tampabay.com

USF lands $8M biotech grant

By KRIS HUNDLEY and DONNA WINCHESTER
Published November 17, 2006


PENSACOLA - In a coup for the bay area's biotech push, Florida's board of governors voted Thursday to give the University of South Florida in Tampa $8-million for a Center of Excellence in Biomolecular Identification and Targeted Therapeutics.

Though the grant was the biggest of six awarded, which divvied up $30-million in state funds, it came in below USF's request of $10.5-million and a subcommittee's recommendation of $10-million for the project. Nonetheless, USF President Judy Genshaft welcomed the news.

"This is absolutely huge," she said of the project. "It will be the first Center of Excellence for USF. The fact that we were No. 1 on the board of governors' list of proposals is really significant."

Other awards went to Florida Atlantic University $5-million for a Center of Excellence in Ocean Energy Technology; University of Florida ($4.5-million for its Institute for Sustainable Energy and $4-million for a Center for Nano-Bio Sensors); University of Central Florida ($4.5-million for its Florida Photonics Center of Excellence) and Florida State University ($4-million for its Center of Excellence in Advanced Materials).

With the state's money spread among so many players, USF will have to find a way to fill the shortfall between its requested amount and the board's award.

"We'll have to make some adjustments," Genshaft said on Thursday. "There is a threshold at which point we would not be able to do the project. We're at that threshold with $8-million. But we'll make it work."

The proposal for USF's center was a collaborative effort involving biology, chemistry, engineering and medicine. USF worked with Hillsborough Community College, St. Petersburg College and Hillsborough County along with Biovest International Inc., a Worcester, Mass., biotech company that hopes to cooperate on research and development efforts with the new USF center.

"They all stepped up to demonstrate their commitment and partnership," said Genshaft, who said the center would generate 300 high-paying jobs immediately and 1,200 down the road.

Dr. Steve Arikian, chief executive of Biovest, said the center will be a "great fit" with his company's projects. Biovest, a subsidiary of Accentia Biopharmaceuticals Inc. of Tampa, has developed a portable bioreactor, the Auto-VaxID, that it calls a "clean-room in a box."

Though the device was designed initially for the manufacture of Biovest's vaccines, the company thinks it could used in other kinds of research. USF's new center, Arikian said, would be a perfect place for further development.

Biovest and Accentia are also working with Tampa and Hillsborough County on a separate but related project. Biovest would like to build a factory to make its vaccines in Tampa near USF. That deal, which would involve unspecified public financial incentives for the company, is still being negotiated.

Arikian said Biovest's first vaccines, targeting one type of lymphoma, are pending FDA approval and could begin production by mid 2007.

"It behooves us to move forward and get something done," Arikian said. "We could be right out there with Moffitt, USF and the Center of Excellence. That's where our employees could potentially come from."

Kris Hundley can be reached at hundley@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2996. Donna Winchester can be reached at winchester@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8413.