FIU planning on $4.5M upgrade for Torrey Pines

Florida International University anticipates investing $4.5 million to upgrade Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies after taking over the high-tech laboratory in western Port St. Lucie early next year.

Two newly hired researchers just moved into the lab to conduct research related to Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s diseases, said Andres Gil, FIU’s vice president for research and economic development.

Several other researchers were recruited during Cleveland Clinic Florida’s Research and Innovation Symposium on Nov. 21 and 22 that attracted 100 scientists from around the world, Gil said.

FIU and Cleveland Clinic Institute for Research, the new tenant of the old Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute Florida building, are teaming up to hire several hundred researchers in the next decade at the twin labs in the Tradition Center for Innovation.

“At some point, this will represent 15 to 20 percent of our research enterprise,” Gil told the Port St. Lucie City Council Monday. “I predict there will be other buildings in the future related to what’s going on.”

But Gil declined to speculate when they would be built.

“We’re going to be focusing on infectious diseases, cancer and neuroscience, particularly Alzheimer’s,” Gil said.

The FIU Board of Trustees was to vote on Dec. 5 on an acquisition agreement and merger plan with TPIMS, university records show.

FIU will deem the 86,000-square-foot lab a Special Purpose Center focusing on research into Alzheimer’s, aging, osteoporosis, arthritis, chronic pain, diabetes and breast cancer, among other maladies.

As part of the transaction, FIU would assume TPIMS’s ground lease with Port St. Lucie for the 8.7-acre campus at 11350 SE Village Parkway.

The Port St. Lucie City Council voted unanimously Monday (Dec. 2) to sign off on the deal between FIU and TPIMS.

Built in 2008, the campus has a market value of $11.6 million, records show.

FIU will pay $10 per year in rent, records show. FIU will also reimburse the city for paying off $95,846 in special assessments on the campus.

The lab will be used for biomedical research, including research involving small animals, carcinogens, bacteria, viruses, stem cells, radioisotopes and BLA-3 level pathogens, the amended lease says.

In addition to research, FIU will use the lab for undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate education, records show. FIU may also sublease space to businesses and nonprofits.

FIU began leasing space in TPIMS in March and has been reviewing the institute’s library of intellectual property and other assets, including employees, records show. “Basically, we’re operating Torrey Pines through leasing the space,” Gil said. “As far as I’m concerned, we are already working on it. We are recruiting faculty.”

The premises will no longer be the corporate headquarters of TPIMS, records show. Vaxine Pty Ltd, an Australian biotech company, is partnering with Cleveland Clinic Institute for Research.

Researchers based in one lab will be able to use core facilities in the other lab, Gil said after the council vote.

“Generally speaking, the old VGTI building is more biological in nature and the Torrey Pines building is more chemistry in nature,” Gil said.

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