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Business of Medicine: 'It’s an exciting time for the life sciences in Florida'

Friday, April 5, 2019   (0 Comments)
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Business of Medicine: 'It’s an exciting time for the life sciences in Florida' 


By Jeff Zbar  – Correspondent, South Florida Business Journal

Apr 5, 2019, 6:00am EDT

When Nancy K. Bryan arrived as president and CEO of BioFlorida in 2013, she brought a career in commercial life sciences involving primary care, biologics and specialty markets.

Whether with major pharmaceutical companies like Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, or specialty pharmaceuticals and startup biotech firms, she developed, launched and commercialized such household names as Zantac and Levitra; major biologics like Tysabri; and “orphan drugs” for rare diseases, like Valstar for bladder cancer and Supprelin LA for central precocious puberty.

In this interview, Bryan explores the state’s growing biotech and health care space – and how pharmaceutical R&D companies, technology firms, universities, investors and South Florida’s growing population have turned itinto a leading biotech market.

You came to Florida from New Jersey. What made you think this would be a good place for you to be? Prior to this position, I had over 25 years of experience in the industry with major biopharmaceutical companies and startup biotech. Having the opportunity to head up BioFlorida was particularly attractive, as it gave me a way to leverage my experience and help support the growing ecosystem in Florida.

Six years later, how has that worked out? It’s really exceeded my expectations. I’m really impressed, not only with the progress of the industry, but with the potential for innovation and growth, both statewide and in South Florida. It’s an exciting time for the life sciences in Florida. It’s a strong and major economic driver of the state. Data shows that the industry now consists of nearly 6,200 establishments and research organizations that support 87,000 direct and 290,000 total jobs in Florida, and contributes $31 billion in economic impact. We’re seeing growth that is outpacing the nation – double-digit growth in the research and biopharmaceutical sector, and Florida’s total industry employment is growing at almost twice as fast as it is nationwide.

South Florida has biotech companies, health care technology firms, and universities. What did you see when you arrived – as far as how the sector collaborates – and how has that changed? There’s significant collaboration throughout the state. If you look at it in total, it’s an ecosystem all working together and including your biopharmaceutical and medical technology companies. We have world-class research universities and hospitals, and you also have some of the nation’s most highly regarded research institutes [including Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience and Scripps Florida], incubators and accelerators. They all work together to form that life sciences ecosystem. The assets in the state of Florida and South Florida are really impressive. If you look at the research being done in the institutes, as well as the universities, there’s a lot of promising technology, a lot of research being done inunmet needs including cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes that will make a significant impact.

Specific to South Florida, what areas of biotech are strongest – and what’s up and coming? In the South Florida market, it’s very diverse. You’ve got your established medical technology and you’ve got your more emerging research in regenerative medicine, oncology and neurosciences. South Florida is also strong in marine biotechnology. And then, if we’re looking at the other side of the spectrum, the more established commercial side, South Florida attracts Latin America headquarters, and it also has an emerging health innovation sector, including what I refer to as health IT, supporting the hospitals. You’ve got lots of different factors working together. You’ve got the medical technology side that is looking at different ways to reduce pain, for example. That’s supplemented by some of the ongoing research on opioid substitutes and methods for reducing addiction.

We have a large population, from children to seniors, so how is the sector touching all components of the health care continuum? One of the reasons why Florida is one of the leaders in clinical trial providers is because of the population of this state. The disease population, the elderly, but also healthy volunteers. Florida is No. 2 in the nation for clinical trial providers. Another area of expertise in the South Florida region is RNA technology that’s looking at disease areas like muscular dystrophy, which could be a real breakthrough therapy. There have been a lot of examples of recent growth spanning from research to commercialization. Just recently, we’ve seen FDA approvals from TherapeuticsMD, which is a leading women’s health company; Catalyst Pharmaceuticals, an orphan drug company; and Sensus Healthcare, which recently introduced a robotic radiation oncology system. These products and technology can be transformative.

You alluded a moment ago to the education side. Health care networks and providers stress the importance of education for keeping the workforce robust, but also having graduate students and interns. Some employers fear a “brain drain” of graduates leaving the market. How would you characterize the education/workforce opportunities here and the collaborative nature between them? How have they changed since your arrival? We call that the myth. The talent does exist within the state. What everyone has to work hard on is actually matching the talent. BioFlorida takes a role in that. We have a program called Career Connections, and we do that in South Florida. We will be introducing other programs in the Gainesville and Tampa regions, as well, where we try to highlight the opportunities that are available within the state for the folks who are here.

Some entrepreneurs have said investors have overlooked opportunities here in Florida. How would you characterize the investment market? The investment opportunities are plentiful in South Florida. The whole ecosystem is built on the legacy of companies like Coulter, Cordis and Ivax. And if you combine that with the university and institute R&D base and the local CEO talent, I think you have lots of good opportunities in Florida to invest. If you look at the data in 2017 and 2018, South Florida boasted noteworthy life science deals. What we’ve seen in the past few years is that there’s a growing momentum and an interest in investment in Florida life sciences. … We’re seeing an increased angel group within the state and increase participation. You have the Innovation Summit in Tampa Bay, and angel groups like Florida Next and Florida Funders. You have eMerge Americas, which is hosted in South Florida. So I think you’re seeing more of an interest in investments in Florida.

What excites you about this market? What excites me is the fact that there is such significant potential to leverage the existing ecosystem to continue the momentum and drive future growth. And the impact of that serves not only to benefit in terms of economic contribution, but it will bring treatment advances to improve the lives of patients worldwide. That’s why we’re all here: to make a difference in and improve the health of people. We’re really establishing Florida as a life-science hub.


About BioFlorida

BioFlorida is the voice of Florida's life sciences industry, representing 6,700 establishments and research organizations in the BioPharma, MedTech, HealthIT & BioAg that collectively employ nearly 94,000 Floridians.