TAMPA — Hoping to help make Tampa a hotbed for genomics research, Hillsborough County commissioners awarded up to $2 million for a new heart institute at the University of South Florida on Wednesday.
The vote came a day after Gov. Rick Scott approved giving USF $6.9 million in state tax money toward the initial design of the USF Health Heart Institute. USF officials are hoping for another $42 million in state money next year toward construction of the 100,000-square-foot center employing at least 56 people making an average $76,000 annually.
Commissioners hope that, combined with other genomics, medical labs and hospitals, the heart institute will help create spinoff jobs and build the region's reputation as a hub for the biosciences.
"I think you'll see this be an economic engine," said Dr. Les Miller, chairman of the department of cardiovascular sciences at USF Health.
USF Health officials have said the heart institute will seek to amass a database of blood samples from heart patients and study their genomics. The goal is to develop personalized treatment for patients based on their genetic traits. A top priority is developing drug and other treatment programs that can be put to commercial use, not just building a database.
The concept is similar to the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute's M2Gen collaboration with Merck & Co. and now other drug companies, with its collection of tumor samples. The heart institute will use the M2Gen labs near USF to store the blood it collects.
USF Health is working with Florida Hospital Pepin Heart Institute, which is located at Florida Hospital Tampa, on research and clinical trials. Additionally, the American College of Cardiology, a professional association for heart doctors, will collaborate to conduct the first trial linking genomic screening with its database of millions of patients with heart disease.
"It's great to see that we're leading the nation, if not the world, in cancer research," said Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who has been the board's leading advocate for the incentive deal. "I believe this is going to allow us to take that step, for a very modest investment, in cardiovascular research and make Tampa Bay, once again, an engine for the entire state of Florida."
USF Health officials say the heart institute ultimately will amount to a $77 million investment from the state, university and county. Under the school's agreement with the county, USF Health would get $1 million from county reserves the first year, and $250,000 in each of the following four years if it meets benchmarks for progress on construction, hiring and other terms.
The agreement also has what is commonly called a "clawback" provision that would require USF Health to repay a portion of what it is given if it doesn't meet its targets during the next 10 years. The amount of the refund declines from 100 percent the first year by 5 percent increments in the years that follow.
"We believe we articulate a very specific performance requirement for this program," said county Economic Development Director Ron Barton, "but also protections to the taxpayer."
Bill Varian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3387.