The newly opened labs at InMotion Musculoskeletal Institute are still missing a few essentials: microscopes, deep freezes, autoclaves, scientists. The deep freezes haven't come in yet. The more specialized equipment will be ordered after the scientists are hired. And that will happen when it happens.
"Our biggest challenge is recruiting people. We have labs now. We can physically show them the space. We've raised the money," says Richard Tarr, InMotion's president and executive director. "But we've got to find the right people. I'm not just going to hire anyone."
Begun as a collaboration between Memphis Tomorrow and the Campbell Foundation, InMotion is a prime example of Memphis' growing biotech industry. The independent nonprofit will be a working musculoskeletal research facility, studying joint and bone replacements. But first they need to hire a staff, starting with two clinician scientists. The candidates have to be M.D.s, but they also need to be research scientists. And if they had an M.B.A. or a Ph.D., well, that would be nice, too.
"What we're trying to do is get immediate credibility," says Tarr. "We want to bring in someone who's been doing work at another facility and who has already secured funding for their work. ... It's not easy to find them."
InMotion spent six months wooing one candidate, only to have her turn down the post. But by the end of the year, Tarr hopes to have 20 people on board.
It's perhaps an ambitious goal, but if so, it's one of many. Tarr already has wall space set aside for any patents developed at the facility. Though it has two labs now, the nonprofit would eventually like to have seven or eight. The difference between the dream and the reality is an interesting contrast.
In a corner of InMotion's biomechanical lab -- newly named the Medtronic Laboratory -- sits about 100 square feet of empty floor space awaiting a large piece of equipment that will "break" artificial bones and joints to see how much wear and stress they can withstand. Since the finishing touches are still being put on InMotion's interim home in the medical district, however, something that breaks bones the old-fashioned way -- a ladder -- sits in its place.
"Every city in the nation is saying we're the new biotech," says Chris Przybyszewski, communications director for InMotion. "But there are not that many cities actually seeing movement. We have the opportunity here."
In fact, Memphis seems perfectly suited for a facility on orthopaedic research. Campbell Clinic is located here, as are offices of Medtronic, Wright Medical, and Smith & Nephew. And musculoskeletal research and treatment is a growth industry. Baby boomers are developing arthritis and osteoporosis. Younger adults are developing weekend-warrior syndrome in their quest to stay active. Adolescent sports are becoming more competitive, meaning more over-use injuries earlier in life. And obesity is affecting the joints of people of all ages.
Even though the city is perhaps perfectly poised to lead the musculoskeletal industry, its strengths have not been used to the best advantage. Tarr estimates that between Medtronic, Smith & Nephew, and Wright Medical, roughly $20 million to $40 million is spent on outside research and development contracts.
"The companies here all have research and development groups that get approximately 5 to 6 percent of their overall revenue. Some of that research money actually goes to fund other people's work," says Tarr. "Guess how much of it is spent here? ... Very little.
"If we could just capture a small portion of that, it could be $2 million."
As new treatment options are developed, they will be used and tested on patients in the area. But that's not the only way InMotion can help improve the city's quality of life.
"The first 20 people we bring in, their average salaries will be more than $100,000 a year," says Tarr. "That money will get injected into the community."
Even though InMotion has just moved into its interim home -- after initially borrowing space from Campbell Clinic -- the research facility's permanent home will be in the UT-Baptist Research Park on the old Baptist Hospital site.
"When this 'ballpark' goes up," says Przybyszewski, "it's going to dwarf the impact of anything the Grizzlies did. ... And it's not even in its infancy right now. It's in the embryonic stage."
When people talk about biotech and the city, I think sometimes it sounds a little farfetched, especially combined with a -- somewhat notorious -- unqualified labor pool. But sometimes it pays to visualize what could be.
InMotion's temporary home has a view of the old Baptist Hospital site, now a grassy green field, meaning that one day, the nonprofit will be developing its own backyard.
Somewhere in there is a lesson for the city.