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Around the Regions: Jan 19, 2009

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Indiana Budget Eliminates $20M Life Sciences Fund, Balks at $70M IU-PU Initiative

Indiana's $20 million Life Sciences Fund at the Indiana University School of Medicine and Purdue University would be eliminated under the $28.3 billion two-year budget proposed by Gov. Mitchell Daniels for 2009-11, and available here.

Citing a weakening economy both nationally and in the Hoosier State, Daniels said Indiana had no choice but to freeze funding for several initiatives his administration has long championed. Daniels' budget did not fund a $70 million, two-year initiative proposed by IU and Purdue University in the life sciences and nanotech, the Indianapolis Star reported, and sliced $3 million from the state's High Growth Business Incentive Fund. While the state still enjoys a $1.3 billion surplus, revenues fell below projections by $33 million in December 2008, and are expected to keep falling.

"We intend to continue making the case for this initiative and working with state leaders to find creative ways to launch it," James Almond, Purdue's chief financial officer, said in a statement to the Star.

Daniels' budget added $4.3 million for the 21st Century Research and Technology Fund, raising spending over the next two-year budget to $69.8 million, or $34.9 million each fiscal year. However, funding for the Technology Development Grant Program would be trimmed to $3.8 million over two years, down from $4.2 million in 2007-09.


New Jersey Bill Would Expand State Universities' Ability to Craft State-Financed Public-Private Partnerships for Life-Sci Projects

New Jersey state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) last week offered testimony to the Assembly Higher Education Committee in support of a bill identical to one he has introduced in the state Senate — a measure that would allow universities to use all or part of tax revenue generated by private partners in an established district or on university-owned property to help capitalize public-private projects.

Assembly Bill 3245, sponsored by assembly higher ed committee chairman Patrick Diegnan (D-South Plainfield) is identical to Lesniak's Senate Bill 1609. Both would expand the ability of state higher education institutions to build new facilities through public-private partnerships that could be financed through the state Education Facilities Authority.

The partnerships are designed to compensate for shrinking state funding of its colleges and universities.

"The approach in New Jersey should begin with the cultivation of holistic relationships between a corporate partner and a host university. The potential corporate relocation or expansion has to have synergistic relationships beyond a piece of real estate," Lesniak said in his testimony. He cited as examples University Park at MIT, Research Triangle Park in Raleigh-Durham, NC; and the Virginia Biotechnology Park in Richmond.

"There may be an ongoing research relationship between a medical school or basic science department of a research university that the corporation may want to expand; a potential relationship between a chemical company or an energy company with an engineering school; a shipping or utility company that has a shared interest with an institute dedicated to marine and coastal science; or an insurance company or accounting firm interested in building a relationship with a business school."

The measure would also grant the state Commission on Higher Education power to review and address mission, program and financial matters of public academic institutions; and grant to any Board of Supervisors in any county containing a state university the authority to form a stadium taxation district to use taxes generated there toward paying debt service on projects.


Greater Baltimore Committee CEO Warns of Possible Cutbacks in State Bio Programs

Donald Fry, the president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, a group of business and civic leaders focused on improving the business climate in and around Baltimore, told the Maryland Daily Record last week that life sciences leaders and others will be lucky to escape this year's Maryland legislative session with no additional cuts to state programs intended to advance their industry, given the state's $2 billion budget shortfall.

"Things such as stem cell research funding, the biotechnology tax credits — there's a need to increase those," Fry told the newspaper, adding: "This year we're actually just probably going to have to hope to hold our own."

The specter of funding cuts for life-sci programs comes despite Gov. Martin O'Malley's announcement last June of the $1.1 billion, 10-year BIO 2020 series of initiatives to promote the life sciences in Maryland. Much of that effort — including the centerpiece of BIO 2020, a new, $91 million one-stop shop for companies looking to relocate to or expand within the state — awaits completion of a strategic plan for advancing the life-sci industry by a 15-member panel appointed in 2007 by O'Malley [BRN, Nov. 3, 2008].


Missouri Lawmaker Introduces Tax Credit Measure with $10M Cap

Missouri state Rep. Rachel Storch (D-St. Louis) has introduced legislation allowing eligible companies to apply to the Missouri Department of Economic Development for a tax credit to be applied to qualified research expenses. The measure, HB 312, includes a $10 million annual cap on the credit, which would be transferable and refundable.

"I believe that support of biotechnology research is vital to the economic expansion of our state. Even more importantly, however, biotechnology research holds the promise of cures and treatments for many of society's worst diseases, including cancer, Parkinson's, diabetes, and Alzheimer's. In addition, biotechnology is the path to agricultural and environmental sustainability – through biotechnology, we can pursue the development of renewable and clean energy sources," Storch said in a press release.

The bill, which passed the state House of Representatives last year, is supported by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.


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Massachusetts Unveils New Regional Economic Development Strategy

Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Daniel O'Connell last week unveiled the state's new regional economic development strategy crafted by him and other members of Gov. Deval Patrick's administration.

The strategy, titled Framework for Action, is designed to broaden the numbers of communities and people that reap the benefits of the state's life sciences and information technology industries — and lay to rest a longtime criticism of state officials that they have focused too much on growing biotech in Boston and neighboring Cambridge, Mass., rather than across the Bay State.

Framework for Action, O'Connell said, will soon be applied through legislation and economic initiatives designed to bring private investment, housing opportunities, innovation and job growth to various regions of the state. Among spending priorities of that strategy will be programs that:

• Create jobs in the life sciences and clean energy;
• Revitalize downtown areas;
• Expand workforce education and development;
• Build or repair municipal infrastructure, and reform local zoning;
• Rebuild schools and public higher education facilities;
• Bolster regional broadband networks;
• Expand transportation spending;
• Expand the supply of below-market "affordable" housing and other "housing choices" statewide.

