If there is one place people in the community and throughout Central Florida are talking about these days, it’s Lake Nona’s fast growing Medical City. With so many plans already in the works, the vision of a healthcare utopia just minutes away from Orlando International Airport seems more tangible than ever before, and among the new facilities, labs and institutions that will be calling Nona home is the University of Florida (UF) Research & Academic Center.
Groundbreaking for the now nearly complete research center began back in October of 2010, and though an exact date of opening has yet to be released, representatives with UF’s Health Science Center Communications Office say the facility is set to celebrate its grand opening sometime in November of this year.
The 100,000 square-foot facility, which neighbors the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, will be split between dual operations – pharmacy student education and clinical research – and upon completion will have had around $53 million spent on its construction and outfitting.
“It’s a substantial investment,” says Stephen Sugrue, senior associate dean of research affairs for the College of Medicine, “but one that will pay off in tremendous dividends.”
UF’s College of Pharmacy will account for the educational side of the center thanks to a generous gift of $1.2 million from David L. Bean, a retired Orlando community pharmacist. Once open, more than 200 UF doctor of pharmacy students will make the move from their temporary, current Apopka location to their new campus – the Helen and David Bean Campus.
“My education from the University of Florida gave me a great opportunity to pursue a business I loved,” Bean said. “There comes a time to give back to the university, which has been so influential in my life.”
Students will not only get the opportunity to observe and learn from the real world applications of their studies within their own institution, but will also be able to take advantage of Medical City’s growing consolidation of brilliant minds by collaborating with top scientists of the Sanford-Burnham Institute.
“At the UF Research and Academic Center, student pharmacists will learn from talented faculty members at a state-of-the-art complex to prepare for the challenges and opportunities they will face during their careers and lifetimes,” said William H. Riffee, Ph.D., dean of the UF College of Pharmacy.
And while the Sanford-Burnham Institute will become a major partner of the UF Research & Academic Center and its mission to advance clinical trials and research, big names in the area are also expected to take notice including the UCF College of Medicine and Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, the Orlando Veterans Affairs Medical Center, M.D. Anderson Center Research Institute and Nemours Children’s Hospital.
Though academics and education will be a large part of the facility’s daily functions, the primary focus of the center will be on applicable, clinical research and trials concerning treatments for cancer and diabetes, as well as other harmful conditions and diseases.
With so much planned for the UF Research & Academic Center and so much more to come from Lake Nona’s Medical City, competing as a top tier medical one-stop-shop the likes of Boston’s Route 128 Corridor or North Carolina’s Research Triangle is no longer the stuff of imagination.
“All of us share a common purpose of preventing, curing and treating major diseases,” said University of Florida president, Bernie Machen, during the groundbreaking of the site. “All of us are committed to translating research discoveries into products that help people today rather than tomorrow.”
By Victor Ocasio