Florida Builds its Position in the Life Sciences

May 2, 2008
Patricia Van Arnum

Patricia Van Arnum was executive editor of Pharmaceutical Technology.

Pharmaceutical Technology, Pharmaceutical Technology-05-02-2008, Volume 32, Issue 5

Florida is making its case for pharmaceutical and biotechnology research and development.

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.

Miami-Dade County builds life science muscle

Like its counterparts in other areas of Florida, Miami-Dade County is also seeking to take a piece of the growing life science pie in Florida. The county is home to 91 pharmaceutical manufacturers (includes pharmaceutical and nutritional/nutraceutical manufacturers), 149 research institutions, 187 medical laboratories, and 97 medical-device manufacturers, according to Jaap Donath, vice-president of research and strategic planning at The Beacon Council, the official private-public development agency for Miami-Dade County. In all, these companies generated revenues of $2.1 billion.

Novartis (Basel, Switzerland) and Schering-Plough (Kenilworth, NJ) are examples of two pharmaceutical majors operating in Miami-Dade County. Novartis Latin America has its regional headquarters for Latin America in Miami. "Many European companies use Miami to locate their operations or headquarters to serve Latin America," says Donath. A recent study by The Beacon Council and WorldCity shows that 579 companies have either their global, US, or regional headquarters in South Florida. There are 286 European companies operating in Miami-Dade County.This number is second largest geographic representation of companies, second only to North American companies, which account for 755 companies, according to The Beacon Council.

Schering-Plough (Kenilworth, NJ) announced in January 2008 that it was expanding its manufacturing operations in Miami Lakes, which includes the building out of an additional 10,000 ft2 at its Miami facility. The expansion includes manufacturing, packaging, warehousing, and office space.

Other life-science companies in Miami Dade County include the specialty pharmaceutical company Noven Pharmaceuticals, a developer of advanced transdermal drug-delivery technologies and prescription transdermal products. The company's headquarters for its two business segments, Noven Transdermals and Noven Therapeutics, and the manufacturing facility for its transdermal products are located on a 15-acre site in Miami, according to the company's 2007 annual filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Through its acquisition of Ivax in 2006, the generic-drug company Teva Pharmaceutical (Jerusalem) operates three sites (manufacturing, R&D, and warehousing) in Miami, according to Teva's 2007 SEC annual filing.

Beckman Coulter, a $2.8 billion producer of biomedical testing instrument systems, tests and supplies, and the US business of Swiss Caps AG, a contract solid-dosage manufacturer (soft-gel capsules) are located in Miami. In March 2008, the German contract manufacturer Dragenopharm Apotheker Püschl GmbH and Swiss Caps AG (Kirchberg, Switzerland), the parent company of the US operations, agreed to merge to form Aenova. Both units will keep their status as independent companies and will trade under their own brand names. The new group will have combined revenues of EUR 215 million ($342 million).

Strengthening pharmaceutical R&D

The University of Miami (UM) under UM President Donna Shalala, the former Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton Administration, is playing a pivotal role in raising the caliber of the life sciences in Miami-Dade County. The school is active in fundraising, capital improvements, and the attraction of scientific talent. This is particularly true for the university's medical school.

An important addition to UM is Pascal Goldschmidt, who was previously chairman of the Department of Medicine at Duke University. He became senior vice-president for medical affairs and dean of the UM Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine in 2006. Since his appointment, Goldschmidt has been active in building the research arm of the medical school by securing funding, developing global R&D collaborations, and recruiting national talent, including some of his former colleagues at Duke.

As an example, Margaret Pericak Vance and Jeffrey Vance, both former genetic researchers at Duke, joined the Miller School of Medicine and helped to open the Miami Institute for Human Genomics (MIHG) in January 2007. MIHG consists of five research centers focused on: human molecular genetics, disease models, genome technology, genetic epidemiology, and statistical genetics. Forty-five of their former 200 colleagues at Duke University left Duke to join the MIHG. MIHG was also awarded $80 million from the state of Florida to help fund the institute.

Bart Chernow, vice-president of special programs and resource strategy and vice-provost of technology advancement at the Miller School of Medicine, is another recent recruit. He was formerly vice-dean for research, technology, and corporate relations at the John Hopkins School of Medicine. Andrew Schally, endocrinologist and the 1977 Nobel Prize winner for physiology or medicine, joined the faculty as a distinguished professor in 2006. Schally and his team are investigating the use of growth hormone-releasing hormone antagonists and cytotoxic analogs of luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone.

Along with these efforts, UM has increased its take of federal research dollars. The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine received $88.1 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health in fiscal year 2007 (ended September 2007), a 22% increase from fiscal year 2006.

Building global research efforts

The UM Miller School of Medicine is leveraging Miami's position as a business gateway to Latin American as a means to foster pharmaceutical and biotechnology research. In 2007, the school launched the International Medicine Institute to promote education, clinical care, and research on a global scale. University officials have been in discussions with researchers in Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East.

"This initiative fits with our overriding mission of being a global leader in cutting-edge clinical care, medical research, and education," says Goldschmidt. The institute is in negotiations with developers that are building a medical complex in Cartagena, Colombia. If plans proceed as anticipated, the UM International Medical Institute would be a partner in the hospital by 2009. The research mission of the institute will be set up through the International Medicine Research Center. Initially, the research will focus on cardiovascular disease. Multicenter clinical trials will also be coordinated between the Miller School and the research centers in Latin America.

For capital improvements, the Miller School of Medicine is building a 182,000-ft2, $93.4-million Biomedical Research Building that will house wet-laboratory facilities, MIGH, and the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute.

Fostering business incubation

Perhaps an even more important barometer for UM is its ability to stimulate growth in life science start-ups. "The university's leaders want to augment the translation of the discoveries made at the research bench into commercial products to help people," says Chernow. To that end, UM established the Wallace H. Coulter Center for Translational Research, through a $13-million grant from the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation. UM's sensory research institutes such as the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute and the University of Miami Ear Institute are also important sources of pharmaceutical research.

The school's strategy is to encourage business incubation in the life sciences through licensing or start-ups. "Commercialization may be via a spin-off company supported by the medical school or venture capital or other means of capitalization," says Chernow. "Licensing is an option; however, if licensed to a company too early you get pennies on the dollar. The value of discovery increases as risk is removed. Here at UM, we are using both strategies."

UM is building a life science park on seven acres adjacent to the Miller School of Medicine, which when completed, will hopefully have 1.4 million square feet of space. Work is expected to be underway in the next year and would be built in three phases based on demand and funding. The complex could house university research, private companies, and the university's start-up biotech companies, which now tally 10.

Converge BioTech (Miami) is an example of a recent UM start-up. The company, which was founded by UM's Camillo Ricordi, scientific director and chief academic offer of the university's Diabetes Research Institute. Ricordi specializes in iselt-cell transplantation, and Converge BioTech developed a hybrid cell transplant therapy effective against diabetes.

Another example is Pique Therapeutics, which was founded by Eckhard R. Podack, chair of UM's Department of Immunology and Microbiology. The company is focused on developing therapeutic vaccines, including cancer vaccines. The company's lead product is a therapeutic vaccine treating nonsmall cell lung cancer.