Summer 2016

Set up for success

A University researcher develops promising new drugs,
thanks in part to a facility that promotes collaboration

Marnie Peterson, who develops drugs to fight multidrug-resistant bacteria, says the McGuire Translational Research Facility is tremendously helpful to her work.
Photo by brady willette

Collaborating and sharing resources is a great way to bring laboratory discoveries to patients as quickly as possible. Just ask University of Minnesota microbiologist and clinical pharmacologist Marnie Peterson.

Peterson develops drugs to fight multidrug-resistant bacteria—an ever-important task as headlines warn of “superbugs” and antibiotic resistance looms as a global threat.

An associate professor in the College of Pharmacy who is best known for her expertise on the notorious Staphylococcus aureus bacterium, Peterson worked closely with Medical School colleagues to develop an anti-infective vaginal gel to treat aggressive forms of bacterial vaginosis and candidiasis. That gel is now in Phase II clinical studies and has been licensed to a Minneapolis-based startup company called Hennepin Life Sciences, where Peterson is vice president of drug and clinical development.

“Why did I go into science? It’s because I want to help people live healthier and longer lives,” she says. “And to have your knowledge applied, you have to commercialize your product. That’s important. It’s the only way to reach the public.”

To that end, her lab also partners with 3M’s business units to predict the effectiveness of some of the com- pany’s proprietary technologies. She and her lab team have developed several infection models that are used to evaluate such 3M products as antiseptics and wound dressings that promote healing.

All of this work has happened in the University’s McGuire Translational Research Facility. And there’s no mistaking that the research has been augmented by the “outstanding, high-quality, functional facility,” Peterson says.


Over the last three decades, the William W. and Nadine M. McGuire Family Foundation has given more than $13 million to support the University of Minnesota.

The McGuires’ $10 million commitment to the McGuire Translational Research Facility is their largest gift to the University.

In addition, the McGuires have given more than $3.3 million to support scholarships and academic programs for promising but at-risk students at the University. Their scholarships— combined with federal, state, and other University grants—covered 90 percent of recipients’ cost of attending the U.

One of the building’s first tenants when it opened in 2005, Peterson moved in down the hall from her College of Pharmacy colleagues and a floor above her Medical School colleagues. They shared equipment readily, and the Stem Cell Institute, another neighbor in the building, had facilities that were valuable to everyone there.

The McGuire Translational Research Facility opened at a critical time for the University. Plans were underway to build out the Biomedical Discovery District, a state-of-the-art research park north of TCF Bank Stadium. It would be the largest expansion of campus since the West Bank five decades ago, providing 700,000 square feet— more than 12 football fields—of research space for more than 1,000 investigators and personnel.

The Minnesota Legislature’s support was essential to this massive undertaking. The state provided $292 million toward the project with the expectation that the Biomedical Discovery District would fuel Minnesota’s economy and lead to better health for people throughout the world.

In 2003, a $10 million commitment from William (Bill) and Nadine McGuire—who have had a longstanding interest in the process of “translating” laboratory discoveries into new therapies—made a strong statement of community support for the project.

“[The McGuires’] commitment came at a time that had a major effect on the Legislature in providing the additional bonding needed for the facility,” says Frank Cerra, who was the U’s senior vice president of health sciences from 1996 to 2011. “The McGuire Translational Research Facility was the linchpin of the Biomedical Discovery District, which continues to be the beacon  of biomedical research for the University and the state of Minnesota.”

Such public and private investment provides the resources needed for the U to recruit top researchers and continue as a national leader in biomedical discovery. And because the Biomedical Discovery District’s six facilities are clustered and connected, investigators looking to accelerate medical research are set up for success.

“We are in proximity to key people who allow us to cross-pollinate,” Peterson says. “It co-localizes many of us that are after similar concepts with our research. It always helps when you can partner and have synergy.”

Nicole Endres is a contributing editor for Legacy magazine.