Access to research and resources drive innovation, growth in Gainesville's life sciences sector
A host of startup resources, including business incubators and access to venture capital, combined with research and development efforts at the University of Florida have nurtured Gainesville’s thriving life sciences industry and helped launch a bevy of innovative companies involved in breakthrough products, ranging from surgical implants to orthopedic devices to biomarkers that can help detect and treat traumatic brain injuries.
One such resource is the University of Florida’s Sid Martin Biotechnology Institute, an award-winning bioscience incubator that has helped dozens of companies commercialize their research and get off the ground. Sid Martin graduates have generated more than $1.6 billion in investments and M&A activity over the past 20 years.
Among the institute’s graduates are Applied Genetics Technologies Corp., which recently announced a U.S. FDA Orphan Drug Designation for gene therapy to treat X-linked retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic condition that causes blindness. Axogen is currently marketing the Advance Nerve Grant and AxoGuard Nerve Connector for treatment of peripheral nerve injuries.
An Alachua company, Sharklet, formed from technology developed at the University of Florida, makes innovative medical products that are resistant to biofilm formation and contamination, based on the shape and pattern of actual shark skin.
“These companies are the future of health care. There are many new technologies being developed for medical treatment, aids for medical diagnosis and also for healthier agricultural products,” says Mark Long, director of the Sid Martin Biotechnology Institute. “That’s the tremendous power of the University of Florida research enterprise at work – the new inventions cover everything from biotechnology and pharmaceutical products, to medical instruments, bioengineering products, and bioagricultural inventions. UF is a key partner in improving health care now, and in the future.”
Breeding Ground for Breakthroughs
The University of Florida has one of the largest R&D portfolios in life sciences in the country, and the Office of Technology Licensing at UF is third in the nation in terms of intellectual property management and licensing. The scientists and researchers at UF are on the cutting edge of new discoveries in life sciences, forming new companies, licensing new technologies and providing a wealth of information to new and existing companies.
Exatech, a developer and producer of bone and joint restoration products and biologic solutions for extremities, has a long-standing and multi-faceted relationship with the UF. Exactech was founded by an orthopedic surgeon and a biomedical engineer who had been faculty and researcher colleagues at the university. The company maintains strong ties to the university’s orthopedic surgeons and researchers who collaborate with Exactech engineers on the development and clinical review of the company’s knee, hip and shoulder replacement implants and surgical instrumentation.
Life science companies, such as RTI Surgical, Invivo, Nannotherapeutics and Exactech, also benefit from the university’s transfer of talent.
“We estimate that we have hired nearly 100 UF grads over the years in areas such as engineering, finance and accounting, legal, marketing and business professionals to name a few,” says Priscilla Bennett-Jones, vice president of corporate and marketing communication for Exactech. “We also benefit from a constant influx of new ideas and fresh perspectives from classes and interns who take on assignments with the company, and they gain exposure to a fast-growing, international company.”
Bennett-Jones says Gainesville as a community has played a significant role in the company’s success.
“Exactech has enjoyed more than three decades of success in Gainesville, thanks to the welcoming partnerships and strong support of our community and business partners. It’s a great place to do business, raise a family and enjoy the beautiful environment,” she says. “We maintain a remarkably low employee turnover rate, which speaks not only to our strong, values-driven company culture but also to the benefits of living and working in Gainesville.”