The University of Florida was given an orange and blue welcome Oct. 5 for a ceremony launching the beginning of work on the $44 million University of Florida research and academic center at Orlando’s medical city at Lake Nona.

Since the building will lie in the flight path of Orlando International Airport, UF president Bernard Machen joked that the university should paint a “big old gator on the roof.”

All joking aside, the new 100,000-square-foot building slated to open in summer 2012 is serious business in Orlando’s quest to grow its life science industry and increasing the number of highly-skilled, well-paid jobs.

Retired Orlando pharmacist and UF alum David Bean helped make it possible with a $1.2 million donation and the pharmacy college will be named the Helen and David Bean Campus of the University of Florida College of Pharmacy, Orlando.

The University of Florida research center will join the other medical city players, including Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, the University of Central Florida’s College of Medicine and Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Orlando. Nemours Children’s Hospital and the Orlando Veterans Affairs Medical Center are also under construction in the complex.

This complex is UF’s first major research institution outside of its Gainesville campus, said Machen, which “says a lot about our faith in (Orlando) and what it is and will become in the future.”

The new research center will house the UF Institute of Therapeutic Innovation, which will bring together researchers from the colleges of medicine, pharmacy and liberal arts and science, along with scientists from the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute to develop therapies for diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and brain disorders.

Dr. John Reed, Sanford-Burnham’s CEO and an adjunct professor at both UF and UCF, said UF’s presence will help Orlando’s medical city “become one of the world’s great medical clusters” and provide rich opportunities for collaborations, plus training and education.

The Orlando campus of the UF College of Pharmacy, now located at a satellite campus in Apopka, has 200 students who are seeking a doctor of pharmacy degree. When relocated to Lake Nona, the program will include the college of pharmacy’s doctorate program in pharmacometrics, an area of research that seeks to quantify how drugs and diseases interact to aid in effective drug development.

The center, which will also include a clinical research unit from the UF Institute on Aging, was awarded $14.6 million in federal stimulus funds May 14 to build a clinical translational research building for research to improve the health, independence and quality of life for older Americans.

The UF project will help economically in the short and long term, providing about 500 temporary construction jobs and more than 100 new high-tech jobs at the research center.

BE&K Building Group LLC is the contractor and the architect/engineer design team includes Harris Civil Engineers LLC of Orlando. Construction is expected to last 20 months of construction.

State funds will pay for $26 million of the project, while the remainder will come from donations, royalties from university research, as well as from UF departments and programs using the new Lake Nona facility, UF officials have said.

“A big part of our future is in Orlando,” said Dr. David Guzick, UF’s senior vice president for health affairs.

Orlando has already shown that one of its strengths is its ability to pool the strengths of many entities to make great things happen.

So welcome to Central Florida, Gators.

Source: Orlando Business Journal, Welcome To Orlando, Gators, by Melanie Stawicki Azam