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Jackson Lab, USF Launch 'Preliminary' Talks for Alternative Florida Sites

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — The Jackson Laboratory said today that it has joined the University of South Florida in starting “preliminary discussions” with community and business leaders in Florida’s Hillsborough and Sarasota counties about alternative sites for the personalized medicine campus it wants to build in the Sunshine State.

Jackson Lab’s disclosure came in a statement that maintained that the laboratory remains “intensely interested in locating the facility in Collier County,” where the laboratory had planned to develop a site near Naples, Fla., and had won support from a majority of the Board of County Commissioners despite controversy over the amount of public funding the original proposal would have involved.

“However, other Florida communities may offer advantages for our new institute, and we are certainly open to discussions with them,” Charles Hewett, Jackson Labs' executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in the statement.

In July, days before the Collier County board agreed to join with the state in subsidizing the project, Jackson Lab announced it had agreed to form a personalized medicine partnership with USF that will include research collaborations, professional training programs, and a clinical initiative. In a memorandum of understanding, both institutions agreed to have their researchers collaborate on computational biology and bioinformatics projects, as well as studies into disorders that include cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and metabolic diseases.

“Our partnership with USF Health is stronger than ever,” Hewett insisted.

USF Health is the unit of the university that includes the University of South Florida’s colleges of medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and public health; as well as the school of biomedical sciences, the school of physical therapy and rehabilitation sciences, and the USF Physicians Group.

“USF and the Jackson Laboratory are committed to building a program that will improve the health of Floridians and the world,” Stephen Klasko, dean of the USF College of Medicine and senior vice president of USF Health, said in the statement. “We will consider any location that fulfills the interests of the program and the state.”

The Jackson Lab-USF statement comes a week after Jackson Lab withdrew its controversial request for $50 million in state funds this year toward developing the campus near Naples, Fla. The laboratory has insisted that it still wants to proceed with the project, but only after talks with new Gov. Rick Scott aimed at aligning its plan with his goal for Florida of creating 100,000 new jobs in each of the next seven years.

The $50 million was to have been the first piece of an eventual $130 million in state funds toward the campus project, a sum to have been matched by Florida's Collier County. In return, Jackson Lab committed to spending $120 million that it plans to raise through a philanthropic campaign toward the campus, which would be the laboratory’s third facility after its headquarters campus in Bar Harbor, Maine, and its West Coast outpost in Sacramento, Calif.

The county funding portion had generated two lawsuits and months of controversy, with many residents arguing the subsidy to the nonprofit Jackson Lab amounted to corporate welfare.

On Tuesday, the county commissioners agreed to end their pursuit of a state court "validation" or official declaration that the Jackson Lab plan constituted a "valid public purpose," thus allowing the use of county bonds. However, two countersuits opposing the validation remain — one by a group of three residents, another by medical device maker Arthrex, which contended that the laboratory plan required a supermajority vote rather than a simple majority vote.

Jackson Lab had planned to build its translational genetics research institute on 50 acres donated by developer Barron Collier Cos., starting with a temporary facility it envisioned launching this year, and expanding to a permanent campus envisioned to open in 2013. Jackson Lab's campus was envisioned to anchor a 700-acre "biomedical research and education village” combining commercial, academic, and research tenants.

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