Groundbreaking Work Begins for Burnham Institute at Lake Nona
Groundbreaking Work Begins for Burnham Institute at Lake Nona
It was the civic equivalent of winning the lottery jackpot, going to Disney World and finding the cure for the common cold!

On Aug. 22, 2006, when it was announced that the Burnham Institute of La Jolla, Calif., had decided to place its east coast facility in Central Florida at the proposed “medical city” being developed on Lake Nona, civic leaders reacted with celebratory enthusiasm and optimism about what the Institute would bring to the area, and what it would mean in terms of jobs and prestige.

The selection of the Lake Nona site did not come as a total out-of-the-blue surprise — the wooing of Burnham decision makers had been unprecedented in terms of the level of cooperation and coordinated efforts by state, county, and city officials, working with business leaders and prominent citizens. The enticing “package” offered incentive prizes ranging from millions in cash, land, and infrastructure perks to generous private philanthropy, free exhibit space at Epcot, and even television commercials on the Golf Channel. Like toys from Santa’s sack, area leaders came bearing $155.3 million from a state innovation fund, $70 million in cash from the city and county, $19 million in cash and land from the developer of Lake Nona, $5.5 million in private fundraising as well as bright new fire trucks (and a fire station), and two new schools promised ahead of schedule.

Dr. John C. Reed, president and CEO of The Burnham Institute commented that the area’s infrastructure, lifestyle opportunities, commitment to arts, sports and education, influenced the decision for Lake Nona. The busy Orlando International Airport was seen as a major plus, providing easy access to both coasts between the Institute’s operations in La Jolla and Lake Nona.

Why was the landing of the new Burnham Institute such a big prize?

Gov. Jeb Bush said that it would draw the “creative class, the dreamers and doers” and the mayor of Orange County, Rich Crotty, said it was “an economic grand slam for our community.”

The Burnham Institute at Lake Nona plans to grow to a 250 to 300 person operation over the next seven to 10 years, developing a technological infrastructure to complement what it has created in San Diego, allowing the Institute to drive scientific discoveries more rapidly toward clinical proof of concept. Leaders expect the combined efforts will enhance scientists’ ability to contribute innovative solutions for improving human health, especially in the areas of cancer, Alzheimer’s, obesity and infectious diseases.

Along the way, the nonprofit medical research institute expects to catalyze the growth of a profitable biotechnology industry in Florida, as it has in its original home in San Diego, where 500 biotechnical companies have been spawned from discoveries at the city’s Torrey Pines Research Mesa, making that city the world’s fastest growing biotechnology center. San Diego boasts more PhDs per capita and more living Nobel laureates than any other city in the world.

How did it all begin? In the mid-1970s, Bill Fishman, a Boston doctor came to La Jolla for a medial research conference at the new University of California Medical School in San Diego. Fishman was entranced by the idea of launching a new research institute in the La Jolla area, one free from academic bureaucracy and distractions, where scientists could concentrate on unlocking the secrets of cells and the mysteries of disease.

Thirty years later, the Burnham Institute for Medical Research with the motto “From Research, the Power to Cure,” has grown to a staff of 750 persons, and an annual operating budget of $87 billion.

The early focus of the Burnham Institute at Lake Nona will be on obesity and one of its most dangerous complications, diabetes. Doctors are convinced there is a link between obesity and the country’s skyrocketing rate of Type 2 diabetes, which is largely caused by excess weight and lack of exercise. Nearby Florida Hospital’s Diabetes Institute, highly ranked in Newsweek’s Best Hospital’s list, will cooperate with the Institute’s study of the disease.

A national search is on for the Institute’s Scientific Director, who will coordinate and design the agenda for the work planned at Lake Nona.

It all gets underway on Wednesday, Oct. 3 at 9 a.m. when the groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled in conjunction with the UCF College of Medicine.

Until construction of the new Burnham campus is completed, scientists assigned to Orlando will be getting their sophisticated labs set up in temporary space at Florida’s Blood Centers, where they expect to be working until the high-tech facility on the shore of Lake Nona is ready in early 2009.

October 2007