The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) held a ceremonial groundbreaking for its new Altec/Styslinger Genomic Medicine and Data Sciences Building and the Marnix E. Heersink Institute for Biomedical Innovation Conference Center on Monday.

Leaders from the state, county, and city joined donors at the site of what is being called a “game-changing Genomics building.” The new $78 million project is designed to accelerate advancements in precision medicine, as well as informatics and data sciences.

The new facility will be built on Seventh Avenue South, between 19th and 20th streets, in Birmingham.

UAB President Dr. Ray Watts said that the research to be done will allow future doctors to make treatment recommendations “based on the unique genetic makeup of each individual to greatly improve healthcare.”

Watts said that the new genomic building will house 75 new investigative researchers and 350 support staff.

“Together with Southern Research Institute and our other research partners, we will make Birmingham the biotech research hub of the Southeast,” Watts said.

The building will bring together researchers, equipment and staff for the Hugh Kaul Precision Medicine Institute, the Informatics Institute, the Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and translational scientists from many different disciplines to increase national and global competitiveness of both UAB and the state of Alabama in research, innovation, commercialization and economic development. 

Watts said that the new genomic building will house 75 new investigative researchers and 350 support staff.

“This facility will make us globally competitive,” said Dean of the UAB School of Medicine Selmon Vickers.

Gov. Kay Ivey participated in the groundbreaking and thanked Watts for his leadership in this project.

“This institution has developed some of the brightest medical minds and is a national leader in scientific research,” Ivey said. “UAB is one of our largest employers generating 65,000 jobs and $7 billion of economic impact.”

Ivey said the project would not exist without a public/private partnership, and she thanked the Lee Styslinger family and the Altec Foundation for their generous gift.

“I remember when Ray [Watts] approached me and my family,” Lee Styslinger said. “We really trusted Dr. Watts and Dr. Vickers in leading this forward.

“When we began this journey, I did not really understand what we were getting into. This will lead to a total transformation ... of healthcare for all of the citizens of Alabama.”

State Sens. Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills), Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) and Greg Reed (R-Jasper) were credited for their role in helping find the funding for this project.

“Today is a red-letter day for UAB and Birmingham and the state of Alabama,” said Waggoner. “Three people on this stage are getting a lot of credit. It took a team, and a lot of them are here today. I want the members of the House and Senate that are here today to stand up and receive thanks for their work.

“I have worked with all seven of the presidents [of UAB] going back to Dr. Volkert. I stand here today to tell you, Dr. Watts, Dr. Vickers, the Board of Trustees, that we would not be here today without them dreaming big dreams.”

Smitherman said, “Praise the Lord, none of this would be possible without Him.

“In recent decades, there [has] been a call for a real partnership between legislators, corporations and city and county governments. The genomic building has experienced unprecedented cooperation. We asked Gov. Ivey for $50 million for this project. Teamwork makes the dream work. I was eager to help make this work.”

Dr. Watts told the 1819 News that the new building will be completed in just over two years' time.

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones said, “Genomics is the study of the entirety of an organism’s genes (the genome). Through the use of bioinformatics, which is high-performance computing and mathematical algorithms, researchers in the field of genomics analyze large amounts of DNA sequence data to find correlations between gene sequences and disease. By studying the genome, researchers can develop and tailor life-changing drug treatments for patients. This public-private partnership will create direct and indirect jobs and more importantly, will change lives and the world, starting right here in Alabama. Thank you to all who collaborated to make the Altec/Styslinger Genomic Medicine and Data Sciences Building a reality.”

The new genomic medicine and data science building will cost $79 million and is expected to add $390 million to the Birmingham economy. The additional 160,000 sq. feet of space will allow UAB to increase the research there by 16%. The project is expected to lead to an estimated $100 million in new research grants for UAB, a 15% increase for the state’s premier biomedical research institution.