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Scripps, IBM forge deal to take on viruses

Project Check-mate will combine the institute's expertise with the computer giant's super-computing capacity.

Published February 17, 2006

Two days after Palm Beach County commissioners voted on a permanent site for Scripps Florida, the research institute reminded the public why it came to the state: to do science.

Scripps and IBM Corp. said Thursday they are collaborating on research to find ways to contain pandemic flu viruses, including the potential global threat from avian influenza.

The effort, called Project Check-mate, will combine IBM's super-computing capacity with the research expertise of Scripps' infectious disease scientists in Florida. Dr. Richard Lerner, Scripps' president, said the collaboration will accelerate research into genetic variations of a virus and responses from the host immune system.

"Having the opportunity to work with IBM's talent and technology makes possible the concept of modeling and simulating a virus with the ultimate goal of containment," Lerner said.

The effort comes when the spread of bird flu, which has killed at least 91 people worldwide, is of growing concern.

Outbreaks that began in mid 2003 in Southeast Asia have spread to parts of Europe.

Gov. Jeb Bush, who was in Boca Raton for the announcement, praised the effort between Scripps and IBM. "It is exactly the type of advanced research and talent we want to attract to the state of Florida," he said.

Although it puts the focus back on science, the partnership will not generate the kind of immediate economic effect Bush predicted when he earmarked $369-million in state money in 2003 to bring Scripps to Florida.

The work will not bolster IBM's work force in Boca Raton, which is about 1,500, down from nearly 10,000 in the early 1990s. An IBM spokeswoman said the work will be done using technology at the company's Yorktown Heights, N.Y., research park.

"This is going to be a virtual team," said IBM spokeswoman Gretchen McWhorter, who described the project as a collaboration of resources, not cash.

This isn't the first scientific partnership for Scripps Florida. Its researchers have been working with Florida State University's National High Magnetic Field Laboratory for more than a year. Their work, which analyzes the way drugs bind to proteins, could speed the delivery of new drugs and improve existing ones.

Scripps has about 176 scientists and support staff working in temporary labs on Florida Atlantic University's Abacoa campus in Jupiter. On Tuesday, Palm Beach County commissioners ended a controversy by choosing Jupiter as the site for Scripps' permanent facility. The county has agreed to spend more than $200-million building Scripps' Florida campus.

Despite the commissioners' vote, at least one state legislator is holding out hope Scripps will leave Palm Beach County. Sen. Michael Bennett, R-Bradenton, is calling for Scripps to move to Babcock Ranch, 74,000 acres in southwest Florida the state has agreed to buy for $310-million.

"We save Babcock. We save Mecca. We save $300-million from Florida Forever trust fund," Bennett said. "And for Scripps, we don't create them a campus. We're going to build them a brand-new city."

Information from wire stories was used in this report. Kris Hundley can be reached at or 727 892-2996.

[Last modified February 17, 2006, 02:15:35]

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