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Robert Trigaux

Moffitt: Let's convert cancer skills to business



Davidhalehalebiopharma It was a mix of motivation and cautionary experience Thursday at Moffitt Cancer Center's "Business of Biotech" half-day conference in Tampa. Keynoter David Hale (in photo), a veteran biomedical entrepreneur from San Diego, had a couple of gems in his remarks. Like this one:

"Acetaminophen, which is Tylenol, and Ibuprofen, which is Advil? It's doubtful either one would get FDA approval in today's regulatory environment."

Hale said about 24 new drugs won FDA approval last year. That's about the same number of approvals as ten years ago. What concerns Hale: Research and development dollars are ten times what they were a decade ago.

Nevertheless, Hale was bullish on Florida's promising environment for attracting and growing biomedical business clusters. "I've looked around the country and think Florida is best situated to build a viable biomedical cluster," he told his audience at Moffitt. High praise, given Florida's relatively brief history with serious biomedical development.

In a breakout session, four Moffitt doctors/Ph.D.'s -- John Koomen, Javier Torres-Roca, Lori Hazlehurst and Jerry Wu -- each outlined his or her research efforts at fighting cancer. Typical of such presentations, it was too technical for me. But it was still fascinating to catch the general drift and to recognize the challenge these researchers will have "translating" their expertise and ideas to venture capitalists. At the least, the business strategy here is these researchers are all working on fighting specific cancers with technology methods that might have the potential to be licensed.

Last but not least, three venture capitalists/angel investors from the Tampa Bay area outlined what they are looking when considering whether to invest in a new biomedical business. First, they said, we want a unique use of biomedical technology to fix a real problem. Second, some revenues to show there is at least a starting market for the business. And third, some business experience to help commercialize a promising product. Speaking were Tom Cardy of Tampa's Hyde Park Capital, Richard Brandewie of Ballast Point Ventures (affiliated with Raymond James Financial) in St. Petersburg, and Harry Venezia Jr. of HealthCare Capital Advisors, also in St. Petersburg. Or, as a Moffitt moderator called them: "Tom, Dick and Harry."

WUSF also covered a portion of the Moffitt mini-conference focusing on the recession. Here's their take on it. But not all is in the dumps for biotech. Ballast Point just invested $3 million in MolecularMD Corp., a West Palm Beach molecular diagnostic company.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:23am]


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