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Partners Break Ground on Australia's Translational Research Institute

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Four Australian institutions have begun construction on a A$354 million ($347 million) Translational Research Institute in Brisbane that will allow researchers to carry out basic research, develop and test treatments, then manufacture them in one facility for the first time in Australia.

Up to 900 researchers and support staffers are expected to work at the new facility, for which ground was recently broken — including the 650 researchers set to work in the wet labs planned as part of TRI. The five-story, 32,000-square-meter (344,448-square-foot) institute will rise at Princess Alexandra Hospital, and is set to be completed in May 2012.

The TRI is a partnership of the hospital as well as three other institutions scattered across Brisbane: Mater Medical Research Institute, Queensland University of Technology, and the University of Queensland. UQ's Diamantina Institute, established in 2007, seeks to discover the cellular and molecular basis of diseases to better understand and prevent disease formation.

"The TRI will enable these stakeholders to concentrate their efforts in the one location, signaling strength, focus, and direction in translational research in Australia," a UQ spokeswoman, Fiona Cameron, told GenomeWeb Daily News. "It consequently enables the coordination of research efforts on a hospital campus, facilitating research synergies and research critical mass as well as reducing the need for duplicated infrastructure, thereby enabling capacity to invest in state-of-the-art technologies.

Those technologies include TRI's core research facilities, which according to Cameron will include high-end technology platforms such as human genome mapping, high throughput gene expression and function screening, mass spectrometry flow, and facilities for cytometry, microscopy, and histology.

Among facilities set to combine into a single core at TRI, Cameron added, will be the independent flow cytometry and microscopy facilities now operated separately at UQDI and MMRI, as well as the mass spectrometry facilities operated by UQDI and UQ's School Of Medicine.

According to Cameron, a new Genome Mapping Centre with state-of-the-art, high throughput DNA sequencers will complement the existing Australian Cancer Research Foundation Comprehensive Cancer Genomics Centre that recently opened at the UQDI.

"Additional shared facilities include bioinformatics, cell therapy clean rooms and clinical research areas as well as teaching space for both medical and nursing students, together with a demonstration lab for secondary school student science education," Cameron said.

Partner organizations plan to relocate a combined 430 existing staffers to TRI. To fill the remaining positions, Cameron said the institute will undertake a "strategic recruitment campaign upon relocation of stakeholders into the building."

The prospect of being able to research, test, and manufacture drugs all within Australia helped TRI attract funding from several government sources as well as private sources including A$140 million, plus another A$10 million for biopharmaceutical manufacturing, from Australia's federal government; A$107 million from the Queensland state government; A$50 million from The Atlantic Philanthropies; A$25 million from QUT; and A$10 million from UQ.

The remaining A$12 million will come from interest that has been earned on invested funds, Cameron said.

TRI is designed to address what many academic, corporate, government, and institutional leaders have long cited as a gap in Australia's life sciences effort — the dearth of domestic drug manufacturing sites, forcing researchers to sign away rights to global pharmaceutical and biotech giants.

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