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Around the Regions: Jan 5, 2009

With State Finances Squeezed, California Stem Cell Funding Agency Eyes Contingency Plan
The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine is expected this month to consider a contingency financing plan to cope with the state’s financial crisis that could include bond anticipation notes and a private placement with major philanthropic backers, the San Francisco Business Times reported.
The state stem cell funding agency’s contingency plan would require approval by the agency’s governing board as well as state Treasurer Bill Lockyer. He has warned publicly that the state’s financial woes — California officials are scrambling to plug a combined $41.8 billion shortfall for this fiscal year and next — may force the state to stop issuing loans through its Pooled Money Investment Account, from which state agencies typically borrow before receiving funding through bonds.
CIRM has $168.9 million in cash on hand — enough to fund existing grant programs and new grants through July 2009, with enough in reserve to fund office operations for another year to monitor existing grants, and manage the standards review processes, agency representatives told the newspaper.
While CIRM has awarded more than $635.8 million in grants for research and facilities over the past three years, some grant awards are not scheduled to be paid out until 2009 or late 2010. That does not include some $210 million in grants the agency is set to award in November to research teams for basic stem cell research capable of advancing to Phase I clinical trials within four years.

US DOE Announces Funding of Up To $200M for Pilot and Demonstration Scale Advanced Biorefinery Projects
The US Department of Energy has set a Feb. 20 deadline for letters of intent by applicants seeking a share of the up to $200 million to be made available over the next six federal fiscal years — through Sept. 30, 2014, but subject to annual appropriations — to support development of pilot and demonstration-scale biorefineries, including the use of feedstocks such as algae and production of bio-butanol, green gasoline, and other biofuels.
DOE’s Demonstration of Integrated Biorefinery Operations grants program envisions two areas for biorefinery development — pilot-scale, minimum throughput of one dry metric ton of feedstock per day, with a minimum non-federal cost-share at 30 percent; and demonstration-scale minimum throughput of 50 dry metric tons of feedstock per day, with a minimum non-federal cost-share at 50 percent.
In its Funding Opportunity Announcement, DOE said it will not consider applications that propose refineries producing heat and power as the primary product. Projects may, however, propose producing heat and power using waste streams resulting from a biorefinery if the production of an eligible liquid transportation biofuel is the primary product.
DOE said it anticipated making approximately five to 12 awards, with a maximum individual award of $40 million. All projects must be located within the US, use feedstock from domestic biomass resources, and demonstrate greenhouse gas reductions on a lifecycle basis. Advanced biofuels produced from these projects are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 50 percent, as determined by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Completed applications are due April 30. A synopsis of the program is available here, and the full announcement is available here.

Massachusetts Life Sciences Center Approves $3.7M in Cooperative Research Grants
The board of directors of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, the quasi-public agency that oversees the Bay State’s $1 billion, 10-year Life Sciences Act, has approved more than $3.7 million in cooperative research grants, in the funding program’s first-ever round.
The grants are intended to fund collaborations between scientists, academic institutions and industry that show scientific merit and promise what the center deems “significant” commercial potential in the near term. Grants can range up to $250,000 a year for three years, and must be matched dollar-for-dollar by industry partners.
Of 27 projects that applied for the grants, the center’s board selected the following six as grant winners:

