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Panel OKs another $70 million in Tulsa ARPA projects

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The Stephenson Cancer Center opened in 2011 at the OU Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City. A proposal to use $20 million in federal ARPA funds to expand the center into Tulsa was approved by a legislative panel Thursday.

A legislative panel gave preliminary approval Thursday to $70 million in American Rescue Plan Act allocations for medicine-related projects in Tulsa.

The two Tulsa proposals are $20 million toward an extension of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center’s Stephenson Cancer Center into the city and $50 million for a pharmaceutical research laboratory at Oklahoma State University’s Center for Health Sciences.

The pair are in addition to $38 million approved earlier for a new state mental health facility in downtown Tulsa.

Thursday’s proposals were among six forwarded by the working group to the full legislative joint committee during the meeting. The others are a $15 million OSU-CHS and Oklahoma Department of Health telehealth pilot project in McIntosh, Latimer, LeFlore and Pittsburg counties; a $50 million nutrition, performance and exercise institute at OSU’s main campus that will use student athletes as research subjects; $10 million for identifying and assisting hearing-impaired children; and $25 million for a rural hospital revitalization fund.

The proposals must still be approved by the full joint committee and the Legislature, which is expected to meet in special session this fall.

The pharmaceutical lab would be associated with the National Center for Wellness and Recovery at OSU-CHS. The center was the primary beneficiary of a $270 million settlement between the state and opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma.

Besides a $200 million endowment, the settlement included access to Purdue’s extensive research into pain management. One of Purdue’s top researchers has since joined the center, as well, and OSU has entered into a partnership with the University of Arizona with the goal of developing nonaddictive pain medications and opioid treatments for commercial manufacture, possibly in Oklahoma.

OU, meanwhile, wants to expand the Stephenson Cancer Center, which is rapidly developing a national reputation, into northeastern Oklahoma. This would involve some treatment facilities but also clinical trial opportunities that are not now available.

During a presentation Thursday, officials said very few of the center’s trial subjects are from northeastern Oklahoma and that the eastern part of the state as a whole suffers from a lack of detection and treatment.

Officials said OU is working to establish partnerships with one or more existing health systems in the Tulsa area and hopes to finalize the first of those in the next month.

The overall cost of the initial project, they said, is an estimated $50 million, with about half that dedicated to new construction and refurbishment of existing facilities.

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The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and Devon Energy are opening 47 Ripken STEM Centers in Tulsa. Cal Ripken Jr. visited Hawthorne Elementary School to celebrate the opening of their center.

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