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Up and Down the Aisles at BIO 2009

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ATLANTA – Following are news items based on panels, presentations, press briefings, and interviews taking place this week during the Biotechnology Industry Organization's BIO 2009 International Convention, held at the Georgia World Congress Center:

CIRM $500M from Washington to Guarantee Agency's Small Business Loans

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine is working its way through Congress seeking $500 million in federal funds it hopes to apply toward guaranteeing the long-planned small-business loan program, whose outlines were approved last year by the state stem cell agency's governing board, its chairman Robert Klein told BioRegion News on Wednesday.

"We're asking that they guarantee the bottom 50 percent of our loan portfolio, because if they do that, then outside of our bonds, we can sell those loans to banks. The banks are asking the feds to guarantee the top 20 percent," said Klein, who chairs the Independent Citizens Oversight Commission, the 29-member board that governs the stem cell agency. "So if you can guarantee the top 20 percent for the banks, hopefully for the healthcare of the country, you can guarantee the bottom 50 percent."

The $500 million to be guaranteed by Washington would be in addition to the initial $500 million value of the loan program. A report by consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers projected CIRM could more than recoup its share of loan program funds within seven to 10 years, since funds would come back to the agency with interest.

"Even with a very high nonperformance rate approaching 50 percent, when we get to 2017, we're going to have a billion dollars coming back to us under the loan program in the next three or four years, if we do another $500 million in loans and another $500 million loan guarantee, Klein said.

The $500 million sought by CIRM is the same value as the original value of the loan program, whose outline ICOC approved last year [BRN, Sept. 29, 2008].

Earlier this year, as the Golden State scrambled to plug a $42 billion shortfall due to a drop-off in tax collections that officials blamed on the economic upheaval, CIRM warned that it would run out of cash by September absent a budget agreement.

Also helping CIRM, Klein said, was the agency's ability to generate $3 in private and foundation donations for every $1 spent by the agency in facilities grants awarded last year. The agency generated $885 million in private dollars from the $271 million it gave to a dozen institutions toward the cost of constructing new facilities conducive to stem cell research resulting in a total $1.155 billion available for those projects.

"We've done fairly well with our goals," Klein said.

Well enough to avoid another voter referendum for bond money toward stem cell research, such as the 2004 ballot question Proposition 71 that created CIRM?

"What I can say is, we would hope by that time to have some solid research results that are addressing therapies across several diseases," Klein replied.

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Burrill: Elk Run, Minn., Project Will Reflect Biotechnology's New Frontiers, Beyond Drug Discovery

The 200-acre BioBusiness Park at Elk Run in Pine Island, Minn., will reflect the life sciences' evolving paradigm beyond facilitating cures for diseases, into a series of technologies that also maintain human wellness and fight global warming through alternative fuels based on living organisms, a co-developer of the project, biotechnology investor-analyst G. Steven Burrill told BRN.

"The opportunity, then, is to use this confluence of technologies, to use Wisconsin, and Minnesota, and the Mayo [Clinic], and the people that are around there, and a nice hunk of geography, and make something happen that has never happened before," said Burrill, the CEO of Burrill & Co. in San Francisco. "You look at your Cargills of the world, and the big food industry. You look at 3M, and the big IBM presence. There are a significant amount of things in the area other than just the Mayo," long the Midwest's traditional life-sci anchor because of its history of developing advanced medical technologies.

Burrill spoke in a brief interview after he presented his "State of the Industry" views in a 149-page PowerPoint presentation distilling the key points of his annual report on the topic to a convention crowd that nearly filled the Sidney J. Marcus Auditorium.

Burrill joined with Tower Investments this past March in announcing plans to launch a private equity/venture capital fund of $1 billion, intended to finance potential life-sciences tenants of the 200-acre campus. Those tenants are expected to commercialize new technologies developed at the Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota, and unnamed private entities.

"I'm convinced, to be simplistic for a minute, if I stand on a street corner at Elk Run and I say, 'I have a billion dollars, you all come,' a lot of people will come. In a dollar-constrained marketplace, such as we have today, capital has real power. You look at that. You look at all the technology that's in that Midwestern region, and then you put experienced capital, financial capital, on the street at Elk Run, I can make things happen that have never happened before," Burrill said.

A marketing flyer available at the Minnesota pavilion detailed plans for at least one traditional life-sci building at the park — the 40,000-square-foot Biotechnology Center at Elk Run. According to the flyer, the center will be "available for research institutions and startups."

In addition to supporting "cell/protein/tissue therapeutic platforms," the facility would allow for programs and services that include "phase I clinical trials, product development and manufacturing," as well as support for phase II and III tests, and "development, quality, regulatory, CMC, and testing" services.

The biotech center would also include "20 ISO class production clean rooms, 40 total operational staff expected with technical/scientific/engineering focus," and "research program funding consultation."