  • Rudolf Faust, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Boston Scientific —$199,596 per year for three years.Faust will join three postdoctorals and two graduate students at UMass Lowell, and Boston Scientific to collaborate on the design, precision synthesis, and nanomanufacturing of new biocompatible and functional materials for better performance in several medical devices. The researchers will design polyisobutylene-based urethane lead coatings to be used with pacemakers and defibrillators.
  • Judy Lieberman, Immune Disease Institute, Epic Therapeutics — $250,000 per year for three years. Lieberman, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, will work with the Immune Disease Institute and Epic Therapeutics of Norwood, Mass., to test PROMAXX microparticles with siRNAs for antiviral effects in female mice on the viral infections HSV-2 and HPV, and verify that they do not cause unanticipated toxicity. Epic Pharmaceuticals is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Baxter Healthcare.
  • David Weitz, Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, RainDance Technologies — $250,000 per year for three years. Weitz, a professor of physics and applied physics at Harvard, will work with RainDance Technologies of Lexington, Mass., to develop and demonstrate the use of a new form of fluorescence activated cell sorter for collecting biochemical information about individual cells. RainDance last fall celebrated the relocation of its headquarters from Guilford, Conn., citing the life sciences act [BRN, Sept. 29, 2008].
  • Andrew Luster/Massachusetts General Hospital/Idera Pharmaceuticals —  $63,100 per year for three years. Luster, chief of the division of rheumatology, allergy, and immunology at Massachusetts General Hospital, will work with Idera Pharmaceuticals of Cambridge, Mass., to determine how effectively Idera’s olignonucleotide-based TLR7 and TLR9 antagonist molecules inhibit human immune cell activation. The research is directed toward developing new therapies for autoimmune diseases such as Lupus.
  • Richard Lee and Parth Patwari, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Biomeasure — $250,000 per year for three years. Lee and Patwari of Harvard Medical School will work with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Biomeasure of Milford, Mass., on in vivo pre-clinical tests of their heparin-binding protein invention, designed to enhance cartilage regeneration after traumatic injury and provide therapy for osteoarthritis.
  • Michael Czech and Gary Ostroff, UMass Medical School, RXi Pharmaceuticals — $249,593 per year for three years. Czech and Ostroff of UMass Medical School will work with RXi Pharmaceuticals of Worcester, Mass., on research revealing how RNAi may be harnessed as an orally available medicine directed to dendritic cells and macrophages, cell types which promote pathogenic inflammation in such diseases as arthritis, colitis, atherosclerosis and diabetes. The collaboration is aimed at producing commercial RNAi therapeutics.

Missouri Gov. Elect Jay Nixon Unveils Outline of Show Me Jobs Initiative
Missouri Gov.-elect Jay Nixon has outlined the initial provisions of the Show Me Jobs initiative, a plan developed to win bipartisan legislative support by increasing state support for small businesses, worker training, and business expansion, citing the economic upheaval of recent months. Among components of the initiative outlined by Nixon, a Democrat:
Expanding the Missouri Quality Jobs Program — launched in 2005 by Nixon’s Republican predecessor, Matt Blunt, to draw more life-sciences and other tech jobs to the state — for the second time in two years. Last year, the amount of available tax credits was raised from $40 million to $60 million. The program offers tax credits and allows employers to retain withholding taxes for new jobs that offer health benefits and wages that equal or exceed the county average.
Providing low-interest loans to small businesses through the Missouri Development Finance Board, to be financed through a 4 percent fee the board collects on tax credits.
Offering employers tax credits to offset pre-employment training costs for full-time workers. Employers would receive reimbursement for those costs on the employee’s second anniversary with the company.
Establish an Automotive Manufacturing Task Force, with the goal of preparing workers to build fuel-efficient vehicles auto makers are expected to bring to assembly lines over the next year to 18 months.
Coordinate all state economic actions with those of Missouri’s Congressional delegation and the Obama administration.
Giving the state economic development director the option to waive, on a case-by-case basis, a requirement that businesses receiving funding from the state solicit development proposals from other states to qualify for benefits through the Missouri Build Program. The program offers tax credits to companies bringing large capital investments and numbers of new jobs.

NC Biotech Center Sets Jan. 28 Deadline for Applications for Second Round of Regional Development Grants
The North Carolina Biotechnology Center is accepting a second round of applications for its Regional Development Grant program, which supports economic-development initiatives in communities statewide. The deadline for pre-proposals is Jan. 28.
The competitive grant program supports early stage, life-science economic-development initiatives in communities statewide. Types of projects may include: strategic planning, asset and market inventory, building infrastructure, and other activities that build regional and community collaborations to foster the growth of biotechnology companies, related industries, and their service providers.
Grants can range up to $75,000, with winners required to match 50 percent of the grant. Projects must be completed within a 12-month period. The program is open to any North Carolina-based, non-profit organization, including institutions of higher education, chambers of commerce, and economic development organizations.
Information and submission instructions are available here.

Southeast BIO Honors Three Companies for 2008 Regional Deals
Southeast BIO announced three businesses and one individual [See BioRegion Newsmakers, this issue] have won its Second Annual SEBIO Awards, in a ceremony held recently at its Tenth Anniversary Investor Forum in Palm Beach, Fla. 
The business winners:
  • ViewRay won the SE Deal of the Year: Initial Funding award, for its $25 million financing in January 2008. The financing was led by OrbiMed Advisors and Fidelity Biosciences, and was joined by Aisling Capital, and Kearny Venture Partners. ViewRay is focused on the development of a real-time magnetic resonance imaging guided radiation therapy device for the treatment of cancer patients.
  • Biolex won the SE Deal of the Year: Venture Capital Transaction award, for its $60 million Series D financing in October. Leading the financing was Clarus Ventures with OrbiMed Advisors participating as a new investor. Existing investors included Intersouth Partners, Quaker BioVentures, Johnson & Johnson Development Corporation, Investor Growth Capital, Polaris Ventures, Mitsui & Company, the Dow Chemical Co., JP Morgan Securities, and the North Carolina Economic Development Fund. Biolex is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company whose lead drug candidate is designed to improve patient care in the treatment of hepatitis C through improved side-effect profile and dosing convenience.
  • Serenex won the SE Deal of the Year: Strategic Transaction for its strategic alliance with Pfizer, which acquired the cancer treatment developer, as well as its drug discovery technology, its small molecule Hsp90 inhibitor compound library, and rights to its lead compound oral Hsp90 inhibitor SNX-5422, currently in Phase I trials for solid tumors and hematological malignancies.

