.
Just near the site of the Parkville CCC is the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research, which is undergoing an expansion that will double its size. And the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (named for Nobel Laureate and Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne), announced in December 2008, is under development, as is a new center for neurosciences. "Our policy in the biotech sector is to support the science, and if we do that with infrastructure, we can attract the best people," says Caples. "The best people make the best discoveries, which can become commercialized." That policy is working, if the numbers are any indication. In 2003, the sector's market cap was A$7 billion, she notes. Today, it is about $24 billion.
Elsewhere in Victoria, another significant biosciences project is taking shape involving a joint venture of the Victorian Government and La Trobe University. The two are developing the Biosciences Research Center (BRC) on a site adjacent to the university's Research and Development Park at its Bundoora campus. BRC will support the state's Department of Primary Industries and La Trobe's research capabilities with a facility scheduled for completion in 2011. A project summary explaining BRC in more detail can be found here.