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Health News Florida

Biotech Institute To Close After State Incentives

The cash-strapped Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute of Florida, which a decade ago was part of the state's drive to bring more biotech jobs to Florida, is closing.

A notice posted Friday on the non-profit biomedical-research institute's website said its board of directors intends to wind down operations by Oct. 1, with the remaining 34 employees being laid off over the next six weeks.

"This is a sadly disappointing outcome," Richard Jove, VGTI Florida's president and institute director, said in a release. "We worked so hard over the last two years to attract a key strategic partner to invest in our research mission to continue in Port St. Lucie, but we were unsuccessful."

The institute asked Port St. Lucie two weeks ago for a $21 million bailout to cover mortgage payments and operating costs, according to TCPalm.com.

The institute, in the notice Friday, blamed its failure on a lack of a university affiliation, budget cuts at the National Institutes of Health and debt from constructing a 100,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility at the Tradition Center for Innovation in Port St. Lucie.

Gov. Rick Scott pointed to the lack of a university affiliation when he vetoed $2.5 million that the Legislature had designated in biomedical research funds for VGTI in this year's budget. The legislature had designated $6.25 million for a number of biotech research firms. All were vetoed from the budget.

VGTI had received $3 million the prior two years. With the backing of former Gov. Charlie Crist and then-Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, the institute was created in 2008 through local funding and a $60 million grant from Florida's Innovation Incentive Fund.

Starting in 2003, former Gov. Jeb Bush pushed for Florida to attract more biotech jobs. That year, the state put up $310 million to entice California's Scripps Research Institute to open Scripps Florida in Jupiter.

Over the next few years, the state put up: $157 million for California-based Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute to land in Central Florida; $94.1 million for the Germany-based Max Planck to open in Jupiter; and $24.7 million for Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies to expand from California to Port St. Lucie.

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