Work on bioprocessing center could start in June


Published: Thursday, May 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2003 at 11:43 p.m.

Work could begin as early as June on a multimillion dollar processing facility in Alachua that would benefit the region's biotechnology industry, pending a final state approval of the project.

The University of Florida's plan to create a "bioprocessing" center in Progress Corporate Park is still waiting for the state's go-ahead, but $10 million in state money already has been approved and terms have been settled for a purchase of two buildings that would house the facility. Sheldon Schuster, director of UF's biotechnology program, detailed the project on Wednesday for members of the Gainesville Area Innovation Network (GAIN).

"There is an incredible shortage of facilities capable of performing this work," Schuster told a crowd of about 100 at the Sheraton Gainesville Hotel. "At the same time, there's a growing demand for research."

The project was made possible through a program created last year by Gov. Jeb. Bush. The "centers of excellence" initiative was designed to boost the state's high-tech employment and research efforts at state universities.

The bioprocessing center would serve the needs of the region's biotechnology companies, most of which lack the capacity to test and produce their products. The local facility would specialize in regenerative health biotechnology, which includes gene therapy, tissue replacement and other methods designed to fight disease and essentially repair the body's systems.

A tentative deal has been reached for UF to purchase a pair of buildings formerly occupied by Regeneration Technologies Inc., a human tissue processor that recently moved to a new complex. The book value of the buildings is $3 million, and funds for the buildings' purchase would be provided by UF.

The $10 million from the state would be used to renovate RTI's former buildings and install equipment. Schuster said the facility would be self-sufficient, based on fees collected from biotech companies for its use.

Since RTI's former buildings would be owned by UF, the state still has to "rubber-stamp" the complex and accept it for state ownership, Schuster said. That could occur by the end of May, Schuster said.

Alachua County's cluster of regenerative health biotech companies represents the fourth-largest concentration of those businesses in the United States, Schuster said. The closest large-scale bioprocessing facility is in North Carolina, he said, and the local center would provide a much-needed service and employ 150 people.

UF's research partners at NASA and the Kennedy Space Center have also expressed interest in the local plan, Schuster said.

"This is going to help companies get through that extraordinarily difficult period of getting proof for their concepts."

Joe Coombs can be reached at 338-3102 or coombsj@ gvillesun.com.

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