Magazine Article | January 11, 2011

Is Miami The New Tech Hub For Life Sciences?

Source: Life Science Leader

By Fred Olds

In challenging economic times, business leaders search for opportunities to grow. One such opportunity — the University of Miami Life Science and Technology Park (UM-LSTP) — is currently opening in the health district of Miami, one the largest medical footprints in the country. The project is an affiliation between the university, with its expertise in discovery, and Wexford Science+Technology, a developer specializing in constructing and operating incubator technology parks. Their goal is to attract entrepreneurs, healthcare companies, and technology enterprises to turn research into commercial entities.

Obviously, this is not a new or singular endeavor. “Everyone sees the value in establishing a ‘Tech Hub’,” says Richard Haiduck, principal at Partner to the CEO. The challenge, he says, is that Southern California, Boston, and the Research Triangle in North Carolina have strong reputations with venture capital firms because of their established record of effective product launches. To reach beyond regional influence, new entrants must provide a long-range strategic development plan and offer some advantage over the established regions.

For the UM-LSTP, that advantage — or difference — is Miami itself. Miami is cosmopolitan. It’s an international city where 2/3 of the residents speak some language other than English at home. More than 1,200 multinational companies have a presence in the Miami-Dade County area. William Donelan, chief operating and strategy officer for the Miami Medical School, says, “What’s novel here is Miami’s almost unique positioning in the Western Hemisphere with linkages to Latin America that are significant and important. What really surprised us is that Miami is an international banking as well as a diplomatic center. It is an excellent gateway to Latin America and Europe with easy air and sea transport routes,” Donelan says.

Thus, the opportunity in Miami includes a state-of-the-art facility for scientific discovery, an intellectual community, diverse international cultures, and a portal to Latin America. The University opens its research discoveries and technology transfer resources to a company for licensing. In close proximity, Wexford provides all the resources necessary for an enterprise to make a “soft landing” in Miami and begin commercialization with the licensed technology.

It Starts With The Center For Human Genomics
Pascal Goldschmidt, M.D., dean of Miami’s School of Medicine, says, “Discovery in medicine starts with the privileged interaction we have with a patient. That discovery results from the extraordinary frustration of not being able to save that patient’s life or eliminate a disabling disease.”

This frustration fueled his interest in genetics and stem cell research. When he arrived in Miami, he recruited the staff at Duke University’s Center for Human Genomics and relocated the entire center to Miami. He credits Donna Shalala, UM president, for the courage to support such a huge investment. Goldschmidt says recruiting the genomic center and building the life sciences and technology park are part of Shalala’s vision to raise the university to the top tier of research institutions in the nation.

The Center for Human Genomics is one of many areas that will offer opportunity to entrepreneurs. Goldschmidt says medicine needs to innovate and move beyond the recommendations of the Flexner Report. Instead of reacting to illness, he says, “we want to predict susceptibility and identify the break point where susceptibility becomes an actual disease process. Then we want to intervene with very novel therapies, such as stem cells.”

He points to other areas in which the university medical centers have opportunities for licensing. Oncology, genomics, implantable devices, diabetes, nerve regeneration, ophthalmology, and blindness all have unique leading research available for further exploration. Miami offers an array of technology discoveries in engineering, marine biology, computer sciences, and IT, as well. The university introduces these discoveries in two venues. The first is the annual Innovation Showcase, which presents the discoveries to scientists, entrepreneurs, and capital organizations who might be interested in pursuing a discovery. The other is online, where the technology transfer office describes the basic research and its possible commercial application.

Making A “Soft Landing” In Florida
The architects of the park intended to make relocation to the park effortless. Joseph Reagan, Wexford VP and regional VP for science and technology, says Wexford plans to follow the guidelines of the National Business Incubation Association to establish a global soft landing at Miami. The NBIA soft landing concept includes recommendations for services and facilities a host site should provide to a company to facilitate its entry into a foreign market. Reagan describes it as a “wraparound” culture for the company. The company has the business idea, and the park provides the hardware and support services to nurture the company. While the concept is international, Reagan says that, in practice, it applies to all in the community.

For the physical plant, Wexford has plans for five buildings with about 1.8 million square feet of space on 10 acres leased from the university. Building 1 is scheduled to open in Q3 2011 and will offer something extra. Most of the park’s buildings will house suites custom-built for individual businesses, but the first building devotes 38,000 square feet to generic office and lab space for shorter leases. Reagan explains that many companies coming to the park will have little infrastructure. “Here, they can come to the building with nothing more than a laptop and open for business,” he explains. Space can be leased for a week or for months as needed to run research or work on a potential business plan. Reagan says, “The objective is to cut time and improve efficiency for a company. We provide office and lab space and administrative help for ramp-up. Then, as the company grows, it can move to permanent space on-site designed specifically for them.”

