September 18, 2014

Biotech

Medical City Is Changing Florida's DNA

Orlando's medical cluster is a big step toward critical mass for the state's biotech initiative.

Mark R. Howard | 10/1/2009

[Photo: Jim Hobart / Macbeth Photography]

The three-story Burnham Institute building stands out as a shiny, landscaped oasis amid 600 dusty acres in southeast Orlando that have been scraped naked by bulldozers and smoothed with 10 million square yards of fill dirt. The first of what ultimately will number 300 Burnham scientists and support staff have settled in to their new digs inside the $85-million research building.

Burnham, the La Jolla, Calif.-based research institution that’s among the top four recipients of grant funding from the National Institutes of Health, will have plenty of company soon enough. In addition to the Burnham, the site known at least for the time being as “Medical City” encompasses:

» The University of Central Florida’s new College of Medicine, including the Burnett Medical Science Building, both nearing completion

» The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, which will operate on the fifth floor of the Burnett building until it builds its own facility nearby

» The Nemours Children’s Hospital, now under construction

» The Orlando Veterans Affairs Medical Center, a more than half-billion-dollar facility already funded by Congress and expected to be finished by 2012

» A University of Florida Academic and Research center planned close to the Burnham building.


Burnham’s Orlando facility already attracts almost $40 million in NIH funding. CEO John Reed says a chance to immediately be part of a cluster was the biggest factor in Burnham’s decision to open in Orlando. [Photo: Burnham]

Meanwhile, adjacent to the Medical City property, the county has opened a state-of-the-art public high school that will eventually serve many of the children of the scientists, physicians and researchers who’ll populate Medical City’s workforce. All told, more than $1.5 billion in biomedical-related construction is complete, under way or funded — on a parcel of less than one square mile.

Also part of this cover story:
» The Keys to Medical City
Ironically, a medical school wasn’t part of UCF President's John Hitt’s vision until he learned that “you don’t find a bioscience cluster around anything but a medical school.”
» Meet Joe Lewis, the Handshake Billionaire
» Video: The Making of Orlando's Medical City
The fact that so many medical and biomedical facilities are opening in one community in Florida within two years of each other would be noteworthy by itself. The fact that they are opening on one parcel of land, in a coordinated fashion, with a collaborative mission, is even more significant — for both Orlando and the state.

The state of Florida and local communities have invested around a billion dollars of the public’s money in nudging Florida’s economy out of its traditional cheap-land, cheap-labor development. The strategy: Mimic San Diego’s evolution by using research institutions to spin off scientific discoveries with commercial potential. From the onset, it’s been a high-risk, high-reward strategy. Joe Panetta, CEO of the life sciences trade organization Biocom in San Diego, calls biotech “the riskiest business on the planet” even as he touts the $67,000 average wage, cultural benefits and “massive business activity” that biotech clusters and companies generate.

Scripps, the first Southern California research operation enticed to build a Florida satellite, was expected to be a nucleus around which a cluster would form over time. And Scripps has in fact begun to snag research dollars and high-profile scientists after slogging through a politically tangled search for a site.

But Scripps came alone and has to generate much of its own momentum in attracting talent, related research and related businesses. Medical City, by contrast, is arriving as a constellation rather than a single star. The sudden presence of a cluster of institutions represents a big step toward critical mass for the state’s biotech initiative and shifts the biotech center of gravity to the middle of the state. Within less than two decades, the institutions at Medical City, coupled with the existing photonics and simulation businesses and research capacity in central Florida, should give Florida the business dynamo that it has always yearned for — a scientific research and commercial complex that can begin to play in the same league as areas like the Route 128 corridor around Boston and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.

“Absolutely,” says Thaddeus Seymour Jr., vice president and general manager of Health and Life Science Investments for Lake Nona, a division of Tavistock Group, which seeded the emergence of Medical City with both cash and land. “We think that way. It’s also the way Orlando thinks, and the way the state thinks.”


UCF’s College of Medicine encompasses both the medical school and the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, which offers three undergrad degrees and three graduate degrees. [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]

Tags: Central, Healthcare

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