When people think of Jacksonville, they typically describe the beautiful beaches, great surf, and of course, their NFL. But it’s time people recognize the city as a key player in the biomedical industry and the BioFlorida annual 2016 conference, to be held in the city for the first time in its 19-year existence, will do just that.

What is BioFlorida? Founded in 1997, it is a statewide association that connects life science communities, comprised of thousands of establishments and research organizations in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and diagnostics, and bioagriculture sectors. The association currently represents some 6,000 research and business institutions that collectively provide about 83,000 jobs throughout the state.

The Dec. 11 through 13 conference will be held at the Hyatt Regency downtown.

Some people may find it surprising that Jacksonville isn’t already known for its hand in the biomedical industry due to the fact that it is home to the Mayo Clinic, which has been recognized by the U.S. News and World Reports for its biomedical research. It is also nationally ranked in eight specialties, including, cancer, orthopedics, psychiatry, geriatrics, neurology and neurosurgery.

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In fact, Dr. Charles Bruce, clinical cardiologist and Associate Medical Director of Mayo Clinic Ventures, is the program chair for the conference. Mayo Clinic Ventures works to collaborate with other businesses and companies to bring their inventions to the forefront in order to improve medicine and medical technology throughout.

The conference will give Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville the opportunity to showcase their latest innovations and network with other companies. Dr. Bruce mentioned that Mayo Clinic is currently working with Jacksonville based company Tapimmune Inc. on the clinical development of breast cancer vaccine technology.

“We’re working on a lot of projects right now,” Bruce said. “This conference offers a great networking opportunity, not just for us [Mayo Clinic], but for others in the industry. We can further showcase the talent that is in this city.”

In addition, Jacksonville is home to the corporate headquarters for Johnson and Johnson Vision Care Inc., the world’s leading innovator and manufacturer of disposable contact lenses.  Also here is Medtronic, a global healthcare solutions company whose facility expanded in 2013 to bring even more jobs to the area.

The BioFlorida conference will be a first for Jacksonville. The closest the conference ever got to being in Jacksonville was in 2008, when the event was held in Amelia Island. In the past, the committee would get together and pick a location for the event. When deciding where the 2016 conference would be held, they took a different approach and let the cities fight for the hosting position. Jacksonville competed closely with Tampa, but with recommendations from the likes of then-mayor Alvin Brown and Pat Geraghty, CEO of Florida Blue, Jacksonville was ultimately selected.

The two-and-a-half-day conference will be split into three tracks called Bioscience, Biotrends, and Biobusiness. The bioscience track will emphasize new and emerging ideas in the industry. Biotrends will focus more on subjects that are gaining popularity in the industry. Biobusiness will be more targeted on how to take these ideas and commercialize them, giving tips on how to get funding and how to promote them to a target audience.

The final focus of the conference (biobusiness) is especially appealing to committee chair Cantor. “A lot of start-up biotech companies basically start with somebody writing on a napkin. How do you take that napkin and turn it into an idea? How do you take that idea and commercialize it to turn it into a business? So, that part of the conference focuses on helping companies that are at that early stage really develop a pitch deck or a set of ideas, or concept, to turn it into a company. Opportunities for funding will be there as well.”

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Another anticipated participant at the conference will be Dr. Juan Aceros, assistant professor of electrical engineering at UNF. He is working with pediatric populations, more specifically children with motor disabilities. Dr. Aceros has previously worked as a research associate with the Neuroengineering Laboratory at Brown University in Providence, R.I.

“The idea would be to be able to provide them [children] with technology that they can use at home, and we would collect data from them and analyze that in our lab but eventually would be in a hospital,” said Dr. Aceros. He hopes to see what companies, clinicians and hospitals would be interested in the work of his team.

Both Cantor and Dr. Bruce believe that having this kind of exposure could potentially attract more biomedical business to Jacksonville.  

“We’re going to be working with them to spread the word and try to get people interested in it [BioFlorida].” Cantor said. “This could change the way the industry views the area in terms of innovation, creativity, and biomedical research and production.”

For more information about BioFlorida and the upcoming conference visit their website at bioflorida.com.

By Celise Blackman | UNF Communication Student