In March 2004, 34 scientists from the Hope Heart Institute move into quarters at the Benaroya Research Institute (BRI) on Seattle’s First Hill. Phillip M. Nudelman, president of Hope Heart, says the alliance offers advantages to both organizations: BRI gains a high-quality cardiovascular research team, while Hope saves money on overhead. Hope Heart’s remaining staff of about 35 will concentrate on public education and fundraising.
The Benaroya Research Institute is a nonprofit biological research center specializing in diabetes and immunology. It is located in the Virginia Mason Medical Center. Space in the facility was opened up in January 2004 when Amgen, a biotechnology company, moved into the newly built Helix research center along Elliott Bay.
The transfer represents a shift away from basic science for the Hope, which was founded as a small clinical research laboratory in 1959 by cardiovascular surgeon Lester R. Sauvage (1926-2015). The institute made a major expansion into basic science -- the very earliest level of investigation, involving such fundamental questions as how cells grow -- in the late 1990s. The research was fruitful but also very costly. Although most of it was supported by federal research grants, the gap between the size of the grants and the actual costs of carrying out the research put an increasing financial burden on the Hope. Nudelman said it had been losing money for several years, including $2 million in 2002 alone.
"This is a difficult financial issue because most basic science is financed by the federal government," he said. "But government doesn’t finance all the costs of doing the research. It pays for the direct costs of the study but only a portion of the indirect costs." Large institutions can spread the difference among many scientists, reducing the amount that must be subsidized. The Hope, however, "didn’t have enough scientists and grants to be economical. We were going into the hole to fund basic science" (Nudelman interview).
Officials at Hope Heart considered several potential partners before settling on Benaroya as "the one that made the most sense," Nudelman said. "They specialize in diabetes, and 70 percent of diabetics die of heart disease. They were thinking of adding a heart component, but that would have been very expensive" (Nudelman interview).
Hope Heart’s scientists took about $3.4 million in grants with them to BRI. Among those who made the move were Thomas Wight, a vascular biologist whose work focuses on understanding the interactions of the cell and its matrix at the molecular level; surgeon Margaret Allen, founder of the heart transplant program at the University of Washington, whose research interests include gene therapy; and vascular biologist E. Helene Sage, who specializes in the study of angiogenesis (the growth of new blood vessels). They formed the original core of what is now known as the Hope Heart Program at the Benaroya Research Institute.