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Around the Regions: January 12, 2009

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Report: Boost Spending, State Government Role in North Carolina Tech Translation Effort

Despite top-tier tech campuses like Research Triangle Park, North Carolina must step up its technology translation effort by increasing state spending and the state government's role in developing more workers for the life sciences and other technology sectors, as well as advancing new technologies into rural regions, a new report from the North Carolina Board of Science and Technology concluded.

The report, Advancing Innovation in North Carolina, cited a series of challenges the state faces in building a tech-based "innovation" economy — from its middle-of-the-pack (23rd in 2004) rank in the volume of R&D investment as a share of gross state product, to the overconcentration of tech at RTP and a few other sections of the state, and a continued need to train tech workers and nurture university spinouts into successful businesses.

The report calls for reestablishing the position of state science advisor — a professional who would work with the General Assembly and the state Board of Science and Technology to develop North Carolina's new innovation framework.

Other recommendations of the report:

  • Provide state-funded competitive grants to UNC system faculty toward "research that facilitates job creation in targeted and strategically important industry sectors." The grants would cost the state $5 million per year, with winners required to match their awards dollar-for-dollar.
  • Develop a new public/private partnership to launch "a strategic, coordinated, and integrated public relations, marketing, and communications campaign [to]promote North Carolina as a high-tech state that values, encourages, and invests in science, technology, and innovation." The campaign is projected to cost at least $2 million per year.
  • Shift the function of UNC's technology transfer offices from licensing to industry engagement and job creation, at an annual cost of $3 million.
  • Continue to develop and fund UNC's "Millennial" campuses, where the university's component schools build research facilities and occupy them with private-sector companies. The cost, set to vary by campus, was not estimated in the report.
  • Step up support for SBIR/STTR applicants by boosting funding for the One North Carolina Small Business Program by at least $5 million annually, and by spending at least $1 million a year above current levels for the Small Business and Technology Development Center's SBIR and STTR-related programs.
  • Promote technology adoption in rural areas of the state through SBTDC and the North Carolina Industrial Extension Service, at a cost of $1 million each year.
  • Enhance existing workforce innovation training programs, especially in the community college system, and fast-track the development of technology-trained workers, at an estimated cost of "at least" $5 million annually.

Tech Council of Maryland Releases 2009 Policy Platform for Biotechnology, High Tech

The Tech Council of Maryland last week issued a 2009 Policy Platform calling for state lawmakers to double funding for the state's biotech tax credit, and resist imposing new taxes on the life sciences and other tech sectors, during the legislative session set to begin on Jan. 14.

In the policy platform, TCM said it would urge state lawmakers and others to:

  • Support the recommendations of the Maryland Life Sciences Advisory Board and the $1.1 billion, 10-year Maryland Bio 2020 Initiative announced last year by Gov. Martin O'Malley — especially its provisions to double the current $6 million Biotech Investment Tax Credit, and create a Maryland Biotechnology Center that would serve as a proverbial "one-stop shop" or single agency for life sciences companies seeking to relocate to Maryland or expand within the state.
  • Oppose any new taxes on Maryland's high-tech industries — including the computer services sales tax approved, then rescinded last year following intense lobbying by TCM and its members
  • Authorize the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System to allow a portion of its investments to be made in local biotech and high-tech companies.
  • Oppose implementing corporate tax changes without "careful" study of their effects on Maryland's tech and biotech industries.
  • Develop long-term funding solutions for Maryland's transportation infrastructure and higher education system.

 

The Tech Council of Maryland has more than 500 members — including MdBio, Maryland's life sciences industry group — and is supported in part by a grant from Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development.


North Carolina Research Parks Weave New Network, With Collaboration, Policy in Mind

North Carolina's research parks have formed a new coalition, with the goal of stepping up economic development statewide through greater collaboration, as well as raising their profile with federal and state lawmakers on economic development and other policy issues, according to numerous local reports.

The new North Carolina Research Parks Network consists of Research Triangle Park, the Piedmont Triad Research Park in Winston-Salem, Centennial Campus at NC State University, the Charlotte Research Institute at UNC Charlotte, and the Gateway University Research Park of NC A&T State University and UNC Greensboro. The planned campuses are Carolina North at UNC Chapel Hill and NC Research Campus in Kannapolis.

