By Len Cason
Change can be a hard thing to wrap your mind around. Especially if you’ve been doing something in a certain way for a long time and doing that something well. Tinkering with success can be a dangerous thing.
But, of course, tinkering with success is exactly how you stay successful. The world changes, and if you don’t keep one step ahead, you’ll get left behind in no time. Just ask the folks who manufactured buggy whips and VHS recorders.
On April 20, the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation dared to tinker with success. In fact, it took a bold step in a new direction. With the help of Gov. Mary Fallin and U.S. Rep. James Lankford, OMRF dedicated its new research tower. By adding 186,000 square feet of research, clinical and support space, OMRF completed the largest expansion in the foundation’s 65-year history.
The tower is the centerpiece of an expansion campaign that’s bringing new scientists to OMRF from across the nation and around the world. Already, those recruiting efforts have added a dozen new principal scientists from institutions such as Yale University, Duke University and London’s Imperial College of Medicine. This recruitment will continue over the coming years, growing OMRF’s staff significantly from its current level of nearly 500 employees.
This growth will enable OMRF to build its already robust research programs in immunology, cardiovascular biology, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. With biomedical research growing ever more complex, the addition of new researchers with diverse talents help OMRF retain a competitive edge as it fights for research funding in an ever-more-competitive global marketplace.
But this new space is not just making OMRF bigger—it’s designed to push the foundation’s work in new directions. With new clinical facilities like the Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence, OMRF physicians will treat thousands of Oklahomans suffering from autoimmune diseases. These clinical outreach programs will not only provide much-needed care to sick Oklahomans, but they will also strengthen OMRF’s “translational” research programs, areas that focus on transforming laboratory discoveries into better outcomes for patients.
The tower’s laboratories are laid out in an open floor plan to encourage discussion between researchers who traditionally might work in isolation. By fostering the interchange of ideas among scientists, OMRF is planting the seeds for collaboration and new multi-disciplinary projects that span diverse disciplines.
Work at OMRF has already yielded three FDA-approved drugs, hundreds of domestic and international patents, and countless advances in the fight against human diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. So why does OMRF need to grow?
No one ever made a great discovery by sitting still. OMRF’s remarkable track record stems from innovation and calculated risk-taking. Science advances by refusing to accept the status quo, by always moving toward the horizon. After all, as biologists will tell you, any organism that is not growing is dying.
With this research tower, OMRF is daring once again to push the envelope. If the past is any measure, this experiment will be a success.
Cason is chairman of the board of directors of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and a partner in the law firm of Hartzog Conger Cason & Neville.