The first building will include six double and five single lab suites available with 100 pounds per square foot loading and 15 watt per square foot capacity, expandable mechanical systems, and flexible modular wet labs and prep rooms. There are four elevators with heavy capabilities, one with a 5,000-pound capacity. The space comes with shared support staff, conference and break rooms, and common areas. The efficiency of scale in sharing the facility and services saves tenants a great deal in overhead costs.

The wraparound services in the soft landing program are designed to support companies as they establish themselves in commerce. Included are services designed to assist companies with entrepreneurial enterprise, translational assistance, access to capital, contacts in domestic and foreign markets, and direction to legal advice. Reagan says that Wexford doesn’t directly provide all this assistance, but manages contacts through the university and organizations such as The Beacon Group and Enterprise Florida Inc. (EFI), the regional and state economic development organizations for Florida.

EFI can assist companies in applying for state business incentives, coordinating financing, facilitating required permits, and assisting with regulatory issues. EFI can also provide international business assistance with advice on exporting products, lining up contacts through its database, and assisting in marketing products overseas. They can also help start-ups with access to technology transfer. In recent years they have worked with other organizations in awarding grants to companies to increase their chances of winning small business innovation research (SBIR) or small business technology transfer (STTR) proposals with the federal government.

A Community Of Innovation
The first tenants will be DayaMed, a developer, manufacturer, and distributor of pharmaceuticals, medical diagnostic products, and laboratory diagnostic equipment, and the university’s tissue bank. The University also plans to move a substantial portion of the stem cell research and additional organ and tissue transplant resources to the building. Wexford is actively recruiting other entities and businesses to the site. Without mentioning names, they report success and satisfaction with progress.

The types of life sciences enterprises that usually flourish in these communities are:

  • Start-ups and spin-offs from basic research CRO and other companies that assist in development and testing
  • Companies that provide services or supplies to the industry
  • Mature companies that need a regional presence or temporary spaces to conduct research and explore opportunities
  • Foreign companies seeking entry into or through the U.S. market
  • Companies seeking a local office in Miami to jump into international markets

Goldschmidt envisions a multidisciplinary community. While his interests lie in the life sciences and genetics, he sees the imperative to include IT and nonrelated sciences. He specifically cites IT because someone will need to build a wall around the information being generated in the park. There will be a critical need to protect the information, organize it, share it, and assist in operations. Electronic medical records lie just ahead, and all discovery disciplines will need a rapid and reliable method to analyze information and order it in a useful format.

Additionally, Goldschmidt says it would be important to add at least 10% of the community to fields not directly involved with life sciences or IT, for instance, aerospace. “The exchange of ideas between people who come from very different fields, but live together, can lead to breakthroughs that otherwise would not happen.”

Donelan says, “You only have to look at places like Silicon Valley and the ‘Route 128 Corridor’ in Boston to see how this sort of community thrives.” Commercial and research residents enjoy the intellectual energy, and that energy attracts more research and enterprise.

Don’t Ignore The Latin American Market
So, is the Latin American market worth entering? That depends on which country a business is considering. Each country has its own laws and procedures, and many Latin American countries focus on generic pharmaceuticals due to poverty. In general, most consultants say Latin American markets shouldn’t be ignored. IMS reports that these are unsaturated pharmaceutical markets with double- digit pharmaceutical growth in 2009 and continued growth in the 10% to 12% range through 2014. Yelena Sheftelevich of Biomedical Consultants International points out that while the international financial crisis still mires most economies, many countries in South America are recovering faster than the rest of the world. The World Bank projects 2010 economic growth of 4.5% in the area led by Brazil, Chile, Peru, and Mexico, whose economies are now growing much faster than that. Opportunity exists.

On the other hand, USAID warns of gang warfare, poverty, HIV, TB, political instability, and uncertain protection of intellectual property (IP) in many parts of Latin America. The USAID site reports, however, that these are the very issues it is working with these governments to correct. Sheftelevich says that while there is an allusion to the Wild West, cultural and IP uncertainties are evolving, “especially as these countries want to have a more important role in the world stage. It is impossible to do so and to be a part of the WTO and to be a legitimate player without intellectual property protection.”

The business climate is improving, but you would not want to take a step without an experienced guide. Consulting companies like BCI can provide clinical research and legal advice both domestically and internationally. Additionally the university itself has numerous contacts internationally in the life sciences and other high tech fields. Sheftelevich often points companies to consulates and embassies in the area. In Miami alone there are more than 60 consulates from around the world, including one from each of the Latin American countries. There a company should be able to get advice and assistance with permits, contacts, laws, and regulations.

When discussing innovation, Frans Johansson, entrepreneur and author of The Medici Effect, stresses the importance of immersion in a rich diverse environment. He says, “Diversity trumps ability, and teams assembled on diversity will outproduce those based on ability.” A university science and technology park offers that to businesses via innovation. The additional appeal here is Miami itself — its culture and its position as an international trade center. Much like the caravanserai along ancient trade routes where traders and peoples from all over the known world would mingle, exchange ideas, and conduct commerce, the Life Science and Technology Park at Miami may be an opportunity for discovery and enterprise.