Nova Southeastern University (NSU) has been changing the landscape of higher education since it was founded more than 50 years ago. Today, NSU one step closer to fulfilling its vision to be the South Florida destination for health care education thanks to two new financial gifts.
Lawrence Toll, Ph.D., a renowned scientist whose research focuses on the management of pain and drug addiction through pharmacology and new drug discovery, recently joined Florida Atlantic University as a professor in the Department of Biomedical Science in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine and as an investigator in the FAU Brain Institute. Toll is FAU’s first recruit under the 21st Century World Class Scholars Program established by the state of Florida.
The Scripps Research Institute, one of the world’s top biomedical centers, will receive tens of millions of dollars to support students in its graduate program, the institute announced Tuesday. The huge donation comes from foundations established by the Skaggs family, longtime institute benefactors.
Dr. Alphonso Baldwin has been named the new dean of health sciences at Palm Beach State College.
As misery spread coast to coast and cubicle to cubicle this flu season, folklore that frigid weather can cause the widespread woe carried as efficiently as the virus itself.
While Palm Beach County’s jump from mild to moderate flu activity coincided with cold snaps brought to South Florida this month by three arctic blasts, frosty temperatures alone do not infect all those without a hat and scarf with fever and chills.
Still, weather’s tie to the flu — and the less terrorizing common cold — is not wholly fairy tale.
Humidity levels, humans huddled in heated homes or air-conditioned offices, and birds flying south for the winter all contribute to the reach of the flu virus, which is widespread in every state except Hawaii and has reached epidemic proportions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the Florida Department of Health, an estimated 2,900 people have died from pneumonia or influenza statewide this flu season. There were also two flu-related pediatric deaths statewide.
The total deaths this year are similar to the same time period the past two flu seasons: 2,988 in 2017, 2,824 in 2016. But is below the more devastating 2015 season when 3,373 people had died statewide of pneumonia or influenza by mid-January.
Palm Beach County is among five counties statewide that have reported five or more flu outbreaks. About 94 percent of outbreaks statewide have been in facilities serving people at a higher risk for the flu, such as nursing homes or daycare facilities. The most at-risk populations are people 65 years of age or older and children.
“The idea about cold weather being connected to catching the flu is an old and imprecise concept,” said Dr. John Lednicky, a research professor at the University of Florida’s College of Public Health and Health Professions. “I try to explain this all the time. There is some truth, and a lot of non-truth.”
Part of what’s true works in favor of sub-tropical South Florida.
To avoid the flu, humidity helps
High humidity can deter the spread of the flu because water in the air encapsulates airborne viruses, making them heavy, and causing them to fall to the ground more quickly. When temperatures are colder, with low humidity, airborne virus particles set adrift by a cough, sneeze, conversation or even breathing can stay mobile much longer, Lednicky said.
Warm temperatures can also cause a virus-carrying mucus droplet to evaporate before making it to its next victim.
“Once the droplet evaporates, it is no longer infectious,” said Mike Farzan, chair professor in the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter.
But when it’s hot and humid, humans go indoors seeking air-conditioning, which removes humidity from the air, creating artificial conditions that are good for spreading the flu.
Florida health officials noted that in the second week of this month, people seeking medical attention for influenza-related illnesses — fever at or above 100 degrees, sore throat and cough — rose sharply and was above levels observed during the previous three seasons at this time.
“Sixty percent of our patient volume has been flu-related,” said Dr. Kyle Petersen, of American Family Care in Loxahatchee Groves. “This is one of the worst flu seasons in recent years.”
Petersen said whether seeking shelter from heat, or cold, people in close quarters also act as effective flu-propagators.
“If you’re up north, and there’s a blizzard, it’s harder to avoid someone who is sick because you’re all brought together,” Petersen said. “A flu virus can live up to a week on a doorknob in colder weather.”
Lednicky said cold temperatures can be more directly tied to catching the flu if someone is outside breathing in cool air, which can irritate or damage the lungs, making them more susceptible to respiratory viruses.
Blame the birds
Birds infected with a strain of the flu migrating south for the winter will bring the virus with them. Lednicky said this is particularly a problem in countries where farming is not operated with bio-security in mind and birds and pigs routinely mix, sharing viruses.
“We try to keep the pigs away from birds and sick humans,” Lednicky said. “That doesn’t happen in the less-funded large swine operations in other countries.”
The idea that cold temperatures alone can cause someone to be sick goes back hundreds of years.
A 2002 paper from Cardiff University in the United Kingdom notes: “The common cold is often said to occur after ‘going outside with damp hair,’ ‘getting one’s feet wet,’ and ‘getting caught in the rain.’”
