The next big breakthrough is being worked on in the Gainesville region, where burgeoning life science and agriscience industries couple with superior research capabilities to spawn new investment and opportunities With access to the University of Florida, a world-class business incubator and a strong culture of developing entrepreneurs, life science and agriscience companies are growing and thriving. CTD Holdings, Inc., a family of companies based in Alachua, provides cyclodextrins - sugar molecules that carry oils that are then water-soluble - to the food, pharmaceutical, industrial chemicals and chemical supplies industries.
“I think this community is very different from any other place in terms of support of an emerging life sciences sector,” says Jeffrey Tate, president and CEO of CTD. “There are ample locations here for a company to find space to operate and, unlike some other areas, there are people cheerleading one another here to be successful. The support among the business and life science community is genuine.”
Tate says the presence of the University of Florida and a vibrant business community has created a tremendous talent pool in the region. Tate says support for life science enterprise is a statewide phenomenon as well. He sits on the board of BioFlorida, a statewide trade association for the life sciences industry representing more than 3,000 companies and research organizations. Scott Fine, chairman of CTD, says he moved to the Gainesville area from out of state because of the collegial business environment.
The University of Florida’s Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator in Alachua has been a tremendous resource for companies like CTD. The Sid Martin Incubator is one of the country’s first bio-business incubators. The 40,000-square-foot bioscience complex was created with the goal of commercializing University of Florida technologies around the life sciences. Startup and growing companies are able to use the resources and facilities of the Sid Martin complex to conduct their research and tap into expertise in a host of areas as they develop their ideas into commercially viable enterprises.
“There is a very flourishing bio-science cluster here in the region as a result of the extensive research at the University of Florida,” says Patti Breedlove, the incubator's director.
The facility is located in the heart of the 204-acre Progress Park, a hub for biotech companies.
“The facilities available for research in the biotech and life sciences here are hard to find elsewhere,” Breedlove says. “There is an exciting startup culture in Gainesville that has caused a great deal of excitement for the region.”
The agriscience sector of the region has been particularly successful. Raghaven Charudattan, a University of Florida professor, has researched ways to develop a line of biologically based, environment-friendly products for pest control. In 2003 he founded BioProdex, Inc., a biotechnology company that could commercially produce those products. BioProdex's first commercial product is a plant virus-based bioherbicide to control an invasive weed in pastures and natural areas in the United States. The technology was developed by Charudattan and his research team at the University of Florida-Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
“This region is a tremendous resource for companies like ours,” Charudattan says. “It is a great place to work and live and there is easy access to technological resources.”
Gainesville’s technology resources have also attracted new companies into the region. Coquí RadioPharmaceuticals Corp., a medical isotope company based in Coral Gables, has announced it will build a facility in Alachua County to produce Molybdenum-99. Coquí Pharma will be the first U.S. commercial producer of the medical isotope. Medical isotopes are used in a variety of medical tests, including cancer screening.
“We are truly excited about the opportunity to work with the University of Florida and Gainesville community in building this crucial facility,” says Carmen I. Bigles, president and CEO of Coquí Pharma.
Coquí says the partnership with the University of Florida Foundation in building the facility will provide opportunities for collaboration with UF engineering and medical researchers and give another boost to the biotech community in the region. The facility, expected to be completed in 2020, will employ 220 people.
“The Gainesville Region met our technical requirements for construction of this facility, but its strong biotech research community and the cooperation of state and local officials made this feel like home for us,” Bigles says.