The glass-clad Burnham Institute for Medical Research shimmers in the sunlight, which pours in through banks of windows and a giant atrium that illuminates the building's interior.
It is a fitting image for an institution that has served as a beacon in the development of Orlando's life-sciences hub.
When Burnham is officially dedicated Thursday — more than five months after scientists started moving in — it will be the first building to open at the emerging "medical city" at Lake Nona in southeast Orange County.
"It's an exciting milestone for us," said Burnham President and CEO John Reed. "The thing I'm most proud of is that it's everything we said we would do — on time, on plan, on budget. I'm looking forward to a fun celebration, and to catching our breath for a second to pause and reflect on what we've accomplished and what lies ahead."
The grand opening of Burnham's $85million building — which took a few more months to build than original estimates and came in slightly over budget — represents a major step in raising Central Florida's profile as an emerging biotech hub.
Economic magnetAfter biotech giant Scripps Research Institute chose South Florida over Orlando in 2003, local and state business and community leaders came together to attract Burnham and the University of Central Florida's School of Medicine to serve as anchors for the proposed medical city.
A $350million incentive package that included land, construction funds and in-kind services convinced San Diego-based Burnham in 2005 to build its second location at Lake Nona.
"It was important to develop this site in a high-quality way to show the state and the region that we would do something special with the precious resource that was given to us," said Dr. Daniel Kelly, scientific director of Burnham at Lake Nona.
Orlando Economic Development Commission President Ray Gilley compared Burnham's move to the square-mile parcel of land — along with the UCF medical school — to the arrival of Disney four decades ago.
"Burnham is a great part of the nucleus of anchor organizations that are the centerpiece of a life-sciences cluster in Orlando," Gilley said.
But for Gilley and other business leaders, Burnham is also a magnet that will attract not only other biotech companies, but ultimately generate economic activity for the region.
"Look at other models like San Diego, and what they've accomplished with a similar mix of anchors," Gilley said. "They've been able to generate millions for the local economy. The difference between them and us is that we've shortened the timetable by quite a bit."
In San Diego, life sciences have brought $9billion to the region's gross regional product in the past two decades, according to the local Bureau of Economic Analysis.
$6.4B local impactDuane Roth, CEO of the nonprofit Connect, a technology-business accelerator in San Diego, is impressed by the strides made at Lake Nona.
"By convincing existing institutions like Burnham — which got its start here in San Diego — to expand to Orlando rather than trying to lure startups was nothing less than brilliant," Roth said. "That was a way to speed up the pace and not have to start from scratch."
In addition to Burnham and the UCF medical school, the medical city will include Nemours Children's Hospital, a Veterans Affairs Medical Center and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
The life-sciences cluster is projected to have a potential economic impact of $6.4billion and generate nearly 26,000 jobs in the next 10 years, according to a 2006 study. Those figures are likely to have shrunk some because of the ongoing recession, experts say.
Cutting-edge techIn 1976, Dr. William H. Fishman and his wife, Lillian, left Boston to found an independent research institution dedicated to the then-new concept of oncodevelopment: combining the study of developmental biology with oncology as a way to better understand the deadly and elusive nature of cancer.
The new La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation would join the Scripps Clinic, Salk Institute and University of California, San Diego to serve as a core scientific center for the region.
In 1996, the Burnham Institute was named to honor the generous support of San Diego businessman Malin Burnham and family.
In addition to its cancer center, the institute is made up of centers with research programs in infectious and inflammatory diseases; neuroscience, aging and stem-cell research; and children's health.
The Lake Nona campus will focus on diabetes and obesity.
Using cutting-edge technology — such as software-driven 3-D laser microscopes and robots — scientists at the Diabetes and Obesity Research Center are working to develop new drugs.
Also at Burnham Lake Nona, the Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics houses researchers working to discover chemical compounds that can ultimately become drug candidates. Big yellow robotic arms are capable of screening more than 1million compounds per day against biological targets such as a specific type of cancer cell or a single protein.
Tailored treatmentsIn mid-September, Burnham announced its partnership with the Sarah W. Stedman Nutrition and Metabolism Center at Duke University Medical Center to establish a specialization in metabolomics: the measurement of metabolite levels found in the human body that provide information about a person's physical characteristics and the presence or absence of disease.
Eventually, this sort of metabolic profiling could be used by physicians to tailor treatment to patients' individual needs.
Though a primary mission of Burnham is drug discovery, it also seeks to develop tools that will offer a better understanding of the root causes of disease.
"We're not going to gauge success or failure solely on the drugs launched," said Dr. Stephen Gardell, director of translation-research resources at Burnham Lake Nona. "We will have the technology to generate and produce valuable tools that will open our eyes to what may be new ways to treat disease."
'Future of research'What sets Burnham apart from other biotech institutions — and, ultimately, what will make Lake Nona different from other life-science hubs — is its collaborative research approach that brings scientists, doctors and patients together.
To that end, Burnham in August announced a partnership with Florida Hospital to establish an obesity- and diabetes-research institute that "aims to form a bridge between the research lab and bedside care," Kelly said.
Other similar collaborations are planned with University of Florida, the Anderson cancer center and UCF, among others.
"This is the future of research," Kelly said. "We're doing away with the silos that have kept us apart for so many years. Over time there will be this tremendous cross-fertilization happening here. And our potential will be limitless."
Fernando Quintero can be reached at email@example.com or 407-650-6333.