Nova Southeastern University is expanding its role in research, building a new $80 million facility that could boost South Florida's efforts to become a hub for studies of cancer, heart disease and other problems.
The Center for Collaborative Research, which will be housed on the Davie campus, will feature one of the state's largest "wet labs," which can store chemicals, drugs and biological materials, officials said. Groundbreaking is planned for Thursday, with construction expected to be complete by early 2016.
The center is expected to enhance and expand NSU research in areas such as cardiovascular disease, anti-cancer therapies, chronic fatigue syndrome and autism, officials say.
In addition to biotech and medical research, it will house researchers in engineering, math, environmental science and other disciplines. It will also house a private incubator for start-up companies in the field of information security, officials said.
The center "will provide our world-class team of researchers with the tools they need to continue to make discoveries that will impact the way we all live," NSU President George L. Hanbury said. "From developing new cancer treatments to finding new methods for environmental sustainability, the possibilities are endless."
Researchers are also expected to collaborate with NSU's marine biology research facility, the Oceanographic Center, which was completed in 2012.
"One of the major things we're doing is looking at how cancer is not that prevalent in sharks, and they also heal quicker," Hanbury said.
The facility will include a new IBM supercomputer, which will allow researchers to analyze data generated by experiments in weeks or months rather than the years required by conventional computers, said Eric Ackerman, dean of NSU's Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences.
The computer, donated by Houston-based Centaurus Energy, has been nicknamed "Megalodon" after the biggest prehistoric shark that ever lived and the largest predatory marine creature in the history of the planet, NSU officials said.
NSU now receives about $82 million in federal research dollars, qualifying it for a "high research" designation by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Hanbury said his goal is by 2020 to increase outside funding to about $300 million, which could qualify it as "very high research,' the top Carnegie designation.
Biomedical research has been a big push in Florida since 2003, when the state and Palm Beach County spent more than $500 million to recruit The Scripps Research Institute, a La Jolla, Calif., biotech research giant. Scripps opened on the Jupiter campus of Florida Atlantic University in 2004, and The Max Planck Florida Institute opened next door a few years later. FAU and Florida International University have also opened medical schools in the past few years.
The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine has expanded its biotech research in the past decade and opened a Life Science & Technology Park in 2011. The 252,000-square-foot building houses labs, offices, lab-ready development suites and retail space. It's about 75 percent occupied, said Norma Sue Kenyon, chief innovation officer at the medical school.
But growth in Broward County has been slower, and the NSU research center "really fills that gap between Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties," said David Coddington, vice president of business development for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, which recruits industries for Broward County.
Broward County has been successful at recruiting a number of small pharmaceutical companies, and they will be able to use NSU's facilities, Coddington said. Whereas Scripps and Max Planck focus on long-term research, these companies are often ready for clinical trials.
"It will be a shorter, quicker impact," he said.
NSU also plans to work with other major research centers in the state. Scripps already has a written agreement to collaborate with a number of universities in the state, including NSU.
"We applaud Nova Southeastern University and their new collaborative research center," said Dawn Johnson, senior director of scientific operations, Scripps Florida: "Anything that expands biomedical research in South Florida can only help our region."
South Florida's biotech researchers are more spread out than they are in places like La Jolla and Cambridge, Mass., where numerous researchers and pharmaceutical companies are within walking distance, but they still have the potential to greatly benefit the region, officials say.
"Ultimately these different institutions and programs will attract more investors into the state," UM's Kenyon said. "We're already seeing a lot more investors interested in what's happening in Florida. There's a lot of momentum we didn't have in the past."
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