by Amy Keller
Bioscience /Medical Technologies
» Fueled by research activity at the University of Florida, Gainesville/Alachua is home to the largest cluster of biotech companies in the state. More than 80% of the 1,100 people employed at Progress Corporate Park in Alachua work at startup companies that resulted from technology developed at UF. Tenants include major companies like RTI Surgical (previously called RTI Biologics), which provides biologic, metal and synthetic implants for surgery, and Banyan Biomarkers, another UF startup that is developing a diagnostic blood test for traumatic brain injuries. Another tenant, Nanotherapeutics, recently received a contract from the Defense Department, valued at up to $358 million over 10 years, to develop manufacturing processes for drugs to protect members of the military from chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks. Also housed there is UF’s Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator, named 2013 international incubator of the year by the National Business Incubation Association and 2013 World’s Best University Biotechnology Incubator by the Sweden-based research group UBI. Since 1995, companies at the incubator have attracted more than $1 billion in investments, contracts and grants.
Gainesville’s biotech cluster has spurred a growing niche of companies specializing in regenerative health technologies. NovaBone, a Jacksonville-based company that makes synthetic bone graft substitutes, operates manufacturing and research and development facilities in Alachua and Gainesville. AxoGen, a licensee of UF technology and tenant of the incubator that provides surgeons with solutions to repair and regenerate peripheral nerves, went public in 2011 after a merger with the Texas-based LecTec and received $21 million last year from PDL BioPharma. The company’s technologies have helped wounded soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. Applied Genetic Technologies, which is developing gene therapy products to treat rare retinal diseases causing blindness, last year received $37.5 million to advance its research in that area. UF’s Center for Excellence for Regenerative Health Biotechnology, located at Progress Corporate Park, operates a biopharmaceutical manufacturing and testing facility called Florida Biologix that helps transform products discovered in the lab into medicines suitable for clinical trials.
» UF’s College of Engineering has made the region a magnet for major companies reliant on IT talent. Mindtree, an India-based global IT solutions company with annual revenue of more than $400 million, opened an office in Gainesville last year and plans to hire about 400 over the next few years. Mobiquity, a $20-million Massachussetts-based mobile application developer, announced in April it is expanding into Gainesville and will hire around 260 employees over the next three years. Earlier this year, Sears selected Gainesville as the site for its new Technology Undergraduate Educational Partnership, which will provide UF undergrads the opportunity to get an internship with a Fortune 500 company focused on software development. The city is also brimming with successful home-grown startups like Grooveshark, an online music streaming service; Trendy Entertainment, an independent video game development studio; RegisterPatient, a provider of web-based patient registration and scheduling systems; and RoomSync, a roommate matching software service. In May, UF unveiled the state’s most powerful supercomputer. With a peak speed of 150 trillion calculations per second, the Dell machine, which has been dubbed the “HiPerGator,” will slash the time it takes for immunologists to identify safe drugs from one month to just eight hours and allow university researchers to more effectively compete for grants for major projects that require intensive computing. The $3.4-million supercomputer already helped the university land an $8-million federal grant from the National Nuclear Security Administration to conduct high-performance simulations and computer modeling that will help in weather, medicine and geological situations.
» Gainesville is a small but thriving hub for companies that design and manufacture unmanned aerial vehicles. Among the more high profile of the businesses is Prioria Robotics, which was founded in 2003 by a team of UF business and engineering graduates. The growing startup received $5.5 million in venture capital funding last year and recently moved into a new 22,000-sq.-ft. facility in Gainesville’s “Power District,” adjacent to downtown. Two other local companies, Altavian and Innovative Automation Technologies, meanwhile, were recently in the news for receiving a share of a $248-million contract from the U.S. Army for small unmanned aircraft systems. Other local players include Systems Dynamics International, a Huntsville, Ala.-based company, and Micro Aerial Projects, which relocated to Gainesville in 2002 from Namibia.
» Pasteuria Bioscience hit pay dirt when it developed technology to use naturally occurring soil bacteria called Pasteuria to control nematodes, parasitic worms that destroy plants and cause $100 billion in worldwide crop damage each year. The Alachua-based company, which has resided in the Sid Martin incubator since its launching in 2003, was acquired in 2012 by Swiss agribusiness giant Syngenta in a deal worth $113 million.
» RAPiD Genomics is a DNA genotyping and genetic data analysis company providing tools for agricultural companies and researchers to quickly breed and grow ideal crops and livestock. Amid rapid growth, the company is doubling its lab/office space and plans to hire at least four new employees, says CEO John McGuire.
RESEARCH INSTITUTIONS & TECH TRANSFER
» UF’s research and development spending in 2011 totaled $740 million, placing it 12th in R&D expenditures among U.S. public universities. While more than $360 million of that total was for health-related research, the College of Engineering drew more than $75 million in research funding.
» The University of Florida is home to numerous institutes and centers of excellence, including the Center for Smell and Taste, the Center of Excellence for Regenerative Health Biotechnology, the Clinical and Translational Science Institute, the Emerging Pathogens Institute, the Florida Climate Institute, the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), the Florida Energy Systems Consortium, the Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research, the Nanoscience Institute for Medical and Engineering Technology, the UF Genetics Institute, the Institute for Plant Innovation and the Water Institute. Over the past 12 years, UF’s Office of Technology Licensing has helped start more than 140 biomedical and technology companies, including 15 companies in 2012 alone. In 2011, with $8.2 million in federal grant money, the university opened the 48,000-sq.-ft. Innovation Hub, where tech startups can lease lab and office space. Current tenants include Apps for Docs, medical-image analysis company Constellation Research and sports marketing company Sporting Odyssey, among others.