Elsewhere, the biobusiness center, according to the marketing piece, would make available "tech/showcase, warehouse, and distribution space." The center is part of the 2,325-acre Elk Run master planned community, which would feature a "wellness community" for health-minded adults.

On Wednesday, Tower said it agreed to pay the city of Pine Island $950,000 toward onsite infrastructure improvements for the biobusiness park. The improvements are to include sewer and water service to Elk Run's biobusiness park and sites for the wellness community, a stormwater retention pond in the BioBusiness Park, and a sanitary lift station.

In a statement, Tower said additional funds for further infrastructure components would be provided soon, and that Minnesota's Department of Employment and Economic Development matched Tower's funding committed to the onsite improvements.


Pennsylvania Economic Development Official Sees Smaller Cut for Ben Franklin Tech Authority

Pennsylvania's budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is likely to balance the desire of Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell's administration to enact a $10 million spending cut for the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority with the desire of the state Senate's Republican majority to more than halve funding for the 26-year-old program, the state's deputy secretary for the Technology Investment Office of the PA Department of Community and Economic Development told BRN.

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At issue is how much less should the state spend in fiscal year 2010 compared with the current fiscal year on the authority and its four Ben Franklin Technology Partners centers statewide. Gov. Edward Rendell, a Democrat term limited after 2010, had proposed reducing the authority's budget from $50 million to $40 million; Senate Republicans, to $20 million.

"Nobody expects the Senate budget to be the final budget. Hopefully, we'll end up somewhere in between," Rebecca Bagley said in an interview at Pennsylvania's pavilion. "I think there's a very strong inclination to want to fund them at the highest capacity so that we can keep these companies going during the economic downturn."

Despite the development during this decade of life sciences-focused incubators or "greenhouses" statewide, Bagley said, Pennsylvania still needs the broader tech focus to nurturing early-stage companies applied by the Ben Franklin centers.

Earlier this month, the head of Bagley's department, acting Secretary George Cornelius, issued a press release to denounce the Ben Franklin spending rollback plan, and other budget cuts proposed by the state Senate's Republican majority. "Their proposed spending plan, if adopted by the legislature, would impede our ability to recover from this recession and it would choke Pennsylvania’s job-creation engine to the point where it would sputter and die out."

GOP senators, however, passed the $27.3 billion spending proposal, which they said cut overall state spending over 1 percent from the current fiscal year, and included no new taxes, saying it was tough but necessary medicine given the state's ailing coffers due to the economic upheaval.

"As we work to adopt a state budget, we must do the very same thing that families and businesses do during tough economic times — prioritize our spending and make difficult but necessary cuts," said state Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, in a Senate Republican press release.

The state fiscal year starts on July 1.


With Incubator in Mind, Metro Orlando (Fla.) EDC Eyes 'Potentially No Cost' Lease for Ex-Burnham Space

The Metro Orlando (Fla.) Economic Development Commission will accept at "potentially no cost" a lease from the Florida Blood Center for the 14,000-square-foot space recently vacated by the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, Eric Ushkowitz, director of technology industry development for the EDC, told BRN.

While a contract for the transaction had yet to be signed, he said, the lease will allow for the site's conversion into incubator space for life sciences startups. The space became available when Burnham moved earlier this month into its permanent $85 million, 175,000-square-foot Florida facility within the 600-acre "Medical City" science and technology park. Medical City is part of the 7,000-acre Lake Nona mixed-use, master-planned community in Orlando, developed by the Tavistock Group of Windermere, Fla.

"We're in the process right now of working with our partners at Tavistock and the University of Central Florida to determine what the management structure will be, and everything else from lease rates to an advisory council" that will determine the qualifications for potential incubator tenants, Ushkowitz added in an interview. "We've gotten a couple of calls, both from inside the state and from outside."

Ushkowtz was among four Orlando-area professionals who discussed the region's growing life sciences community, its success in drawing companies in a variety of technology disciplines, and the Medical City project in a wide ranging interview.

Joining him were Suzy Spang, vice president of technology aqnd entertainment for the EDC; Jennifer Wakefield, an EDC spokeswoman; and Thaddeus Seymour Jr., vice president and general manager for health and life sciences with the Lake Nona development and its Medical City.

The Scan

WHO OKs Emergency Use of Sinopharm Vaccine

The World Health Organization has granted emergency approval for Sinopharm's SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, the Guardian reports.

Scientific Integrity Panel to Meet

According to the Associated Press, a new US scientific integrity panel is to meet later this week.

Trying in the Eye

NPR reports that a study of Editas Medicine's CRISPR therapy for Leber congenital amaurosis has begun.

PLOS Papers on Cerebellum Epigenetics, Copy Number Signature Tool, Acute Lung Injury Networks

In PLOS this week: epigenetics analysis of brain tissue, bioinformatics tool to find copy number signatures in cancer, and more.