Florida Builds its Position in the Life Sciences

Florida is making its case for pharmaceutical and biotechnology research and development.
May 02, 2008
Volume 32, Issue 5

The pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries are a draw for states' economic development, and Florida is no exception. State and local authorities are making a concerted effort to attract investment in the life sciences. South Florida and Miami-Dade County, in particular, is on that bandwagon as it seeks to leverage its position as a business gateway to Latin America, develop synergies with other investment projects for life-science research in Florida, and strengthen the county's role in pharmaceutical research and development.

Attracting biosciences institutes

States such as New Jersey, Massachusetts, California, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania are among the leaders in attracting investment in the biosciences, but Florida's rank is rising. Between 2005 and 2007, state and local authorities generated over $1 billion in incentives for biosciences institutes, according to Russell Allen, president and CEO of BioFlorida, a nonprofit association for advancing the biosciences in Florida. In 2006, former Governor Jeb Bush created the Florida Innovation Incentive Fund as a means to attract biotech companies and research institutions to Florida. For fiscal year 2008–2009, current governor Charlie Crist recommended allocating $200 million for the fund.

The lure of public funding has worked. The Scripps Research Institute, a biomedical research center, attracted by $310 million in state incentives, opened a research facility, Scripps Florida, on the Jupiter campus of Florida Atlantic University(FAU) in 2004. Scripps Florida currently employs more than 170 researchers and support staff that are working in two temporary facilities (74,000 ft2 of laboratory space) on FAU. Expansion into a 350,009-ft2, three-building permanent complex is projected for early 2009. Palm Beach County, where Jupiter is located, provided an economic package for land and funding for the two temporary sites while the permanent site is constructed.

Xcovery (West Palm Beach, FL), a pharmaceutical company developing kinase inhibitors for treating oncology and inflammation, is the first spin-off from Scripps Florida. It was founded in January 2007 through funding by BioCatalyst International, a life sciences venture fund lead by Xcovery Chairman and CEO Sheridan Snyder. Snyder founded and served as a CEO for more than 15 successful start-ups, including Genzyme (Cambridge, MA).

The Max Planck Society, a renowned German research institute, announced in November 2007 that is establishing the society's first overseas institute in the United States on the Jupiter campus of FAU. The society is receiving $87 million from Palm Beach County over the next decade and more than $90 million from the state of Florida. FAU is providing the land for the institute. Work on the facility is expected to begin at the end of 2008, and when completed, the institute is expected to staff 150 researchers.

The Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies, another drug research center, plans to open a new headquarters in Port St. Lucie, Florida in late 2008. This 104,000-ft2 building will encompass seven laboratories and hold up to 300 researchers.

The Burnham Institute for Medical Research, headquartered in La Jolla, California, is establishing a campus at Lake Nona in Orlando to expand the institute's drug-discovery capabilities in diabetes and obesity research.

The Oregon Health & Science University Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute, located in Beaverton, Oregon, is establishing a satellite research center in Port St. Lucie. The group is receiving $60 million in state funding that was approved in January 2008, matching funds by Port St. Lucie, Lucie County, and developers, as well as an additional $53 million by the city of Port St. Lucie for infrastructure improvements.

The H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa is partnered with Merck & Co. (Whitehouse Station, NJ) for developing personalized cancer therapies. As part of that collaboration, the institute formed a for-profit subsidiary, M2Gen. The center is building a facility to house M2Gen. Construction began in January 2008 and is expected to be completed in one year.

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