Under the Microscope (Maddux Business Report Cover Story)

A close look at two potentially huge research deals. Details as to how they came about have been widely publicized, but there’s more. Like what will it take for them to succeed?

By Bob Andelman
Maddux Business Report
July 2007
Cover Story

Tampa Bay’s boosters could tout existing biotech and marine science clusters in the Tampa Bay area until they were blue in the face before some skeptics would ever take them seriously. But as 2006 drew to a close, two blockbuster developments suddenly made yesterday’s homers seem positively prescient.

Merck & Co., Inc., the $113-billion global pharmaceutical manufacturer, announced in December 2006 the beginning of a partnership between its Rosetta Inpharmatics subsidiary and Tampa’s H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute to conduct gene expression studies.

But as big a noise as that made, it was actually the second major research affiliation announced around that time.

The first, that Menlo Park, California-based SRI International would absorb the Center for Ocean Technology at the University of South Florida and create a new marine science technology division in St. Petersburg, was equally monumental.

“These deals reflect what we’ve been preaching,” says Stuart Rogel, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, “We have a strong, robust and developing research community within the university and cancer center. There are smart people there doing important things for the world we live in. In the case of Merck, it’s a large research project that might lead to drug discovery and commercial applications. But it has a tremendous research application for Moffitt. And with SRI, it’s a matter of transferring the technology within USF that can create viability entities and opportunities. We’re excited to have them both here.

“This is a start, not an ending point,” he says. “The goal is to fulfill the promise that these deals represent and make sure we continue to grow the technology presence in the Tampa Bay region. These two major successes give us visibility and recognition.”

That view is shared in Washington, D.C., as well, where Under Secretary of Commerce for Technology Robert Cresanti is well versed in developments here in the bay area; he was at USF in February.

“I think it is a hallmark of your area to attract companies like that, through the investments the state has made,” Cresanti says. “These guys have access to equipment in Florida that they wouldn’t have elsewhere. It’s fascinating, the research that’s going on at Moffitt in particular. There is a breakthrough just around the corner that will make the quantity and quality of life significantly improved. We’re going to see cancer as a manageable disease and not a death sentence.”

Neither the dust nor the dollars have settled in either partnership yet, but the imaginations of regional research, technology and economic development communities are in overdrive.

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Copyright 2007 Will Eisner: A Spirited Life by Bob Andelman