With Funding from Danish Council, University of Copenhagen Launching New Centre for Pharmaceutical Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology
The Danish Council for Strategic Research has awarded 28 million DKK ($5.1 million) to a team led by Moein Moghimi, a professor of biopharmacy and nanomedicine at the University of Copenhagen, toward creating the Centre for Pharmaceutical Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences starting in April.
Moghimi will serve as director, while Thomas Bjørnholm, who heads the university’s NanoScience Centre, will be chairman of the new CPNN’s steering committee.
CPNN will provide benchmark protocols for toxicity evaluation of nanomedicines in animals, at cellular and molecular levels, as well as collaborate with research centers worldwide. The center will receive an in-kind contribution of about 10 million DKK from pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

Missouri Sec’y of State Rejects Petition for 2010 Stem Cell Ballot Question
Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan has rejected an anti-stem-cell group’s latest petition for a 2010 ballot initiative that would ban the use of tax dollars for embryonic stem-cell research, abortions, and human cloning, the St. Louis Business Journal has reported.
Missouri Roundtable for Life sought a state constitutional amendment declaring it “unlawful to expend, pay, or grant any public funds for abortion services, human cloning or prohibited human research.”
Carnahan’s office told the Business Journal the initiative was rejected after state Attorney General Jay Nixon — who will be inaugurated Jan. 12 as Missouri’s 55th governor — found errors in wording — namely an omission about how the proposed amendment would add to a new section of the state constitution and a reference to text “not authorized by law” that Nixon concluded could cause confusion.
Ed Martin, president of the roundtable, told the newspaper the Roundtable for Life was aware of the state’s concerns, and responded by submitting a new petition in Dec. 22 designed to address those problems.
Carnahan’s rejection marked the 10th instance in 2008 where an initiative from the roundtable was rejected due to form, said Laura Egerdal, a spokeswoman for the state secretary of state.

Stanford Professor Envisions ‘Biofab’ Production Facility for Bay Area
Stanford University associate professor Drew Endy has begun working with others to establish a synthetic biology production facility, or biofab, in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Business Times reported. The biofab would be designed to facilitate production of standardized life forms that could be used as platforms for more complex systems.
The biofab would cost between $5 million and $20 million to build, and would initially operate with 20 people. The facility would be an offshoot of the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center, or SynBERC, run by the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, or QB3, and funded by a $16 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation.

No location has emerged, though the Business Times reported that biofab leaders have begun talks with landlords at San Francisco’s Mission Bay section, as well as within the Peninsula and East Bay sub-regions.

The facility could draw together projects now underway by the University of California’s Berkeley and San Francisco campuses, as well as companies wanting to buy reliable, ready-to-use synthesized genes, gene controllers, and other biological parts and systems, the newspaper reported.
As a result, the Business Times concluded, “the biofab could speed biotech innovation and efficiency, much like standardized, off-the-shelf parts fed the growth of the semiconductor industry.”

