OHSU Board Gives Go-Ahead to Plan Merger with Oregon Graduate Institute

08/15/00    Portland, Ore.

The Oregon Health Sciences University Board of Directors today approved a memorandum of understanding with Oregon Graduate Institute of Science and Technology, or OGI, paving the way for creating a detailed plan to eventually merge the two institutions.

OGI's Board of Trustees approved the memorandum of understanding at its late July meeting.

"A merger between these two leading institutions would offer countless benefits to Oregonians in education and research," said OHSU President Peter Kohler, M.D. "Advances in medical research often occur at the interface between disciplines. Increasingly, medical research and care have the look and feel of high tech. I believe the potential for this combined operation has the capacity to exceed either program alone."

"We still have a great deal of work to do before bringing these discussions to fruition, but this is a significant milestone in talks that we believe will produce major benefits for both of our institutions, for the area high-tech industry and for Oregon's economy," added OGI President and CEO Ed Thompson.

The two institutions will now work to create a detailed operating plan and draft a merger agreement, which they hope to complete by late fall. If all goes according to plan, OGI would become a school within OHSU - alongside the schools of medicine, nursing and dentistry - by summer 2001.

In deciding to proceed toward creating an operating plan, OHSU and OGI have concluded that "the strategic fit between the two appears to be excellent," according to the memorandum of understanding, which was created by a merger steering committee consisting of senior representatives from each institution. "The two institutions are close enough in culture to work well together yet different enough that their activities are complementary," the document continues. "Our vision centers on the great potential synergy at the intersections of the two institutions' main research thrusts."

Among the research pursuits that have been identified as potentially fruitful are:

Proteomics: With the mapping of the human genome largely complete, researchers will now spend years studying the proteins that genes produce. The two institutions see great potential in combining OGI's strengths in biological spectroscopy with OHSU's strengths in X-ray crystallography to establish a center for structural biology and proteomics. The center would be staffed by 22 existing faculty and would foster alliances with both local industry and national laboratories interested in computational biology.

Bioinformatics: As genomics has become a major focus within modern biology, the emerging field of bioinformatics has become increasingly important as a computational approach to analyzing complex biological data. Lying at the intersection of computing and biology, bioinformatics is fertile ground for a pairing of OGI and OHSU, bringing together molecular microbiologists and medical geneticists from OHSU with molecular biologists, database experts and other computer scientists from OGI.

Biomedical engineering: Faculty at both OHSU and OGI have expressed great interest in establishing a graduate program and research center focused on biomedical engineering, which in its broadest sense involves the use of engineering technology, instrumentation and methods to solve medical problems, such as improving the understanding of physiology and the manufacture of artificial limbs and organs.

Environmental science: The combined forces of OHSU's expertise in toxicology and OGI's strengths in environmental monitoring and assessment would enable the two to pursue significant new research, including studies regarding the behavior, fate and risks of water-borne contaminants and agricultural pesticides.

The memorandum of understanding spells out a number of initial details regarding the proposed merger. For example, OHSU's mission would be broadened to encompass the OGI mission and engineering program. OHSU's Board of Directors would be expanded to at least 10 members from its current seven. Some OHSU departments might be merged with OGI departments, and additional collaborative engineering alliances with Oregon State University and Portland State University could be pursued. These alternatives will be discussed in the upcoming months. In addition, OGI's highly regarded pre-college education program, Saturday Academy, would be repositioned in the most appropriate place to address the needs of the 7,000 students it serves each year.

"This merger is a natural," Thompson added. "The high-tech industry, for instance, is making increasing use of biologically inspired models in areas such as neural net computation, video compression algorithms, and speech recognition and synthesis. And the biosciences, in turn, are adopting cutting-edge computational technology for genomics, molecular modeling, pattern recognition and other 21st-century fields of inquiry."

Total research funding for the combined institutions will be approximately $185 million initially, and such funding is projected to double by 2010 as the alliance pursues new federal and private funding in the burgeoning fields of biomedical engineering and biotechnology. This surge in research funding, Thompson added, will enable OHSU's new school of science and engineering to expand its relationship with the local high-tech industry - OGI's traditional constituency - as that funding magnifies OGI's capabilities.

In addition, academic curricula bridging traditional departments will create new educational opportunities that provide Oregon students with the chance to enter a new field of scientific endeavor at the interface of biology, computing and information technology. And the merger is expected to dramatically enhance Oregon's ability to attract and retain the best high-tech employees and scientists.