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WSU's $80M Pharma and Biomed Building to Emphasize PGx, Expand Omics Capacity

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Washington State University today will officially open a new Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences building, a $78.6 million facility that will house integrated drug, pharmacogenomics, genomics, imaging, and proteomics research programs and core labs.

The 125,000 square-foot facility in Spokane will also house the College of Pharmacy and will be home to much of the university's biomedical research programs, including resources and staff that are in the process of relocating to the building from WSU's campus in Pullman.

The building was funded through two allocations from the Washington State Legislature, including $35 million toward construction costs in 2011, and an additional $37 million in 2012.

Research programs will fill about 44 percent of the space, while teaching and administrative activities each will use about a quarter of the building.

"The new research cores will greatly expand our research capabilities on campus to include advanced imaging technology, mass spectrometry, and genomics research," WSU Medical Sciences Director Ken Roberts said in a statement this week.

The new building is a major step towards WSU's long-term goal of building up a health sciences research and medical education program in Spokane,
Phil Lazarus, chair and professor of pharmaceutical sciences at WSU, told GenomeWeb Daily News yesterday.

The pharmaceutical program will place "a big emphasis on pharmacogenetics and pharmacogenomics, molecular epidemiology, and cancer risk assessment," Lazarus said.

This program, which will fill two of the building's five floors, also will pursue projects focused on drug discovery and delivery, developing novel targets, and systems pharmacology.

To support these and other biomedical research programs, WSU has built up several core facilities, including a genomics core to provide high-throughput sequencing, a proteomics core, and core labs focused on nuclear magnetic resonance imaging, flow cytometry and imaging, and a vivarium.

Lazarus said the school is weighing whether it wants to add an Illumina HiSeq or MiSeq instrument to its genomics core, and will decide soon which of these it will buy based on the program's research ambitions and requirements.

He noted that WSU's investigators also have access to the many resources and facilities available through the University of Washington's Institute of Translational Health Sciences, which is UW's National Institutes of Health-funded Clinical Translational Sciences Awards program.

"They have a lot of high-throughput facilities, and I'm not sure we need to repeat that," he told GWDN.

The mass spectrometry core is up and running now, and has been outfitted with triple quad and a time-of-flight mass spectrometers, Lazarus said, explaining that in the future he expects to see the proteomics program expand, which may include the purchase of a top-of-the-line AB Sciex mass spec instrument.

The program currently is looking to hire people specifically to serve as directors of these core facilities. They would serve as research-track staff members, not tenure-track faculty, he said.

As an example of the types of "highly translational" research the pharmaceutical program will pursue, Lazarus pointed to his own ongoing study. He is working on a multi-institute study of 4,500 women of the effects of an aromatase inhibitor called exemestane that is commonly used to treat breast cancer.

"Our project is to look at how exemestane is metabolized in the body, and are there specific genotypes in those metabolizing pathways which could affect toxicity and efficacy."

His team is working with its partners at Queens University, Harvard Medical School, and Pennsylvania State University to compare toxicity data, outcome data, metabolites, and genotypes.

On WSU's long-term ambition to create a health sciences research center in Spokane, Lazarus said the region is a natural fit for such a program because of its geography.

He said that tapping into the region's clinical resources will be "a major emphasis" of WSU's pharmaceutical and biomedical programs going forward.

"The biggest industry in Spokane, of all things, is the health industry. The reason is because between Seattle and Minneapolis … there are no big cities," said Lazarus. "We serve a fairly large area. [From] anywhere between the mountains outside of Seattle and inner Montana, people come here. We have several major hospitals with a lot of beds, and they get a large patient population. They are extremely enthusiastic about collaborations with an academic center."