Thursday, February 07, 2008

Florida launches their Biotechnology Caucus

BioTech Gets Some BFFs

posted by John Kennedy on Feb 6, 2008 1:27:29 PM

Although it may sound like its members should be outfitted with pocket protectors and nerd glasses, Florida lawmakers forming a new "caucus on biotechnology" met for the first time Wednesday to underscore the state's commitment to the booming research field.

Officials from Scripps Florida, Torrey Pines Institute and Orlando's own Burnham Institute huddled with lawmakers from South and Central Florida, where the industry's Florida research is in its infancy.

Most of the Southern California-based research giants said they were satisfied with their early Florida experience -- and the hundreds of millions of dollars in state incentives that inspired them to launch what promoters once dubbed Silicon Beach.

Dr. Richard Houghton, president of Torrey Pines Institute -- which has a branch in Port St. Lucie, home of Senate President Ken Pruitt -- said he wanted to dispell the notion that bio-tech firms would have trouble recruiting scientists to Florida, which remains an outpost in the research world.

But he suggested that Florida is easier to sell to out-of-state researchers during winter months.

"All this business of trouble trying to recruit in Florida isn't true," Houghton said. "Especially this time of year."

Elizabeth Gianini, a former chief-of-staff to Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty and now a Burnham vice-president, said her facility has taken a major step forward with this week's hiring of Dr. Dan Kelly from St. Louis' Washington University to head a new center on obesity and diabetes.

She noted that about 10 percent of health care dollars are currently spent in some aspect of managing diabetes and that the institute is poised to make major research inroads. "Burnham really wants to cure diabetes," Gianini said.

Dale Brill, director of the state's Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development, acknowledged that the state's budget woes will make it difficult to attract public dollars that can be used to woo bio-tech firms.

While climate change technologies, aviation and homeland securities remain potentially lucrative fields for research firms already in Florida, Brill said that he and other advocates may have to work harder this spring to urge lawmakers to take the long view and avoid cutting economic development dollars.

He cited the philosophy of former House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City.

"Speaker Bense used to always say that you can't hunt with your dog tied to the porch," Brill said.

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