October 26, 2020


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

Ultimately, more than 300 scientists will work at Burnham Institute in Orlando. [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]

Creating new science and turning it into better health — and money — requires a four-slice pie, Seymour believes: In addition to a research institution, a successful cluster needs an educational component (the medical school); a clinical treatment center (Nemours and the VA); and a set of commercial players — venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, lawyers and investors who translate the science into the marketplace.

Burnham scientific director Daniel P. Kelly with the facility’s $12-million robotic Ultra High Throughput Chemical Screening System, used for identifying compounds useful in drug development.
[Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
The slices aren’t always the same size: San Diego’s biotech cluster, Seymour says, is long on research and commerce, shorter on treatment and education. Houston, by contrast, is recognized as a top destination for heart treatment, less so as a commercial, educational or research center. Boston and San Francisco have a balanced presence in all four areas, Seymour says, with well-developed educational institutions, treatment hospitals, research institutions and commercial sectors.

The other cities’ clusters developed organically, in fits and starts, over many years. Medical City, however, is coming to life with a solid foundation in three of the four slices. Burnham President and CEO John Reed says a chance to immediately be part of a cluster, “working in proximity to a diversity of partners,” was the single biggest factor in his organization’s decision to locate in Orlando. Initially, he says, the mix will help each institution with the essential task of recruiting scientific talent — and by extension the grant funding that top scientists bring with them. Often, he explains, high-profile researchers also want to teach at a medical school or participate part time in a clinical practice at a hospital.

In addition, says Reed, the presence of a cluster makes it easier to find a workplace for professional-level spouses who frequently work in related fields — a surgeon, for example, married to a researcher.

Longer term, clusters enable institutions to collaborate more easily on grant proposals to federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health, where Burnham gets 80% of its funding, and then on the research itself. Already, Burnham is partnering with M.D. Anderson on one proposal and has created a joint venture with Florida Hospital, a regional hospital group, involving diabetes research.

Burnham’s operation at Medical City will focus primarily on diabetes and obesity, Reed says, leveraging Burnham’s ongoing research into other aspects of the body’s metabolism, including cancer, in which something goes awry. In short order, Reed expects Burnham will be attracting at least $50 million in grants through its Orlando facility, and he says that “when Medical City is fully established we expect grant revenue in the billions.”

Tavistock has some expectations, too. The Medical City site is just one part of 7,000 mostly undeveloped acres that comprise the Lake Nona Development of Regional Impact. On the Medical City acreage alone, Tavistock plans to build a town center including both urban-style residences and more than 1 million square feet of commercial, hotel and retail space. The company has cleared a hundred or so acres for science and technology companies it expects to be attracted by what’s being built now.

Jeffrey E. Green, Nemours vice president and chief administrative officer for Florida, says the Nemours facility will integrate both research and disease prevention outreach programs into the hospital’s clinical activities. In addition, he says, “We teach medical students and residents and nurses. There’s a real opportunity for that training to occur and for that trained staff to stay in Florida.”
[Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
Ultimately, Tavistock expects about 25,000 people to live in Lake Nona, with 10,000 onsite jobs.

In its early years, Medical City’s weakness will be its commercial slice — the absence of venture capital that’s a traditional and still glaring flaw all across Florida’s business landscape. Seymour expects the collaboration that’s built into the Medical City cluster will speed the development of drug discoveries, medical devices, healthcare information software and other technologies that will attract commercial interests.

“I think if we do it right, all kinds of organizations will be involved on the commerce side,” says Seymour. “We’ll have dozens of venture capital firms, if not physically located here, then down here regularly spending time here with scientists. What we have to worry about is creating the right environment” for the collaboration that’s required to produce scientific progress. “We talk about how to do in 10 years what it took San Diego to do in 30 to 40,” says Seymour.

Rasesh Thakkar, a senior managing director at Tavistock, puts it more bluntly: “Money follows scientists. Then money follows money. Then it grows from there.”

Tags: Central, Healthcare

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