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Around the Regions: Oct 2, 2009


Report Faults New York City for Not Living up to Innovation Potential

A report released last week by the Center for an Urban Future claims that New York City, despite being home to a number of high-profile scientific research institutions, has failed to leverage that brainpower to help spur the economy.

The 48-page report, "Building New York City's Innovation Economy," concludes that "New York has never come close to harnessing the full potential of [its] institutions to build a meaningful innovation economy. For a variety of reasons, the city's universities and nonprofit research centers have not emerged as powerful incubators of innovation and economic development to the extent that similar institutions have in several other regions."

The report cites several factors that may be responsible, including the high cost of real estate and the shortage of affordable lab space in the city. But it also argues that the institutions themselves bear some responsibility because they have not been supportive of efforts to spin off new technology ventures, have not dedicated enough resources to engineering programs, and tend to license technologies from university research to firms located outside the region, rather than to start-ups that have the potential to create jobs locally.

The report, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, found that the New York City metro area leads all other regions in overall research and development spending by colleges and universities, with $2.9 billion in total R&D expenditures in 2006, the last full year for which data was available.

However, the report found that New York City is home to just six companies on the Deloitte 2008 Technology Fast 500 list — a "miniscule" total compared to other regions, such as the San Francisco Bay area, which had 88 firms on the list; Los Angeles, which had 50; Washington, DC, with 47; and Boston, with 41.

The report notes that New York City's research institutions are "particularly strong in the life sciences," but adds that in the fourth quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009, only one biotech company in the city received venture capital. By comparison, the rest of the New York City metro region had 13 biotech firms receiving VC funds in these quarters, while Silicon Valley had 41, the Boston area had 33, and San Diego had 17.

The report found that the city's universities and nonprofit research institutions generated 21 startups in 2007, compared to 59 for institutions in Boston.

The report does note, however, that Mayor Bloomberg has taken a number of steps to spur an innovation economy in the city, citing his support for a major bioscience research park on the East Side of Manhattan, among other examples.

Maryland's Montgomery County Mulls Biotech Tax Break

A councilman for Maryland's Montgomery County has proposed a local biotechnology tax credit and is looking to improve the approval process for life science firms looking to expand in or move to the county, the Washington Business Journal reported this week.

According to the paper, Councilmember Mike Knapp, a democrat, included the proposals in an economic-development strategy that set guidelines for development in the county.

"If we want to continue to grow the biotechnology industry in the state, we have to do things to attract companies. A tax credit can supplement seed funding and a green tape process can eliminate impediments to getting companies started," Knapp told the Journal.

The strategic plan also recommends establishing a memorandum of understanding between the county and institutions looking to expand their academic programs or research efforts in the county. Montgomery County is already working with the University of Maryland on such an MOU, the paper reported.

Knapp said the county should establish an MOU with Johns Hopkins University, which owns a parcel in the Gaithersburg West Master Plan — a 214 acre site that would allow for denser development and housing and retail uses in addition to commercial space.

The county held its first public hearing on the master plan Sept. 15 [BRN, Sept. 18].

Penn. Legislators Say Jobs Should Remain Following Pfizer's Acquisition of Wyeth

Pfizer's acquisition of Wyeth, expected to be completed by the end of the year, is not expected to affect jobs in Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Wyeth employs about 4,500 people in the state: 3,600 in Collegeville and 900 in Great Valley and other sites.

"Representatives of both Pfizer and Wyeth have continued to assure us that we should not worry, and they have continued to listen to the case that we have made for as many jobs as possible remaining in Pennsylvania," State Sen. Andy Dinniman, a Democrat who represents parts of Chester and Montgomery Counties, told the Inquirer.

Pfizer has said that it plans to cut around 20,000 of the combined companies' 130,000 jobs.

Southwest Michigan First Life Science Fund Invests in RealBio

The Southwest Michigan First Life Science Fund said this week that it has invested an undisclosed amount in RealBio Technology to support the commercialization of its cell and tissue culture technology for drug discovery and life science research.

Other investors include stem-cell therapy firm Aastrom Biosciences and First Angels, a Kalamazoo-based angel investor group. RealBio also has received funding from the Michigan Pre-Seed Microloan Program.

RealBio's technology, called the Nth Degree system, creates an in vitro environment that mimics in vivo cell and tissue development, allowing researchers to study true organs and tissue in a laboratory setting, the company said. Applications of the technology include stem cell growth and collection, drug testing, and in vitro toxicology testing.

In connection with the investment, Paul Neeb, executive in residence with the Southwest Michigan First Life Science Fund, has been named president and CEO of RealBio; while Lee Noll, who co-invented RealBio's technology while at Aastrom, has been named COO.

The Scan

Shape of Them All

According to BBC News, researchers have developed a protein structure database that includes much of the human proteome.

For Flu and More

The Wall Street Journal reports that several vaccine developers are working on mRNA-based vaccines for influenza.

To Boost Women

China's Ministry of Science and Technology aims to boost the number of female researchers through a new policy, reports the South China Morning Post.

Science Papers Describe Approach to Predict Chemotherapeutic Response, Role of Transcriptional Noise

In Science this week: neural network to predict chemotherapeutic response in cancer patients, and more.