New UCSF Mission Bay campus: country's largest biomedical university expansion

By Wallace Ravven

Science is moving full speed ahead in the country’s largest academic biomedical research expansion.

About a mile south of the city’s financial district, in an area only recently occupied by old warehouses and rail yards, University of California, San Francisco scientists have refined a system to capture clusters of gene activity in the malaria parasite. In the same room, an automated apparatus identifies the type, abundance and cellular location of all the proteins interacting in an organism—a milestone in the new age of proteomics.

Just six months old, UCSF Genentech Hall pulses night and day with the activity of 900 scientists, students and staff working in 60 labs grouped in ” neighborhoods” to spur collaborative research. It is the first building completed at UCSF Mission Bay, the 43-acre second campus planned to double the size of the University’s research and teaching program and boost the pace of biomedical discovery. Four more buildings are currently under construction. An $800 million budget funds this first building phase.

UCSF Mission Bay is the largest biomedical university expansion in the country. At full build-out in 15 to 20 years, the campus will have 20 structures and an expected UCSF population of 9,100—a new San Francisco community located south of Pac Bell Park, with a commanding view of downtown. The expected cost of the new UCSF campus at completion is estimated at about $1.5 billion.

Construction funds are coming from a variety of state, University and private sources.

The campus is the anchor of a 303-acre Mission Bay project, San Francisco’s largest development since the building of the Golden Gate Park and the last remaining major open parcel of land in the city.

(To view Genentech Hall and the UCSF Mission Bay campus, go to the UCSF Mission Bay web site: Mission Bay and click “Image Database.”)

The first faculty scientists, graduate students, postdocs and staff moved into Genentech Hall in mid-January. Within three days, one lab already had experimental results: part of a study on the mechanisms bacteria use to evade the immune system. Lacking working ice machines on day one, a grad student resorted to scraping ice from the walls of a freezer to make an ice bath for the experiment. By May, the move was complete and people filled the building’s labs, offices, common areas and hallways, and shared meeting areas in the airy atrium and café.

By the late 1980s, UCSF’s research enterprise was bursting at its seams, strong in creative energy but hard pressed to realize its full potential without expanding. The solution was a second campus, an ambitious project for a mature university.

The new campus carries on the UCSF tradition of research collaboration. UCSF Genentech Hall and the other Mission Bay campus buildings are designed to stimulate interaction—both formal and informal—between scientists in related disciplines, based on the belief repeatedly confirmed at UCSF, that collaboration between scientists is the surest catalyst for discovery. Genentech Hall’s fifth floor, for example, brings chemists and chemical biologists together. Chemists can subtly modify the structure of molecules active in cells, or create new molecules to determine, for example, the role specific proteins play in signaling between and within cells.  This detailed knowledge is vital both to understand living systems at a molecular level and to develop drugs that can counter malfunctions. The building’s Center for Advanced Technologies supports new and experimental research methodologies with potential use to many labs.

Research in Genentech Hall focuses on structural and chemical biology as well as molecular and development biology and related fields.

A second campus structure, the Genetics, Development and Behavioral Sciences Buildings, is targeted for occupancy in November 2003.

In late 2004, researchers and administrators will move into the new Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research (dubbed QB3), the third research building in UCSF Mission Bay’s initial phase of development. QB3 is a partnership between UCSF, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz—one of the California Institutes for Science and Innovation developed at the initiative of Governor Gray Davis. The UCSF building will be the QB3 headquarters. The institute brings together expertise in the physical sciences, engineering and mathematics to help tackle biological problems of such complexity that they simply can’t be approached with the tools of just one discipline.

UCSF broke ground for its new campus in 1999. The three research buildings, along with a community center, student and faculty housing facility and an open space quad larger than downtown San Francisco’s Union Square make up the first phase of the new campus.

About half of the program space in the campus will be for research uses, mainly in the basic sciences. The balance of the space will be used for instruction, academic support, campus administration, campus community activities, housing and space for logistical operations.

Catellus Development Corporation donated 30 acres of the site that will comprise UCSF Mission Bay. The City of San Francisco donated the additional 13 acres.

For more information, visit the UCSF Mission Bay web site at: