December 2009

Burnham Institute Touches Down in Orlando

Somewhat surprisingly, despite having the fourth-largest state population, four major metropolitan areas and several large universities and hospitals, Florida never has been a major player in biotech. Burnham associate professor Masanobu Komatsu, who completed his undergraduate, graduate and first postdoctoral work at the University of Miami, saw that firsthand. “I really liked the area. It’s where I met my wife, and I didn’t want to leave, but at that time Florida didn’t offer much of a career future in cancer research.”

Burnham Ceremony
The Burnham Institute is officially welcomed to Orlando at an Oct. 8 dedication ceremony. Pictured, from left to right:, Orlando mayor John Hugh "Buddy" Dyer, Orange County mayor Richard T. Crotty, Burnham president & CEO John C. Reed, the Tavistock Group's Rasesh Thakkar, Lake Nona scientific director Daniel Kelly, Burnham trustees chair Malin Burnham  and Florida governor Charlie Crist.

Bush hoped to change such perceptions, and he drew inspiration from another sunny, tourist-driven location: San Diego, which gradually had built up a vibrant biotechnology industry, basically starting from scratch. It most certainly would be a risky proposal, but it would be one with high reward potential. A successful biotech cluster would create thousands of jobs, generate tremendous revenue and increase Florida’s intellectual capital. So, the state began wooing the best in biotech to its sunny shores.

And, although the Burnham Institute for Medical Research was not the first to set foot in Florida— that honor actually would go to its neighbor in La Jolla, the Scripps Research Institute— its arrival is part of Florida’s most ambitious recruiting effort to date. While other biotechnology hubs like San Diego and Boston took decades to fully develop, Orlando hopes to jump-start the biotech boom by quickly attracting multiple established institutes, as opposed to untested startups, to a ready-to-develop 600-acre site in southeastern Orlando near Lake Nona known as “Medical City.”

And the cornerstone of this city would be the Burnham Institute for Medical Research.

***

From its origins as a research center aimed at understanding the development of cancer, Burnham has built up a scientific mission of tackling disease via fundamental discovery and innovative technology, whether through its continued work as a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, or other areas, such as infectious and inflammatory disease, neuroscience and stem-cell research.

That disease-driven mission will continue to be represented in Orlando, although, like any sibling, this site also will find its own identity by pursuing an avenue of research that is complementary to research at the La Jolla institute: understanding metabolism and how it relates to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. “This new center is thematically distinct, which gives us a reason to be,” explains Burnham at Lake Nona scientific director Daniel P. Kelly, “but our studies also extensively cross-cut with Burnham’s other themes, which lets the two campuses stay connected.”

The Lake Nona institute will be headlined by the Diabetes and Obesity Research Center, which is composed of two distinct programs: the metabolic signaling and disease program and the cardiovascular pathobiology program. In turn, the research carried out by those two programs will be supported by several advanced technology platforms, such as high-throughput small-molecule screening, genomics, metabolomics, medicinal chemistry and pharmacology. Some of the technologies, like medicinal chemistry, are extensions of platforms that Burnham has in La Jolla, while others, like genomics, were developed to complement Lake Nona’s research areas. Two platforms, though, were developed specifically to give this new center a unique feel.

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