Chancellor St. John calls for ‘transformational investment’ in UAB genomic medicine research center

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Finis “Fess” St. John IV, Chancellor of The University of Alabama System, called on Governor Kay Ivey and legislative leadership to provide a $50 million investment in a new genomic medicine research center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham that will transform the future of healthcare in the state.

“The State of Alabama has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity right now to improve the lives of our citizens in a way that can never occur again,” Chancellor St. John said in a speech at the UA System Board of Trustees meeting on the UAB campus, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020.

“Genomic medicine — personalized medicine — is the future of healthcare.”

Chancellor St. John said state funding will allow UAB to create a state-of-the-art genomic medicine laboratory in Birmingham and advance the university’s leadership role in a field that promises to revolutionize health care through its focus on a patient’s genetic make-up.

“UAB has assembled the leading team of genomic scientists and researchers in the country. It has the people and it has the potential to attract an even greater team to Alabama to maintain this position of pre-eminence,” he said. “UAB is poised to be the leader in this field in the country and the world.”

Chancellor St. John said securing this “transformational investment” from the State is the Board of Trustees’ highest priority in 2020. He added that U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby has already secured a commitment for federal funding to help establish the UAB research center.

“The state can and should provide this support because there is nothing our leaders can do that is more important for the future of this state,” he said.

“This is not a project to benefit UAB or a project to benefit The University of Alabama System.  It is a project for the future of all citizens of Alabama.”

University of Alabama System
Finis ‘Fess’ St. John IV is Chancellor of The University of Alabama System.

‘EPICENTER FOR PERSONALIZED MEDICINE’

Chancellor St. John said UA System representatives have been in discussions with state officials over proposed funding for the genomics medicine building for more than a year. State Senators Jabo Waggoner and Rodger Smitherman are among strong proponents.

“If we do not seize this opportunity now, someone else will. If we do seize it, generations will thank us,” he said, comparing the UAB’s research center’s catalytic potential to that of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the Mercedes-Benz auto assembly plant, and the Port of Mobile.

Ron Gray, President Pro Tempore of The UA System Board of Trustees, said that, with state funding, this facility and the intellectual talent at UAB will establish Birmingham and Alabama as the epicenter of personalized medicine in the U.S. and the world.

“Not Boston. Not Minneapolis. Not San Francisco. But Birmingham,” Gray said at the Trustees’ meeting.

Trustee W. Stancil Starnes said the state investment in UAB’s planned genomic medicine research center is critical.

“Our ability to provide state-of-the-art care in the future is dependent on our ability to provide genomic medicine. Our ability to provide that medicine is dependent on our ability to provide the space to deliver that medicine,” Starnes said.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that to deny the people of Alabama access to genomic healthcare would be the equivalent in the future of denying them antibiotics,” he emphasized.

The Center for Genomic Medicine was developed as a collaborative partnership of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine and the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology with the primary mission of conducting research in genomic medicine and facilitating translation of research findings into clinical practice.

In support of this mission, the Center brings together multidisciplinary teams from both institutions, comprised of physicians, clinicians, biotechnologists, geneticists, bioinformaticists, and other specialists who engage in collaborative research focused on genomic discoveries that will enhance and inform patient care.