Florida takes aim to lead nation in life sciences industries
By Sherri C. Ranta
When companies think of locales with established life science industries, Florida doesn't immediately come to mind. Greater Philadelphia, Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area and Raleigh/Durham boast the country's most dynamic sectors, according to Milken Institute, a top economic think tank.
But Gov. Jeb Bush and economic development officials want to raise the state's low profile with the help of Santa Monica, CA-based Milken.
Three state agencies, Enterprise Florida, Florida High Tech Corridor Council and Workforce Florida Inc., will finance a $200,000 study called The Life Sciences Roadmap to determine what Florida should do to become the preeminent location for the life sciences industry.
Experts will assess and inventory what types of life science companies already operate here - the number of employees, projects in the pipeline - and develop a strategic plan to determine what the state needs to do to grow the industry, said Skip Rimer, Milken's communications director.
The institute, he said, has performed many studies about the development of successful life science clusters, including the instrumental role that The Scripps Research Institute played in San Diego. Results of the Florida study are expected next year.
Life Sciences - encompassing biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, associated research facilities such as research universities, teaching hospitals, medical laboratories and venture capital firms - is clearly one of the more important industries for the future, he said, and will bolster regions that can successfully grow and sustain those fields.
"Florida is not one of the major life sciences regions right now," Mr. Rimer said, "but having lured Scripps is a very good start."
A premier life sciences research group, Scripps Institute, based in La Jolla, CA, is to open a second US location in Palm Beach County. Scripps Florida is currently operating out of a temporary building with 120 employees at Florida Atlantic University in Jupiter.
Scripps decided to open its second US location in Florida after heavy recruiting by Gov. Bush. In 2003, the state agreed to supply $310 million to help Scripps build a 350,000-square-foot headquarters on the former orange groves of Mecca Farms.
Scripps Florida is to focus on basic biomedical science, drug discovery and technology development and hire more than 500 researchers and support staff in the new headquarters by 2010.
Bio Florida, a trade association for life sciences industry, is seeing increased interest in the state because of the arrival of Scripps Florida, said Diana Robinson, executive director. The group receives inquiries each week from companies and organizations asking about the state's life sciences resources.
What is exciting about Scripps Florida, she said, is that the company is focusing on translational research - making the findings applicable and practical - in the areas of degenerative diseases, biomedical research, immune disorders, cancer biology, drug development and genetics.
Interest in BioFlorida is also high, Ms. Robinson said. The group saw its membership grow 25% in the past year to about 200 companies and organizations.