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Florida's Biotech: On A Roll

There was a real sense of excitement at the first Florida Tech Transfer Conference in May 2004. That conference took place just a few months after Scripps Research Institute announced that it would establish a facility in Florida, and it was easy to envision how the state's biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors would reap benefits from Scripps' high-profile presence.

Just two years later, the excitement and momentum just keep growing, and it's obvious that Florida has established itself as a center of technology, research and innovation. Between 2004 and 2005, public and private sector investments in research at major Florida universities were up $28 million, totaling more than $1.5 billion in 2005. And Florida recently advanced to the No. 10 spot as a biotechnology business center in Ernst & Young's Global Biotechnology Report. David Day, director of technology licensing at the University of Florida, chaired the third annual Tech Transfer Conference in May, where it was obvious that there is a much higher level of interest from corporate scouts.

The growth in the number of deals and investment "is based on a strong track record," according to John Fraser, director of the Technology Transfer Office at Florida State University and president of the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM). "We're turning what we've found in the beakers and test tubes into viable products."

For the first time, the conference was held in conjunction with Pharlex -- a partnering forum -- to facilitate business opportunities aimed at moving our universities' discoveries into the marketplace. The 300 conference attendees represented 75 technology companies, which included over 20 of Pharlex's international biotechnology and pharmaceutical company executive members.

From what I saw and heard at the conference, which Florida Trend helped sponsor, there is a great deal of promise. Florida A&M University, Florida Atlantic University,?Florida International University, Florida State University, Nova Southeastern University, University of Central Florida, University of Florida, University of Miami, University of North Florida, University of South Florida and the University of West Florida took advantage of the opportunity to brief conference attendees on their institutional expertise in biotechnology, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, information and communications technologies and engineering.

In addition to the strong catalyst provided by Scripps, Donn Szaro, Ernst & Young's global director for health sciences industry services, credited a "tripartite group of academics, entrepreneurs and venture people" for moving Florida higher in the biotech ranking.

And certainly Gov. Jeb Bush deserves credit for pressing for bold new initiatives to keep Florida on the cutting edge.

Jack Sullivan, president and CEO of the Florida Research Consortium, says, "It is an exciting time for technology companies in Florida. The state, because of bold elected leadership, is investing significantly in academic research and focused recruitment to bolster clusters of technology activity. Couple this with a growing recognition of the need to enhance early-stage capital and the commercialization of intellectual property and it is clear that Florida is on a roll." In this column in December 2003, I quoted Scripps President Richard Lerner saying that Scripps promised to be "a magnet for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies and their good jobs, a research partner to Florida universities and a source of science programs for local high school students and teachers."

It's exciting to see that promise becoming a reality.