The state’s largest medical school sits to the south. A high-tech business park lies immediately to the north. And an empty hospital falls in between.
Indiana University’s decision to convert the former Wishard Hospital into a life sciences hub was a “no-brainer,” said Bill Stephan, the university’s vice president of engagement.
The envisioned 26-acre, $200-million-or-more complex would bridge IU’s School of Medicine with the city’s life sciences firms, including those at the nascent 16 Tech, a business park.
The plans call for classrooms, offices, labs and business-incubation space. The university is trying to lure the newly created Indiana Biosciences Research Institute to the facility. And the School of Medicine wants to set up a drug discovery center.
Classrooms could accommodate thousands of students from all health sciences programs. And the public health and dentistry schools have eyed the complex as a possible home base, said the medical school’s dean, Jay Hess, one of the administrators heading the Wishard redevelopment effort.
The Indiana University Research and Technology Corp. started the movement when it announced in April it will move into the Wishard complex on IUPUI’s west side from a building northeast of campus.
The agency is an independent not-for-profit that helps faculty members patent their research, then license the rights to companies to use the developments, a process known as technology transfer.
The office is less than a mile from the medical school today. But the distance is enough to get in the way because the office’s staff doesn’t have constant contact with faculty, Stephan said.
“Proximity matters in this business,” he said. “Sometimes it might as well be 10 miles.”
The tech-transfer program chose life sciences as its focus because the research field accounts for roughly two-thirds of the patents IU produces, estimated Tony Armstrong, the agency’s CEO.
IU has set its sights on nabbing the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute as a key tenant of the new research park.
The institute launched last year as a collaboration among the state’s universities, life sciences corporations and government. Organizers plan to recruit more than 100 scientists and researchers in the next five years.
It is too early to know where the institute will locate itself—either temporarily or permanently, said David Johnson, CEO of Indiana life sciences initiative BioCrossroads, one of the partners behind the research program.
The institute needs to hire a CEO first, which should happen by the end of this year. That person will then decide where to house the program, Johnson said.
Although “IU is making a very attractive option,” he said.
An early-stage pharmaceutical research lab at the facility would house about a dozen faculty, under plans described by Hess, the medical school’s dean, who is also vice president of clinical affairs.
He wants researchers to work with colleagues across the seven health care schools, as well as with people from other universities and private businesses.
The entire Wishard complex is intended as a collaboration space. Students and faculty, who mostly work independently from other schools, will share everything from libraries to social gathering spaces.
“Ultimately, it’s preparing our students for a future of health care that’s much more interdisciplinary,” he said. “The sooner these different groups become comfortable working together and understand what each other does, the better.”
Bridge to business
Moving the patent office closer to IU’s largest source of research will better span the gap between academia and the corporate world, Stephan said.
Convincing professors to patent their work has challenged tech-transfer programs for years.
“You have a lot of faculty who say, ‘This is all good, but this is not for me,’” Stephan said.
IU has leaped forward in recent years. Faculty research received 48 patents between the 2008 and 2012 fiscal years as the university has steadily applied for more each year.
Yet IU falls behind all the other Big Ten Conference schools. Purdue, with its land-grant status and myriad engineering programs, received 235 patents over those same five years. University of Wisconsin leads the Big Ten with 659.
The tech-transfer office’s new base in Wishard will let the staff work more closely with the faculty. That will make it easier to obtain patents and get the technology into companies’ hands, Armstrong said.
“It really becomes, in a way, the place where all those forces come together,” he said.
The university also needs to figure out what to do with the current home for the tech-transfer office and others in the building.
The office will sell its 63,000-square-foot Innovation Center on 10th Street, which also has a handful of startups as tenants.
“When IU came out and announced they’re moving the IURTC out and disposing of the building, that raised a lot of concerns for people that are here in the back half of the building,” said Kristin Jones, president of the Indiana Health Industry Forum, a building tenant.
Jones’ biggest worry, she said, would be that the new owner would tear down the labs in the building at a time that type of space is sorely needed in the city. Even if IU puts the same type of labs on the Wishard campus, losing any existing space would be detrimental, she said.
“The loss of any kind of space to do life science work is a loss for our initiative,” she said. “The more research space we have available, the better.”
Armstrong said the university would help the tenants find new offices and labs in Wishard or possibly 16 Tech.
Those decisions won’t be necessary to make for at least another year, he said.
Relocating remains several months away as IU and the tech-transfer agency plan facility renovations to Wishard.
The first wave of work on the 150-year-old hospital will take 12 to 18 months, Stephan said.
About 1.3 million square feet stand today on the campus. The university intends to tear down close to half that space, said John Lewis, IU’s associate vice president for capital planning and facilities.
Lewis declined to go into specifics about what parts are marked for demolition and how the university will use the remaining facilities.
“Really,” he said, “we are just now starting to dig into what parts of that property would make sense to reuse and what parts would be recommended for bringing down.”•