Organic Growth, Medical Economic Development

By virtue of a continually evolving industry cluster, Lake Nona’s Medical City is a case study in medical economic development.

Lake Nona Medical City, 650 acres of health care-related education, research and clinical care, located in southeast Orlando near the Orlando International Airport, is a test bed for collaboration. Or, call it a test tube.

Medical City residents represent some of the most powerful names on Orlando’s health care scene: Nemours Children’s Hospital, Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, the University of Central Florida College of Medicine, the Cancer Research Institute of MD Anderson Cancer Center- Orlando, University of Florida Academic and Research Center and Valencia College. In addition, 2014 brings the opening of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Hospital and its sole Medical Simulation Center for Excellence in the country will follow.

Not surprisingly, an economic impact study performed in 2008 found the UCF College of Medicine, combined with the life sciences cluster in Lake Nona, could create 30,000 jobs with $2.8 billion in annual wages, generating $460 million in annual tax revenue and spurring $7.6 billion in annual economic activity for the region by year 10 of operation.

Better yet, there appears the promise of even greater returns—with one single unique development fostering uncommon synergistic relationships among scientists, doctors and researchers. The sort of organic growth that is difficult to both measure and predict.

The hype has certainly been there since dirt was first turned in 2007. So, is it happening? Are partnerships forming? Is synergy taking hold? Yes, yes and yes.

Recent highlights:

Lake Nona Impact Forum

Inspired by the Aspen Institute, TED Conferences and the Clinton Global Initiative platforms, the nonprofit Lake Nona Institute launched the Lake Nona Impact Forum. The three-day, invitation-only conference attracts the nation’s preeminent CEOs, scholars and health care leaders to generate and exchange ideas that inspire new ways to address health care, wellness and sustainability practices. In late October, attendees explored the roles technology, innovation, collaboration, imagination, wellness and prevention played in the uncertain state of national health care. During the meeting and also informal conversations, the group of industry leaders, including U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle (Obamacare architect), Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky and Cleveland Clinic Chief Wellness Officer Michael Roize, shared insights and discussed solutions.

“With this incredibly diverse group, we are confident we can come up with innovative programs and solutions, which can be tested and expanded to additional markets around the world,”said Dr. Thaddeus Seymour Jr., president of the Lake Nona Institute and host of the 2013 Lake Nona Impact Forum.

UCF College of Medicine

M.D. students at the College of Medicine (UCF COM) are required to have two years of research project experience for graduation, and in addition are encouraged to choose a topic important to them. Some students have chosen to complete their “FIRE Research Projects” with physicians at Nemours Children’s Hospital, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs Hospital, Florida Hospital and Orlando Health, among others.

UCF COM is also conducting Research Initiative discussions, much like meetups or speed dating, for research partners and resident organizations. Most recently, the event featured 50 five-minute presentations.

“We are seeing the results of bringing together brilliant minds, each with a different perspective, in one room,” says Wendy Sarubbi, UCF COM spokesperson. “Medical City residents are finding ways to take their ideas much further through these collaborative exercises and partnerships that form from these casual conversations.”

Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute

The Florida Translational Research Program (FTRP) provides nonprofit Florida scientists with access 
to Sanford-Burnham’s expertise and chemical screening technology at its Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics. The Prebys Center screens chemical compounds by the millions to identify those that could be developed into new medications. Results live in a public database, PubChem, made available to all researchers in both the public and private sectors, for use in studying biology and disease.

Essentially, the efforts bridge the “valley of death” between laboratory discovery/development and medicine—the most critical phase in the drug discovery process. Funded by the state of Florida through the Florida Department of Health, FTRP has jointly supported successful projects in the fields of cancer, diabetes and obesity with UCF, along with the University of Florida, the University of Miami and Scripps Florida.

“The FTRP exemplifies what is at the heart of Sanford- Burnham’s mission – collaboration,” says Layton Smith, Ph.D., principle investigator for the FTRP and director of drug discovery at Sanford-Burnham at Lake Nona. “The FTRP allows us to collaborate with Florida-based scientists to develop a pipeline of potential new therapies to meet today’s most urgent medical needs.”

Nemours Children’s Hospital

Dr. Kenneth Liechty, surgeon in chief and chair of the Department of Surgery at Nemours, is focused on cardiovascular disease at his research lab, at nearby Sanford-Burnham and works with his partners at UCF’s Particle Biomaterials Group.

According to Liechty, Lake Nona’s environment helps break down operational silos between organizations. He envisions a new model forming in Medical City for health care delivery, research and other innovations, where risk- taking, collaboration and new procedures in health care are encouraged.

“Having access to Sanford-Burnham’s drug discovery platform takes our research to the next level,” he said. “The ability to bring therapies from the research bench to a patient’s bedside is extremely valuable and rewarding.”

Department of Veteran’s Affairs Hospital

Although the VA Hospital is still being constructed, there already are discussions taking place with UCF COM to collaborate on an equestrian therapy research program. Led by UCF’s Dr. Manette Monroe, a lifelong horse enthusiast, the research will seek to scientifically quantify the ways in which horseback riding helps veterans who are physically disabled or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

In 2010, Dr. Deborah German, dean of the UCF College of Medicine, told The New York Times, “We are working at warp speed here.”

Almost nothing has occurred since then to change that statement. At the same time, almost everything has changed.