September 28, 2023
Building on the Past
FIU wants to make Torrey Pines a research center within the university.

Photo: Michael Price

Building on the Past
VGTI occupied its facility in Port St. Lucie for just two years before failing.

Photo: Steven Martine

Health Care/Biomed

Cleveland Clinic and FIU are latest to scoop up labs that Florida spent millions to recruit

Mike Vogel | 7/26/2019

Cleveland Clinic is poised to become the third established Florida player to scoop up the pieces of a troubled life sciences recruit the state and local governments spent millions to lure to the state.

The hospital system says it’s in the exploratory stages of a deal to take over the Port St. Lucie building occupied for just two years by the failed Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute, the offshoot of the Oregon Health & Science University.

Florida began a life sciences recruitment spree in 2003 with the $310-million bid to convince California’s Scripps Research Institute to open Scripps Florida. At the time, the state’s existing universities and life science researchers quietly wondered why the money instead wasn’t being spent to bolster their own efforts. The state and locals put out $300 million to get California’s Sanford Burnham to open in Central Florida, $94 million for Germany’s Max Planck to open in Jupiter and, in Port St. Lucie, more than $120 million on VGTI and $90 million for Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies. Of them all, only Scripps Florida and Max Planck have thrived.

In 2016, the University of Central Florida took over the facilities of Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, seven years after its Central Florida campus opened. VGTI’s custom 100,000-sq.-ft. home opened in 2013 and closed two years later. Torrey Pines has struggled financially.

Now, Florida International University, based in Sweetwater in Miami-Dade, is talking about absorbing Torrey Pines as a specialized research center within the university. The two institutions have a history of collaborating on research. In June, the city gave the necessary approvals of the transfer of the building and its ground lease to FIU. FIU’s trustees and the state public universities’ Board of Governors must approve the deal. “The reason we are seeking a partnership with Torrey Pines is because it will be mutually beneficial,” says Andres Gil, FIU’s vice president for research and economic development and dean of the university graduate school. “For FIU, Torrey Pines offers laboratory facilities that are critical to FIU’s continued research growth. For Torrey Pines, becoming part of a top research university will allow it to succeed in its mission and expand its research.”

Meanwhile, Cleveland Clinic says it signed a letter of intent with an undisclosed international biotech company to found a biomed research institute in the vacated city-built research lab that housed VGTI. Like VGTI, the new Cleveland Clinic venture will focus on vaccines and immunotherapy with potential treatments for cancer, neuroscience, infectious diseases and allergies.


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