Mayo Clinic, University of Minnesota launch fight with diabetes

It’s diabetes or bust.

The University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic are betting Minnesota’s economic future on treating and even curing diabetes, the leading cause of death in the United States.

Dubbed Decade of Discovery, the partnership between the state’s two top research institutions will seek $250 million to $350 million over the next ten years to fund clinical research, public health initiatives and efforts that convert promising technologies into companies and industries.

 “We must advance bold, transformative change,” said Dr. Frank Cerra, the university’s senior vice president of health sciences and dean of the medical school.

The partnership has enlisted prominent committee members to oversee its work, including Nobel laureate and Augsburg College alum Dr. Peter Agre; Vance Opperman, president and CEO of Key Investments; and former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz.

Jackie Casey, executive director of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, MinnDakotas chapter; Dr. David Kendall, chief medical officer for the American Diabetes Association; Nancy Tellor, executive director of the Richard M. Schulze Foundation; and Dale Wahlstrom, CEO of the BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota, also will serve on the committee.

Dr. Robert Rizza, a top Mayo research official who called the partnership “Minnesota’s Manhattan Project,” said the state already has the necessary intellectual firepower and financial resources to become the world’s premiere destination for all things diabetes.

For instance, the university and Mayo each are spending about $20 million-to- $30 million a year developing cutting-edge therapies like regenerating cells that produce insulin and stopping those cells from dying. Minnesota also is home to major food and healthcare companies, including General Mills, Cargill, Medtronic and UnitedHealth Group, that already play big roles in diabetes.

A key component of the partnership is building a vibrant diabetes industry in Minnesota by both supporting local companies, and attracting outside talent and money.

In an interview with MedCity News, Opperman, a prominent local investor, said the partnership could conceivably establish a separate venture arm that purchases financial stakes in diabetes startups. Ideally, private investors and the corporate venturing units of Medtronic, Johnson & Johnson, and the like, could contribute to the fund, Opperman said.

Partnership officials estimate they will need the state to contribute about $27 million to the effort, or about 1 percent of the $2.7 billion it spends each year combating diabetes. Given the state’s budget woes, that won’t be easy, Cerra said.

But Cerra believes the partnership has a compelling proposition to pitch lawmakers: the infrastructure to treat and cure diabetes already exists. The star power of its oversight committee doesn’t hurt either.

“We have the pieces for success,” Cerra said. “The proof of concept is done. We have it all.”

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 10/06/2010 - 01:47 pm.

    I am surprised, given your sanguinary proclivities, Thomas, that you didn’t jump all over this one. Your recent excellent article about Frank Cerra led me to believe that you might be more skeptical about this latest ill-advised promise – that the U and Mayo would cure diabetes in ten years. The solution is right there according to Dr. Cerra. “We have all the pieces for success.” All we have to do is… cross his palm with silver?

    This campaign is simply dishonest. Between the NIH and big charities, the amount of money spent on diabetes research is AT LEAST a billion and a half dollars per year. We have been attacking this problem for many decades and the end is nowhere in sight.

    To claim that the U of M and Mayo are going to declare war on diabetes and cure it in ten years is simply unconscionable. Folks who have been living with this problem for ten, twenty or thirty years, know how ridiculous this promise is. And they have been hearing that a cure was in sight for at least twenty years.

    And remember, these are the same folks that said that the U was going to be one of the top three public research universities in the world. The due date on that boast is 2014. As Hook said to Smee: “Do I hear a clock ticking?”

    Sure let’s support diabetes research, but not because of this absurd tout.

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