But the theories have “received no support from laboratory studies.”
Tim O’Connor, spokesman for the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County, said South Florida flu activity often peaks between mid-February and mid-March – later than most of the country and coinciding with tourist season.
“The key to all of this, if there is someone who is sick, it’s best not to be around that person, especially in a confined room,” Lednicky said. “If cold weather caused the flu, you would have people in northern climates lying in bed all year because it’s cold and that doesn’t happen.”
JUPITER, FL – January 16, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) – Dyadic International, Inc. (“Dyadic”) (OTCQX: DYAI), a global biotechnology company focused on further improving and applying its proprietary C1 gene expression platform to speed up the development and production of biologic vaccines and drugs at flexible commercial scales, today announced that it has entered into a research and development collaboration with the Israel Institute for Biological Research (“IIBR”) to further advance its C1 expression platform for the development and manufacture of recombinant vaccines and neutralizing agents comprising targeted antigens and monoclonal antibodies, to combat emerging diseases and threats.
Boca Raton, Fla. – January 16, 2018 – Specialty-specific health information technology leader, Modernizing Medicine, Inc., announces that its customer success team has been named the 2017 Customer Success Team of the Year in the SIIA Company CODiE Awards. The Customer Success Team of the Year category recognizes the team that has significantly contributed to the success of their organization through innovation, creating a customer-centric culture and going above and beyond to directly impact the success of their customers. The CODiE Awards are the only peer-reviewed awards of their kind and, for over 30 years, have recognized thousands of software, information and education technology companies for achieving excellence in products and services.
Scripps Florida on Friday announced its second spinoff company of the young year, although this startup has a different flavor than the venture-backed company the institute announced last week. The latest company, Calm Therapeutics, will seek a cure for Prader-Willi Syndrome, an uncommon genetic disease that causes children to overeat. While Scripps Florida spinoff Expansion Therapeutics launched with $55 million in backing from blue-chip venture capital funds, Calm Therapeutics has no VC and will remain part of Scripps for now.
Scripps Florida on Friday announced its second spinoff company of the young year, although this startup has a different flavor than the venture-backed company the institute announced last week.
The latest company, Calm Therapeutics, will seek a cure for Prader-Willi Syndrome, an uncommon genetic disease that causes children to overeat.
While Scripps Florida spinoff Expansion Therapeutics launched with $55 million in backing from blue-chip venture capital funds, Calm Therapeutics has no VC and will remain part of Scripps for now.
“We’re going to essentially run the company without hiring an external team,” said Matt Tremblay, vice president for technology development at the Scripps Research Institute. “We’re going to use the employees and capabilities we have built up at Scripps.”
Calm Therapeutics is backed by Josilyn’s Faith Foundation for Prader-Willi Syndrome Inc., a Palm Beach Gardens nonprofit. The startup is working on a potential drug to treat the insatiable hunger experienced by people with Prader-Willi.
Scripps hopes that by holding onto spinoffs longer in the drug development process, it can hang onto more of the revenues the company ultimately generates.
“We like this theme of taking drug development into our own hands,” Tremblay said.
Meanwhile, Doug Bingham, Scripps’ executive vice president, is looking for the institute’s royalty pipeline could turn on soon.
“We have some very significant royalties that are coming due in the next two years,” Bingham said.
If the new drug ozanimod achieves blockbuster status, it could generate tens of millions of dollars a year in royalties for Scripps — and provide relief from the ongoing financial challenges facing the nonprofit lab.
Scripps won’t say how much it stands to receive from sales of ozanimod, a drug that slows brain atrophy in patients with multiple sclerosis. Scripps discovered the drug, then partnered with Celgene to shepherd the medicine through clinical trials. The biopharmaceutical company expects to begin marketing the drug to MS patients in late 2018.
Celgene (Nasdaq: CELG) also is testing ozanimod as a treatment for ulcerative colitis, which is more common than MS. If ozanimod wins approval as a medicine for the intestinal disorder, sales could reach $4 billion to $6 billion a year.
Scripps says its royalty arrangement with Celgene is confidential.
Meanwile, Bingham reiterated the mantra that biotech requires patience. Former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2003 launched a billion-dollar investment in biotech, a bet meant to transform Florida’s notoriously low-wage economy.
“The research endeavor is a long-term game — it’s a long game, it’s not a short game,” Bingham said. “People who thought we were going to march in here and start spinning out companies right and left in the first year are misinformed about what it takes to do that.”
Bingham is moving from San Diego to Jupiter, and he said house-hunting here is harder than he expected. Twice, he has been beaten by bidders who made all-cash, full-price offers.
“This is like California-esque,” Bingham said.