University of Oregon Campus Could Be Cornerstone of New Biotech Hotspot

Phil Knight_Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A new biotech hotspot could be on the horizon in Oregon thanks to a $500 million gift to the University of Oregon from Nike co-founder Phil Knight, an alumnus of the university. The financial gift led to the creation of the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact.

Officially opened at the end of 2020, the Knight Campus will support researchers as they advance the initiative’s mission to shorten the timeline between discovery, development and deployment of innovative treatments. The facility was established in hopes of accelerating scientific discovery and development through training programs and entrepreneurship in what is being billed as a collaborative cross-discipline environment. With this focus on innovative partnerships, the new campus could serve as a cornerstone of a new biotech hotspot in the Pacific Northwest. The initial $500 million grant has been augmented by $70 million in state bonds and additional philanthropy. The first phase marks a $225-million building project.

The Knight Campus is seeding a 21st-century economic framework for the state and region, creating a regional, national and potentially global hub in biotechnology, the university said in its announcement. With its focus on biotechnology, the Knight Campus has the potential to reshape Oregon's statewide economy and have a major, long-term impact on economic development by creating new businesses and jobs in Eugene, the state's third-largest city. The 160,000 square-foot campus will bring engineering and applied sciences together with business innovation, which is expected to expedite new directions in research, the university said in an announcement. To facilitate the goal of bringing ideas to market quicker, the architects designed a hyper-flexible light-filled and double-height workspace that’s completely unique in a wet lab setting. 

Already, the Knight Campus has become home to a number of research projects in a wide number of disciplines, including spinal injuries and strokes, rheumatoid arthritis diabetes, gene synthesis, bone repair and regeneration, and more. Several startup companies have secured space in the campus, including one developing 3D-printing patient-specific orthopedic implants. Another company formed by a Knight Campus faculty member, is commercializing a molecule to treat vision disorders such as macular degeneration.

The Knight Campus serves graduate students with a graduate internship program and a doctoral program in bioengineering, in partnership with Oregon State University. The internship program provides a career-focused accelerated master's degree, with a nine-month hands-on internship; 90% of graduates launch careers in their fields within three months of graduating. The Knight Campus Undergraduate Scholars Program offers select undergrads a rare opportunity to be immersed in comprehensive research, pairing promising young scientists with mentors in campus-affiliated labs, according to the university.

Since the opening of the facility at the end of December, the Knight Campus has become home to a significant COVID-19 testing effort expected to more than double the testing capabilities of the state of Oregon.

“The Knight Campus allows scientists to work in new, highly integrated ways," Patrick Phillips, UO Provost and Senior Vice President and a biology professor who served as the acting director of the campus and led the design team said in a statement. “The entire building is adaptable, allowing researchers to be hyper-nimble and to work across fields—be it engineering or biology or nanotechnology. COVID-19 and the pandemic have really highlighted the importance of translational research, of collaboration, and of quick impact. With on-site, cutting-edge equipment for rapid prototyping and an innovation center to develop the commercial potential of ideas, the Knight Campus' intelligent design inspires all involved to tackle important societal problems while shaping the next generation of scientists.”

The collaborative potential of the Knight Campus is already fostering regional partnerships. In 2019, the UO and Oregon Health & Sciences University launched a joint center for biomedical data science, designed to tackle cancer and other complex diseases with big data; and the UO recently launched a joint center for biomedical research with PeaceHealth.

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