NIH data dive: Are Florida biotechs too spread out? One scientist says yes

Moving truck at VGTI Florida's Port St. Lucie lab in 2015. The institute failed last year. Photo by Jeff Ostrowski/The Palm Beach Post

Moving truck at VGTI Florida’s Port St. Lucie lab in 2015. The institute failed last year. Photo by Jeff Ostrowski/The Palm Beach Post

Did Florida err by spreading its biotech bet across the state, rather than concentrating its chips in one or two metro areas? Scripps Florida researcher Michael Farzan thinks so.

Farzan faulted an approach that created “science islands” scattered throughout state, from Miami to St. Petersburg, with stops in Jupiter, Port St. Lucie and Orlando. Clustering the nonprofit labs more closely would have been a wiser strategy, he said.

Florida’s effort to buy its way onto the national science scene has proceeded in fits and starts. The Burnham Institute, which received $311 million in state and local money to expand to Orlando, is pulling out. VGTI Florida failed despite $120 million from the state and the city of Port St. Lucie. The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory in St. Petersburg also closed last year; it received $30 million from taxpayers.

“Those kind of failures were cooked into the way the research institutes were distributed across the state,” Farzan said. “As a consequence, some of the weaker institutes failed.”

A map of NIH grants by county illustrates the point. Florida’s two capitals of NIH funding — Gainesville and Coral Gables — are more than 300 miles apart.

 

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