Businesses, Universities Win $3.1M in Biodiesel Grants from Connecticut
Four biodiesel producers and three universities have been awarded a total $3.1 million in grants under two programs funded by the state Department of Economic and Community Development, and overseen by the tax-exempt Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology.
The biodiesel producers will receive a combined $2.2 million, projected to leverage more than $6 million in private investment, under the Production Facility Grant program. The programs offer grants to qualified facilities to purchase equipment or construct, modify or retrofit biodiesel plants. Grants awarded under the program cover 25 percent of the equipment or construction costs, up to a maximum of $3 million.
The business winners:
  • Greenleaf Biofuels, based in the New Haven Harbor area, will receive a $1,281,322 grant to help fund construction and equipment costs for a plant that will have an estimated 6.7 million gallon per year capacity. The facility will use feedstocks, including waste and virgin vegetable oils, and produce fuel used in the heating oil and transportation markets.
  • DBS Energy of East Hartford will receive $503,844 in funding to help cover construction and equipment costs on a biodiesel-to-electricity production facility that will process waste and virgin vegetable oils into biodiesel for use in diesel generators. The plant will use technology developed at the University of Connecticut to process 250,000 gallons of biodiesel per year. Electricity generated at the facility will be Class I renewable energy.
  • CT Biodiesel of New Haven Harbor will receive $350,000 toward construction and equipment costs on a facility that will have a capacity of approximately 52 million gallons per year. It will produce biodiesel used in the heating oil, transportation and electric generation markets. The plant will have the capacity to process feedstocks, such as soybean oil and waste vegetable oil.
  • BioDiesel One of Southington will receive an $83,566 grant to invest in process automation and quality control equipment. The facility has an estimated production capacity of 3 million gallons per year. The plant will produce fuel used in the heating oil and transportation markets and will have the capacity to process a range of feedstocks, including waste vegetable oil and soybean oil.
Another $900,000 has been awarded to three Connecticut-based universities under the Fuel Diversification Grant program, established to support research on biofuels production and biofuels quality testing.

The three universities:

  • The University of Connecticut will receive two grants. A $598,244 grant will be used to develop the capability for remote monitoring and build a biodiesel testing laboratory. A $97,000 grant will be used to conduct research on catalysts for conversion of biomass into biofuel.
  • The University of New Haven will receive $135,276 to identify species of algae from Long Island Sound that could be cultivated to produce biodiesel.
  • Yale University will receive $69,752 to research algae feedstock growth optimization.

Maryland to Host 2009 World Stem Cell Summit Planned for Baltimore
Marylandhas been selected to host the 2009 World Stem Cell Summit, set for Baltimore from Sept. 21-23. The World Stem Cell Summit is expected to bring together nearly 1,500 stem cell stakeholders from around the world to discuss research issues as well as the broader future of regenerative medicine.
Gov. Martin O’Malley announced the state’s selection for the stem cell summit during remarks at the recent Maryland Stem Cell Research Symposium, held at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory’s Kossiakoff Center, and hosted by the governor and the Maryland Stem Cell Research Commission.
The symposium, envisioned to become an annual event, included presentations from awardees of Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund awardees, as well as poster presentations from more than 60 state-supported stem cell scientists.

Tecan May Increase Sales, Marketing Staff in New Shanghai Base in 2009
Tecan will likely increase its array tools-related sales and marketing presence in China next year to accommodate what it calls a growing customer base, company officials told BRN sister newsletter BioArray News last week.
The Swiss company, which sells products for sample management, preparation, hybridization, and scanning and analysis, opened its Asia Pacific headquarters in Shanghai in October to support a growing customer base in the region.
Siegfried Sasshofer, head of global marketing for Tecan’s microarray product unit, told BioArray News via e-mail that the firm intends to add personnel to support microarray-related products in China at the Shanghai office, and hopes to begin sales and marketing training sessions there in February.
“We are focusing on this market by investing in additional sales offices and service structure, ideally to support our growing number of customers” in the Asia-Pacific region, Sasshofer said. “We will emphasize the strategic importance of China to Tecan with an investment in additional people, both with product and application expertise, which will offer better support to our customers.”
Sasshofer declined to discuss the size of Tecan’s current sales force in China is, or how many staffers the company hopes to add next year.
According to Tecan’s 2007 annual financial report, released in March, sales in Asia jumped 50 percent to CHF 56 million ($52 million) over 2006. In comparison, sales in Europe dropped 7 percent to CHF 155 million last year, while North American sales rose 2 percent to CHF 189 million for the same period. Total sales for the year were CHF 414 million.

The Scan

Study Reveals New Details About Genetics of Major Cause of Female Infertility

Researchers in Nature Medicine conducted a whole-exome sequencing study of mote than a thousand patients with premature ovarian insufficiency.

Circulating Tumor DNA Shows Potential as Biomarker in Rare Childhood Cancer

A study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology has found that circulating tumor DNA levels in rhabdomyosarcoma may serve as a biomarker for prognosis.

Study Recommends Cancer Screening for Dogs Beginning Age Seven, Depending on Breed

PetDx researchers report in PLOS One that annual cancer screening for dogs should begin by age seven.

White-Tailed Deer Harbor SARS-CoV-2 Variants No Longer Infecting Humans, Study Finds

A new study in PNAS has found that white-tailed deer could act as a reservoir of SARS-CoV-2 variants no longer found among humans.