UM Opens Its Life Science & Technology Park

South Florida’s future as a biotech hub got considerably brighter on Tuesday, when the University of Miami officially dedicated its ambitious Life Science & Technology Park, a new endeavor UM President Donna E. Shalala called “a game-changer” for Miami, the state of Florida, and beyond.

“This is more than a building,” Shalala said to a crowd of almost 300 people who gathered in the lobby of R+D Building One, the first of five buildings for the planned eight-acre park. “This is a place where education, research, and technology intersect with discovery and innovation. This is the home of future cures and treatments for some of the most vexing and chronic problems we face today.”

Situated on land once dominated by automobile yards, the six-story, 252,000-square-foot facility houses wet and dry labs, offices and lab-ready development suites, giving scientists, medical start-ups, pharmaceutical companies, and other ventures the kind of research space that will foster collaboration and create innovations. The building also won the 2011 Urban Land Institute Project of the Year Vision Award.

“A conduit for international partnerships” is how Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs, Dean of the Miller School, and CEO of UHealth – University of Miami Health System, described R+D Building One.

“This spectacular facility will enable us to move research forward into advanced treatments that will be brought to patients in South Florida, across the United States, and around the world more quickly than ever before,” said Goldschmidt.

“There’s no place that UM’s impact is felt more than in a research park,” said James R. Berens, chairman of Wexford Science + Technology, LLC, which developed the park.

During the ceremony, which attracted many government officials, prominent business executives and members of the community, College of Engineering Dean James M. Tien, Ph.D., noted that collaborations between researchers in his field and in medicine have produced engineered pluripotent stem cells that have helped create skin, muscle, bone, cartilage, blood vessels, and other tissues.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said the building will give Miami “a foothold in the biotech industry.”

From the first-floor digital mural that depicts different species and their corresponding genomic signatures to the third-floor Innovation Center that houses start-up companies, the building is the first of its kind in South Florida, “a focal point for the development of new businesses,” said Jonathan “Jack” Lord, M.D., chief innovation officer at the Miller School.

More than 60 percent of R+D One is now leased, with tenants including Andago, a Spain-based information technology company; medical device firm Emunamedica; Community Blood Centers of South Florida; medical device company DayaMed; national intellectual property law firm Novak Druce + Quigg; the Enterprise Development Corporation of South Florida; clinical research firm AdvancedPharma; and the University of Miami Tissue Bank.

“We’re ahead of schedule as far as tenants,” said Marcelo Radice, executive director of UMLSTP. The building’s third-floor Innovation Center, an accelerator space for start-ups, is almost completely leased, Radice said, noting that about 14 companies now have office space there. Pre-built laboratory and office space has allowed many of those companies to move in within 72 hours.

Abby Symonds, director of marketing and business development for AdvancedPharma, said the company is thrilled with the 20,000 square feet it has leased. “We are growing rapidly and needed more space but we also wanted amenities that will help us succeed in providing the highest level of quality and service to our clientele.”

Built by private developer Wexford Science + Technology, LLC, and located at the intersection of Northwest 20th Street and 7th Avenue, the building opens with a Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating, with features such as diffusers that dispense cool air only when needed, reducing energy consumption by up to 25 percent.

Tenants who have settled into the building have expressed excitement over their new digs. The tissue bank occupies a separate two-story structure next to the building as well as the second floor of R+D One, moving from much smaller quarters on the eighth floor of the Rosenstiel Building.

“It’s top drawer,” said H. Thomas Temple, M.D., the tissue bank director and professor and vice chair of orthopaedic surgery. “When people come in, it inspires confidence. It makes people realize that we have a lot of pride in what we’re doing.”

Speaking before Tuesday’s ceremony, Temple said the UM Brain Endowment Bank’s arrival at the building should benefit his unit, given that the two have commonalities. “One is on the recovery side,” Temple explained. “People want to donate brain tissue because the Brain Bank is an extraordinary research enterprise that’s invested in discovering ways of diagnosing and treating a number of degenerative brain conditions. By associating with the Brain Bank it helps facilitate tissue recovery as well.

“Second, we have a lot of expertise and information technology on the distribution side,” he continued. “For the brain bank to be a commercially viable entity, they need a distribution channel and a way of organizing their distribution and making it available to investigators around the world. We do that for them.”

DayaMed’s chief operating officer, Justin Daya, noted that the park was attractive for his company because of the likelihood of collaboration with cutting-edge researchers, and the “great location” that will allow easy access to international markets.

“It made a lot of sense for us to open here,” Daya said. “And so far the support from the park has been tremendous. We anticipate launching our operations here in December and expect to grow globally, all thanks to a launch platform provided by the UM Life Science & Technology Park.”

At an earlier gathering Tuesday, President Shalala and Dean Goldschmidt met on the sixth floor with Richard Bruton, Ireland’s minister for jobs, enterprise and innovation, who is on his nation’s first trade mission to the southeastern United States, specifically to explore opportunities in Georgia, North Carolina and Florida.

Hailing Ireland as a biomedical power, Dean Goldscmidt told Bruton and his delegation that the University just shot up nine points, from No. 47 to No. 38, in U.S. News & World Report’s recent rankings of the best universities in the nation, in no small measure because of the medical school’s prowess at innovation.

“That’s really extraordinary. If you want my physician’s opinion on what you call a university that goes up nine points during the recovery of an economic downturn, I call it fit — and you want to be associated with a fit university,’’ Dean Goldschmidt said. “You can imagine the discoveries that are going on in the medical school, and these discoveries will be available to patients because of the partnerships between our scientists, our physicians, and our industry partners.’’

Glad to witness UM’s “landmark day,” Bruton said he was particularly inspired by the University’s philosophy for turning a medium-sized institution into a major research powerhouse, which President Shalala summed up in two words: Don’t flinch.

“We started our big campaign to raise over $1 billion right after 9/11,’’ President Shalala told the Irish delegation. “We moved forward with this building in the beginning of an economic crisis. We believe that great cities and great universities and great countries don’t flinch. You keep moving. One way or another, you just keep moving. It’s really a question of whether you have a strategy and whether you can execute it. We believe we have a strategy and we can execute it.’’

While there are still a few loose ends to tie up (a Balans restaurant and a fitness center are planned for the first floor), R+D One has already made an impact on the Overtown community. Danielle Koping, owner of Liberty Cleaners and Laundry, will open a drop-off location on R+D One’s first floor before the end of the year, staffing the site with two new employees she plans to hire from the Overtown neighborhood. And with the additional revenue Koping expects her new drop-off location to generate, she may be able to hire additional workers for her business’s operations plant on 62nd Street at 22nd Avenue in Liberty City, where all of the washing, pressing, and folding services are performed.

“I’m from a community like this (Overtown),” said the Brooklyn-born Koping, who attended the grand opening ceremony, “and that’s why I’ve invested in it. My employees are from this area, and as my business grows, so do opportunities for them.”

Meanwhile, UM, Miami Dade College, and South Florida Workforce are rolling out a new $400,000 jobs program that will train candidates in health care and biotech fields, locating jobs for them in the UMLSTP or the surrounding Miami Health District upon completion of their training. Miami Mayor Tomas P. Regalado pledged the city’s support and praised the University for helping “change the future of Overtown.”

The master plan for the UMLSTP calls for the eventual development of roughly 1.6 million to 2 million square feet of lab and office space, making it the largest facility of its kind in South Florida. Phase one of the park is projected to create more than 1,150 direct and indirect jobs, with an additional 2,700-plus direct and indirect positions created by ongoing operations, according to a recent study by the Washington Economics Group.

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