400 professionals expected at life-sciences conference
By Tom Harlan
More than 400 industry professionals are expected at the state's annual life-sciences conference Oct. 24-25 in Delray Beach.
BioFlorida, the state's independent bioscience organization, is to hold its eighth annual gathering of life-sciences academics and professionals at the Marriott Hotel to discuss the evolution of the state's industry.
Attendance doubled from 200 to 400 last year after Gov. Jeb Bush announced in October 2003 that the Scripps Research Institute was to open a campus in Palm Beach County, said Diana Robinson, president of BioFlorida.
"Last year we had a tremendous jump," she said. "We don't anticipate doubling our attendance this year, but we're definitively growing."
Keynote speakers the first day include Hilary Koprowski, who discovered the first vaccine against poliomyelitis, and Dennis Purcell, senior managing director of Aisling Capital. "Dennis Purcell is probably the No. 1 biosciences investor in the US if not the world," Ms. Robinson said.
Gov. Bush, who reviewed the progress of Scripps' move to Florida at last year's meeting, is to give out scholarship awards to doctoral candidates and receive the Biotechnology Industry Organization's governor of the year award at a luncheon. The organization, representing more than 1,000 biotechnology companies, academic institutions and state biotechnology centers, is presenting the award to recognize Gov. Bush's promotion of biotechnology in Florida.
The governor spearheaded recruitment of Scripps and passage of the 2002 Technology Development Act, which allotted $30 million for the creation of three centers for excellence at state universities, including Florida Atlantic University. The universities are working to research, invent and market new medicines and technologies to improve health care.
"We believe this is the industry of the 21st century and is going to change everything about our lives," Ms. Robinson said. "We truly believe Florida has a chance to participate in that in a big way."
State economic-development leaders are targeting the biosciences industry for workforce development because industry positions pay about $20,000 a year more than average salaries nationally and the industry is expected to grow 13% faster than the average industry through 2012, Ms. Robinson said.
A 2004 Washington Economics Group study said Scripps would spawn several pharmaceutical and life-sciences startups within 5 miles of its campus in 15 years. Over 20 years, Scripps helped transform San Diego into an industrial city with about 500 companies, according to group officials.
On the last day of the conference, Institute for Systems Biology President Leroy Hood is to discuss the future of predictive and preventive medicine and Scripps Florida vice president of scientific operations Harry Orf is to give an update on Scripps' progress.
Scripps has brought about 130 scientists from around the world to Florida in the past six months to collaborate with academics and students at state universities, Ms. Robinson said, adding that their work is to lead to new drugs and technologies.
"Florida has made great strides in tracking this industry," she said. "We've accomplished a lot in the past year, but we still have a lot to accomplish. That's why BioFlorida is hosting the conference."