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Chicago perfect home for Cures center, Chico says

Gery Chico flanked by Lou Weisbach (left) Dr. Bruce Bloom announces his support Tuesday for bringing American Center for Cures

Gery Chico, flanked by Lou Weisbach (left) and Dr. Bruce Bloom, announces his support Tuesday for bringing the American Center for Cures to Chicago. | Keith Hale~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 13, 2011 5:44PM

Calling it a “game-changer” with the job-creating punch of O’Hare Airport, mayoral challenger Gery Chico vowed Tuesday to find a home in Chicago for a $3 billion complex devoted to curing deadly diseases.

“You do whatever it takes to make something like this happen. Talk about a game-changer. . . . This can define this city for the next hundred years if we get this right,” Chico said.

“Imagine if we start to cure diseases and all those trillions [spent] to deal with the symptoms to those diseases and providing treatment to those diseases is taken away.”

The American Center for Cures is a dream of Lou Weisbach, the Democratic fund-raiser and former founder and chairman of Ha-Lo Industries, who also happens to be one of Chico’s biggest supporters.

For more than 10 years, Weisbach and others have been trying to persuade Congress to take some of the money currently earmarked for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and divert it to a mega-center devoted to finding a cure for cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, heart and other deadly diseases.

They are asking Congress for a guarantee of $36 billion a year for six years to operate the center. That’s not counting the $3.5 billion it will take to construct the multi-building complex.

Despite support from Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman and others, the dream has gone nowhere amid opposition from the powerful health-care lobby that makes its money treating patients.

“Curing is not what they do and the reason is very simple: There’s really no money in cures. They’re not bad guys. They’re not bad people. But they have a responsibility to shareholders,” Weisbach said.

“It’s unconscionable that we allow a system that doesn’t prevent or cure anything — any major diseases in 60 years — to continue on and just close our eyes.”

If he’s elected mayor, Chico is promising clear “acres and acres” of land needed to house the six-building complex and provide taxpayer subsidies to help defray construction costs.

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