It’s diabetes or bust.
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.”