Biotech Budding in Jupiter

North county’s biotech and science hub keeps bubbling along, attracting business, high-paying jobs, homebuyers and national attention to the area. With Scripps Florida and Max Planck Florida in Jupiter and Torrey Pines Intitute for Molecular Studies just north in Port St. Lucie, the area is ripe for development.

Science in the news in the past 12 months includes:

Scripps scientists join fight stop Zika virus

Hyeryun Choe, a microbiologist at nonprofit Scripps Florida in Jupiter, began to study Zika as the virus’ apparent link to birth defects in Latin America grabbed headlines. “You have to just start from scratch,” she said in March as she described her work to Florida’s senior senator, Bill Nelson, and to reporters in March, the same day the Florida Department of Health reported a new case of the Zika virus in Orange County. Choe’s work focuses on other viruses similar to Zika, including West Nile, dengue and yellow fever. Her research is funded by a $480,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health. She and one other scientist at Scripps have begun to delve into the ­intricacies of Zika. She declined to predict how quickly scientists might find a cure for Zika. “Unfortunately, these things take time, and it’s going to be a year or two or three,” Nelson said.

Scripps Florida joins horse drug effort

Scripps Florida has joined Colorado State University to create the Center for Novel Equine Therapeutics. Paul Robbins, a professor of metabolism and aging at Scripps, described the program as a virtual one — there’ll be no building for the center, but the two organizations will share resources and research. Cable television magnate John Malone, who owns property in Wellington and Jupiter Island, gave $42.5 million to Colorado State University for medical research, and is helping get the word out about the center. Researchers test many drugs in mice, but Robbins said it might make more sense to study treatments for joint pain and inflammation in horses. “It seems like the horse is the perfect model for osteoarthritis,” Robbins said.

Microscope gets down to millionths of millimeters

Scripps Florida’s newest microscope cost $500,000, can see things a few millionths of a millimeter apart and is so sensitive it can be thrown off by the draft from the air conditioning. The biotech lab bought a “super-resolution microscope” with a gift from the Iris and Junming Le Foundation, of New York. Ron Davis, chairman of Scripps Florida’s Department of Neuroscience, said he coveted the device after he ran up against the limits of his lab’s less powerful equipment. Those microscopes could see down to 200 nanometers, a level not precise enough to inspect the minute details of synapses in fruit fly brains. “You can’t see the differences, you can’t count them,” Davis said.

FAU hire is coup for new Brain Institute

In a coup for Florida Atlantic University’s biotech ambitions, the new FAU Brain Institute has hired a prominent researcher from Vanderbilt University as its first executive director. Randy D. Blakely brings $3.8 million in National Institutes of Health grants to Palm Beach County, a sum that nearly matches the $4.6 million in NIH grants brought in by all FAU scientists in 2015. “He has a tremendous international reputation,” Daniel Flynn, FAU’s vice president for research, said of Blakely. “Certainly in terms of the NIH funding, this makes a big splash.” The hiring is part of FAU’s plan to build a research hub and science honors college in Jupiter. The program, announced in March by FAU President John Kelly, would collaborate with Scripps Florida and Max Planck Florida.

Jupiter entrepreneur says arthritis therapy a winner

A brush with mortality launched Dr. Gaetano Scuderi’s career as a biotech entrepreneur. Scuderi was a prosperous orthopedic surgeon when he wrecked his motorcycle in Miami-Dade County in 2001. The accident left the surgeon with two broken hands. Unable to operate for nearly seven years, Scuderi turned his attention to Cytonics Corp., a Jupiter-based company that markets treatments for arthritis. Scuderi sees a potential blockbuster in using a protein known as alpha-2-macroglobulin, or A2M, to stop the progress of arthritis. If the biotech company wins FDA approval, demand for the product could explode, Scuderi said. “This is going to be worth billions,” Scuderi said. “This is my lottery ticket.” If Scuderi cashes in, the town of Jupiter will share in the riches. Cytonics gave a small stake to Jupiter in exchange for a $535,000 loan from the town’s biotech fund.

Grants to Florida scientists a record

First, the good news for Florida’s biotech ambitions: The state’s researchers brought in a record $521 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health in 2015, topping the previous high of $502 million in 2012. But only a fraction of those grants went to institutes recruited here as part of former Gov. Jeb Bush’s $1.5 billion bet on biotech. After dips in funding last year, Palm Beach County’s state-subsidized research labs posted strong gains in NIH grants. Scripps Florida brought in $35.9 million in 2015, up 24 percent from 2014. Palm Beach County’s other state-funded nonprofit lab, Max Planck Florida in Jupiter, received $3.6 million in 2015, a 107 percent jump from last year.

Implant maker adds 178 jobs at Gardens site

Medical implant firm Zimmer Biomet has been awarded $1.6 million in state and local tax incentives to add 178 jobs in Palm Beach Gardens. Zimmer Holdings and Biomet Inc. merged in 2015 to create Zimmer Biomet Holdings (NYSE: ZBH) of Warsaw, Ind. Biomet long has run a dental implant operation in Palm Beach Gardens. After that deal closed, the new company had to decide whether to consolidate its dental implant operations at Zimmer’s facility in Carlsbad, Calif., or Biomet’s operation in Palm Beach Gardens. Florida’s lower taxes and lower cost of living, along with the $1.6 million subsidy Florida offered, weighed heavily in the decision. That includes $1 million from the state, $350,000 from Palm Beach Gardens and $250,000 from Palm Beach County. As part of the incentive package, Zimmer Biomet promised to keep 473 jobs and create 178 new ones. The average salary is $83,000.

Riviera drug firm lines up subsidies

Fish oil maker Sancilio & Co., of Riviera Beach, plans to add 275 jobs over four years and has negotiated $3.8 million in job-creation subsidies from the state, county and city. According to the county, Sancilio will get $3 million in cash from Florida’s Quick Action Closing Fund and $825,000 in tax rebates from Florida’s Qualified Target Industry program. Sancilio promises to invest $6.5 million, keep its 149 jobs and add 275 new jobs by mid-2019. The average wage would be $57,500. The company’s fish oil pills are sold under the Ocean Blue brand at Publix, Walgreens, CVS and other retailers, and Sancilio also sells vitamins for pregnant women. The company, which uses revenues from its products to bankroll scientific research, is studying fish oil as a treatment for sickle-cell disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and short bowel disease. Those efforts are in clinical trials.

Full article from the Palm Beach Post: