December 2009

Jupiter Rising

Familiar Neighbors

While both Burnham and Scripps are focused inward, and are making sure their new centers can be the best they can be, neither is blind to the fact that the other also has set up shop in Florida. So, will this development add a new layer to a spirited biomedical rivalry? The directors of the institutes share their thoughts:

Burnham at Lake Nona scientific director Daniel P. Kelly:
Well, I think in many ways Scripps and Burnham are both beginning to establish their own ecosystems here in Florida. Both institutes have pushed for a strong translational element. Scripps has focused on a fundamental drug-discovery theme. While Burnham has drug-discovery platforms, it is moving toward a translational medicine theme by partnering with regional health systems. This could set the stage for highly productive collaborative interactions between the institutes. 

Scripps Florida operations director Harry Orf:
Will Scripps researchers be competing for grants and awards with people at Burnham, Torrey Pines and even nearby Max Planck? Sure. At the same time, though, having these other institutes here opens up tremendous opportunities; imagine how strong a joint Scripps-Max Planck grant application would be. And, in the big picture, having more Florida centers is a good thing; as they say, a rising tide raises all boats.

Much like the relationship between the two Burnham centers, Scripps Florida will share the same mission as its parental institute but also stake out its own identity. Of the six research departments at Scripps Florida— cancer biology, chemistry, infectology, metabolism and aging, molecular therapeutics and neuroscience— all but chemistry were established specifically for the Florida center, and the departmental chair and a majority of researchers for those five departments resides in Florida. Most departments, however, do have faculty members on each coast and, as a result, several major grants at Scripps are true bicoastal collaborations.

Despite such similarities, though, Orf stresses that Scripps Florida is not a clone. “While we still pursue basic biomedical research, the funding we received from the state allowed us to try something new, so we established cutting-edge technology cores, which we used to create a therapeutic discovery platform here at Florida,” he says.

Those cores consist of advanced technology components, featuring emerging tools like genomics, proteomics, cell-based screening, flow cytometry and a drug discovery platform with several screening and pharmacology technologies, including a Kalypsys robotic system that can screen more than 1 million compounds in 24 hours.

Together, they comprise Scripps’ Translational Research Institute— sort of a center within a center— that works with the basic research arm to develop new lead compounds to fight disease. “This translational component lets our researchers take their projects further than they could most anywhere else,” says Griffin, who has joint duty as head of the TRI.

Interestingly, of the various technology platforms Scripps had intended to develop as part of the TRI, the one that it eventually lagged on— bioimaging— proved to be a blessing. As the anchor for biotech development in South Florida, Scripps was expected to help bring in other scientific entities to the area, and soon Lerner found out that an institute well known for imaging— the Max Planck Institute— was interested in building a new facility.

As a recruiting effort, Lerner convinced Max Planck President Peter Gruss and his scientific directors to visit Jupiter for a two-day symposium. “At first, they were convinced that any American expansion had to be in Boston, San Diego or someplace like that. But, by dinner the first night, Gruss said his directors had done a complete 180 and told him Max Planck had to build their new center here.

“That was a big win for us,” Orf adds. “Not only does it give us a perfect institution to complement our research and technology strengths, but it legitimizes this area as a science hub.”

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