Framework for Action was unveiled at an event at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, during which Lt. Governor Timothy Murray presented the city of Lowell with a $3 million check toward the city's state-designated Hamilton Canal Growth District, one of 16 such districts created to accelerate public and private redevelopment efforts statewide.

The complete Framework for Action, as well as an executive summary, can be found online here.


Intent Letter Signed for Agoura Hills, Calif., Incubator Site to Serve State's 'Gold Coast' Region

A pair of life sciences industry veterans seeking to develop a local life sciences cluster in Southern California's "Highway 101" biotech corridor last week signed a letter of intent to buy an Agoura Hills, Calif., property proposed for redevelopment into an incubator for startups to be called the Gold Coast Bio Center, the Ventura County Star of Camarillo, Calif., reported.

Marketing materials and pricing for the center should come out in a couple of weeks, Brent Reinke, who works with biotech startups as a partner in the Westlake Village, Calif., office of the law firm Musick Peeler & Garrett. Reinke is also an organizer of the local life-sci group the BioTech Forum, which held its first meeting of the year Jan. 14 at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Reinke and others have discussed converting a vacant 38,000-square-foot industrial building owned by Realty Bancorp Equities into the Gold Coast Bio Center. The incubator would be located nine miles southeast of Amgen's headquarters in Thousand Oaks, and would focus on nurturing startups developed by professionals laid off by the biotech giant during its convulsive cost-cutting of two years ago [BRN, Aug. 18, 2008].

While incubator organizers had discussed creating a public-private partnership, Reinke said they will now fund the incubator privately in order to move the project along more quickly, the Star reported.

The economic and financial market upheaval of recent months has pushed back the timeline for the start of incubator construction, with Reinke now saying that the facility could house its first occupants by September. The center could start with four or five companies, with plans to grow to 10 or 12.

The upheaval has also resulted in an increase of requests for financing to sources other than banks, two participants at the meeting said, according to the newspaper. John Dilts, co-founder of the BioTech Forum and founder of the angel investor network Maverick Angels, said during the meeting that an angel investor group he started has seen more companies seek funding than ever, while Bruce Stenslie, president and CEO of the Economic Development Collaborative of Ventura County, said his organization has had more loan applications in the past four to six weeks than it has had in the past three years.


UCSB Forecast: Biotech Sector Buoys Bay Area, and State's Economy in Bleak Period

During a presentation on California's economy last week, Bill Watkins, the executive director of the University of California Santa Barbara's Economic Forecast Project said the San Francisco Bay Area has shown itself resilient to the state's economic troubles because of its still-growing life sciences industry, according to the school's student newspaper, the Daily Nexus.

Watkins spoke during "California, an Economy in Crisis," a Jan. 15 presentation. The presentation concluded that California's gross domestic product will fall during 2009 and 2010, plunging as much as 5.8 percent in the second quarter of 2009 before inching back to a 5.0 percent loss in Q3, then progressively better to Q4 '10, when the quarterly GDP decrease is projected to be 1.9 percent.

The complete presentation can be read here.


Biomedical Coatings Startup Eyes Drug Delivery, Medical Device Markets

Specialty coatings company AeonClad Coatings of Austin, Tex., has launched a new subsidiary, AeonClad Biomedical, focused on selling custom versions of its AeonCoat dry coating technology within the drug delivery and medical device markets.

Drug delivery coatings allow for improved dissolution of poorly water soluble drugs, as well as modified or sustained release. For medical devices, AeonCoat offers lubricious coatings, coatings to increase cell adhesion, non-fouling coatings, or functional coatings for attachment of biological materials.

AeonClad Coatings is funded and managed by an Austin life sciences venture firm, Emergent Technologies.


With $14M in Hand from Abraxis BioScience, Nonprofit Catapult Bio Launches

Catapult Bio, a nonprofit organization designed to commercialize emerging research, has been launched with initial funding of up to $14 million over five years by Los Angeles-based Abraxis BioScience. Catapult Bio's business model is designed to address funding gaps impeding tech commercialization efforts identified in Arizona's Bioscience Roadmap, the state's 2002 blueprint for advancing its life sciences industry.

Catapult Bio originated from the Translational Genomic Research Institute's TGen Accelerators. It will become an independent organization "to more fully develop research discoveries into new business opportunities that accelerate commercialization in the life sciences, with an emphasis in the biomedical field," the organization said in a statement.


Taiwan Incubator Promotes New Biocluster Focused on Phytogenic Bacteria; Will Seek State Funding

The Innovation and Incubation Center of Chia Nan University of Pharmacy and Science in Taiwan said last week it is seeking to promote the formation of a biotech cluster focused on research into phytogenic bacteria. The cluster said its ultimate goal will be to establish a Center for Bacterial Species.

Cluster organizers held an initial gathering on Dec. 31, 2008, followed by sessions on Jan. 7 at the university's Department of Food Science and Technology, and on Jan. 14 at a university conference room. Organizers are culling information from all three sessions into a funding proposal to be submitted to Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs through the Industry Technology Research Institute.

The Scan

Dropped Charges

The US Justice Department has dropped visa fraud charges against five Chinese researchers, according to the Wall Street Journal.

More Kids

The Associated Press says Moderna is expanding its SARS-CoV-2 vaccine study to included additional children and may include even younger children.

PNAS Papers on Rat Clues to Human Migration, Thyroid Cancer, PolyG-DS

In PNAS this week: ancient rat genome analysis gives hints to human migrations, WDR77 gene mutations in thyroid cancer, and more.

Purnell Choppin Dies

Purnell Choppin, a virologist who led the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has died at 91, according to the Washington Post.