The fanfare accompanying last year's announcement that The Scripps Research Institute plans to open an East Coast branch in Palm Beach County has died, but companies and venture capitalists throughout the state and nation are focusing on Florida as a potential emerging giant in the biotech industry.
"Awareness that our state is moving ahead rapidly to promote and support the biotech sector is spreading rapidly. There's a lot of excitement among companies and venture capitalists, and Scripps has been the conduit," said Erin Heston, a spokeswoman for Enterprise Florida Inc., the public-private partnership that is responsible for leading statewide economic development efforts.
Moving forward with the assumption that Scripps Florida ultimately will become a reality, biotech organizations are focusing on the state for key meetings in coming months.
BioFlorida, the biotech trade association, will have its annual meeting Oct. 17-18 in Boca Raton and feature a keynote presentation by Harry Orf, Scripps' vice president for scientific operations. Enterprise Florida then will conduct a statewide life sciences forum in Tampa on Nov. 16.
Both meetings will bring together hundreds of representatives from industry and trade associations, economic development organizations, business support groups and technology transfer programs, as well as researchers and venture capitalists.
Also on the calendar: the sixth annual Southeastern Bio Investor Forum Nov. 7-9 at the Doral Golf Resort in Miami, and Scripps Florida's International Biotech Conference Nov. 13-15, 2005, at The Breakers in Palm Beach. That conference, to be conducted in collaboration with Oxford University, will focus on commercializing science and technology.
While Scripps is expected to draw a number of biotech companies to the area near its eventual site in northern Palm Beach County, none has made a commitment, in part because of uncertainty surrounding the final site.
Two companies, however, have opened operations in Florida, lured by statewide commitment to technology. One, VaxDesign Corp., which engineers vaccines, will create 39 jobs at a $2.8 million plant in Orlando. The other, TG United Labs, a subsidiary of MCR American Pharmaceuticals, will create 60 jobs at a $1.2 million manufacturing complex in Brooksville.
The state also has pumped up research assistance. In August, Gov. Jeb Bush announced that 19 biotech investigators would share grants worth almost $9.2 million to be administered by the state Department of Health.
"Ultimately, our goal is to have this program invest almost $100 million in biomedical research over the next 10 years," Dr. John Agwunobi, the secretary of health, said when the grants were announced.
The entrepreneurial ventures spurred by Scripps and its scientists are expected to attract venture capital.
Already, a 25-year-old Jupiter biotech firm was able to raise $6.7 million quickly through a new biotech venture fund being formed in West Palm Beach. Mark Emalfarb, chief executive of Dyadic International, attributed the investment to Scripps' plans to locate in Palm Beach County.
Dyadic's funding is from Bioform, a new biotech fund started by Stephen Warner, founder of CrossBow Ventures in West Palm Beach.
Other venture capitalists from around the country are taking a closer look at what's happening in Palm Beach County. South Florida "is on our radar screen as an area for high growth," said Andy Firlik, general partner with Sprout Group, a New York group interested in "emerging opportunities" in the medical field.
For Scripps-related startup ventures, it's too early for venture capital investment. Venture capital firms usually don't take interest until a company establishes an experienced management team and develops a product with strong marketplace potential.
Florida also is making its own venture capital investments from its $102 billion pension fund: The state plans to allocate $350 million to four venture capitalist firms that will make investments on its behalf.
Scripps also has caught the attention of biotech entrepreneur Sheridan "Sherry" Snyder, who plans to launch 15 to 20 companies over five years in South Florida.
Snyder has started 15 biotech companies, including one of the world's largest, Genzyme Corp.
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