Sale of Brammer Bio moves region toward bio hub
The sale of Greater Gainesville company Brammer Bio for $1.7 billion in April is a big step toward the region becoming a hub for biotechnology, business and educational leaders.
Thermo Fisher Scientific, which calls itself “the world leader in serving science” and employs 70,000 people, bought Brammer Bio – making it a major player in helping companies develop gene therapy.
“When an international company like this comes into our market, it has an exponential effect,” said Staci Bertrand, the vice president of economic development for the Greater Gainesville Chamber of Commerce. “We can use this as an example when recruiting other major businesses.”
Bertrand hopes that this deal is a step in the right direction, reserving the practice of some companies that acquire Greater Gainesville businesses to move their operations elsewhere. “The retention of Brammer Bio is a big win for the region,” she said. “The chamber and other stakeholders helped make this possible by assisting it in obtaining incentives, securing talent and expanding its space.”
Eric Godet, the chamber’s president/CEO, added that now major companies are eager to have a presence in Greater Gainesville. “It’s a big shift that the large companies don’t want to move their acquisitions; they want to stay here and expand their presence.”
The company, which employs a team of 250 in Alachua, plans to add more workers locally as demand for its gene therapy manufacturing services grows.
Brammer Bio’s sale is a town-gown success story.
In addition to the chamber playing a major role in the helping it expand, the University of Florida nurtured it from infancy.
Dr. David Norton, the UF vice president for research, is like a proud parent seeing his offspring grow up. He notes that the Thermo Fisher Scientific deal is one of the largest success stories of commercialization of UF’s research.
The starting point that led to the acquisition was the creation of the UF Center of Excellence for Regenerative Health Biotechnology, one of several such centers aimed at fostering economic development.
The center started with $10 million in funding from the state of Florida – which had a $1.7 million payoff. To lead the center, UF attracted Richard Snyder, a global leader in developing manufacturing and analytical methods for viral vectors, which are used to transfer genetic material into cells.
In 2006, UF established Florida Biologix, which manufactured biopharmaceuticals products for client companies for human clinical trials.
“As it grew, we realized that privatization was in the best interest of UF and the company,” Norton said. The university hired experts to determine a valuation for Florida Biologix and to market it to the investment community.
In 2015, Ampersand Capital Partners, a private equity firm based in Massachusetts, acquired Florida Biologix for $7.6 million. Florida Biologix merged with Brammer Biopharmaceuticals in 2016 to create Brammer Bio, led by President and CEO Mark Bamforth.
That’s when the Gainesville Chamber met with their leadership – helping the company find employees, access local and state incentives and expand its space, Bertrand said.
“We showed them that the Greater Gainesville region supported their company needs and they were blown away,” she said.
The need was great. Florida Biologix’s staff in Alachua grew from 120 employees in 2016 to 250 today. It also expanded its facilities from 45,000 square feet to 95,000 square feet and invested $15 million in expansion projects.
The chamber was hands-on in assisting the company seek local and state incentives. “We made them aware of opportunities, and we helped make sure their submissions had all the information they needed,” Bertrand said.
The chamber set up one-on-one meetings with Alachua County and City of Alachua commissioners, who needed to endorse applications for state economic development opportunities. “Most of the commissioners support the incentives, but it helped that we pointed out how these opportunities would increase Brammer Bio’s economic impact on the region,” she said.
Norton sees the company’s story as a model of how UF can foster commercialization of research. “I’m very pleased that an investment of $10 million in our system has created close to 250 biotech jobs that have an incredible impact on the economy,” he said. “We made a commitment over the long haul, starting in 2003, that paid off with a $1.7 billion investment 16 years later.”
Snyder, now Brammer Bio’s chief scientific officer, said, “Brammer Bio values our strong partnership with UF and the Gainesville Chamber, and it remains of utmost importance to Brammer to create jobs, build a high-tech business and be an active member of the community while supporting Brammer’s clients and their patients.”
Thermo Fisher Scientific is excited about growing its workforce here, Norton said. “Greater Gainesville is a very attractive place to locate, with warm weather and much better traffic that places like San Francisco,” he said. “Our skilled entry-level talent pool is a remarkable resource.”
Florida Biologix’s story adds to Greater Gainesville’s narrative in recruiting outside investors, Norton said. “We have a critical mass that enables us to attract companies from anywhere on the planet,” he said.
The chamber believes its assistance in growing companies such as Brammer Bio yields a good return on investment. “It’s amazing to see the job growth,” she said. “That’s why we held their hand. On top of that, it’s great to assist a company that is doing so much to help in healing people.”
The chamber is active in attracting companies and in helping existing companies stay in Greater Gainesville, Bertrand noted. That assistance includes connecting businesses with CareerSource North Central Florida, which helps them find talent. CareerSource provides specific training programs to help jobseekers gain new skills that companies need.
“We also help companies find ways to export their products,” she said. “Everything we do in economic development strengthens the local ecosystem.”