December 2009

Burnham Institute Touches Down in Orlando

The pace of hiring has been extremely rapid, with 14 of an anticipated 30 lead scientist positions already filled since Burnham first agreed to expand to Orlando back in August 2006. Kelly attributes that pace partially to luck, partially to Burnham’s existing reputation and partially to his nature. “I don’t want a sparsely populated building, you know, because the technology cores need collaborators to get up and running,” he says. “So I’ve been hard on the recruitment trail.”

The location certainly helps as well: “I grew up in Wisconsin and was always a Midwest guy, so Florida was always the least likely area I thought I would live in,” Kelly says. But he adds that for others, such as empty-nesters or people with children, Florida has a sort of magnetic appeal.

Osborne is a prime example. Tenured and quite content at Irvine, he initially came to visit with his wife out of curiosity and professional courtesy, but he was quickly won over. “Everyone we met, none of whom knew us from Adam, was amazingly friendly and treated us so well, and the facilities were amazing,” he says. “To put it simply, we were just floored.”

***

While Burnham received a generous start-up package from state, local, and private groups, Kelly acknowledges that, in the long term, Burnham at Lake Nona cannot be sustainable purely on the National Institutes of Health funding received by its scientists.

University of Central Florida
The University of Central Florida’s brand new medical school is just one of several buildings set to join Burnham in Medical City.

For its continued success, and the success of Florida biotech, it’ll need philanthropy and business interests, and therefore productive partnerships with universities, hospitals and companies. Fortunately, buoyed by Burnham’s early commitment, Medical City will provide many partnership opportunities; already, the University of Central Florida is nearing completion of its brand new medical school just down the road from Burnham, while Nemours Children’s Hospital, the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Orlando and the University of Florida also have agreed to build facilities there.

But while the presence of a life science cluster at Lake Nona will be extremely beneficial, Burnham also has undertaken a forward-looking model to ensure its research effort is maximized.

That’s where Gardell comes in. In his specialized role as director of translational research resources, he oversees Burnham’s two flagship high-technology platforms— metabolomics and cardiometabolic phenotyping— and assists researchers in shepherding their projects toward clinical utility, which in turn, he believes, will further Burnham’s mission. “Translational research is a circular process,” he says. “It involves bench-to-bedside— and bedside-to-bench research pursuits. Discoveries made in the clinics must feed back to guide basic research. This is a critical component of overall success.”

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