Piedmont's director, Bill Dean, has been named chairman of the new network.

"There's a lot we can learn from each other," Rick Weddle, the president and chief executive of the Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina, told the Winston-Salem Journal. "We've realized that not only are we not competitors for most deals, but we have distinct proficiencies in our research and innovation to be nurtured."

Weddle offered one such example: Piedmont Triad Research Park is known for tissue-regenerative research, while the NC Research Campus is being developed as a food science mecca.


Coalition's Goal: Sweeten Wisconsin's Investment Tax Credit Law

A coalition of Wisconsin investment and economic development groups are teaming up to lobby state lawmakers for changes to the state's investment tax credit law for high-tech startups, according to WisBusiness.com.

The Wisconsin Growth Coalition is seeking changes to Act 255, which provides angel and venture capital investors a 25 percent tax credit for investing in qualified early stage companies in biotechnology as well as advanced manufacturing and information technology.

Changes sought include increasing the annual statewide cap for the credit from $11.5 million to $50 million, doubling to $8 million the amount individual companies can access in credit-eligible dollars, removing sub-caps on investing entities, and making credits for investment groups transferable.

Bill McCoshen, executive director of Competitive Wisconsin, announced the formal launch of the statewide coalition last week during a Wisconsin Innovation Network luncheon, telling audience members that he hoped some of the changes could be included in the governor's budget and that other parts could come through the legislative process, WisBusiness.com reported.

The coalition consists of Competitive Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Technology Council, Thrive, and Wisconsin Venture Partners, as well as Milwaukee's M7, DaneVest, the Central Wisconsin Business Angels, the Wisconsin Biotechnology and Medical Device Association, BizStarts, and New North.


Singapore EDB Subsidiary Joins Novartis Fund in $25M Initial Funding for Startup Cambridge, Mass., Cancer Drug Discoverer

Bio*One Capital, the dedicated biomedical sciences investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board, has joined with Novartis Option Fund and other investors to award $25 million in initial equity and nondilutive funding to Forma Therapeutics, the company announced.

Forma is headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., with research operations in Connecticut, Singapore, and Beijing. The company was founded by researchers from the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT to develop drugs against cancer.


Connecticut Innovations Raises Investment in Lab Equipment / Software Developer to $500K

Connecticut Innovations, the state's quasi-public authority responsible for technology investing and innovation development, has made a second investment in laboratory equipment/software developer FMP Products.

The latest $200,000 investment brings CI's stake in the company to $500,000 — accounting for most of the $700,000 financing round. The remainder came from LaunchCapital and angel investors.

The second investment in FMP was CI's 12th in early-stage Connecticut technology companies since July 2008.

FMP, which has operations in Greenwich, Conn., and New Milford, Conn., is a developer of laboratory automation equipment and software for the pharmaceutical market, as well as for industrial, educational and governmental users. FMP's new Harvester series workstations are designed to allow pharmaceutical researchers to remotely harvest protein crystals of any size, allowing for quicker and more accurate structure analysis.

Pauline Murphy, managing director of investments for CI, will serve on the company's board of directors.


Report: Hawaiians Earning $200K and Up Claim Most of Aloha State's Tech Tax Credits

A report released by Hawai'i's Department of Taxation concluded that the Aloha State's wealthiest residents are among the biggest beneficiaries of the state's tax credits for technology investors, the Honolulu Advertiser reported.

Hawaiians with incomes of $200,000 or more claimed $56.8 million in technology investment tax credits in 2006 — more than 95 percent of the $59.6 million in tech investment tax credits claimed by individuals that year. Insurance companies received $26.7 million in tech tax credits; financial corporations, $10.2 million; and corporations, $8.5 million.

The 1,033 wealthiest tech tax credit recipients cut their state income taxes by an average of $54,995 in 2006, the taxation department found, with residents owing that much in state income tax for one year most likely to have been earning an annual income of more than $600,000.

The tax credits, called Act 221 and Act 215, provide a full tax break for technology investments, spread over five years. From 1999 through 2007, the technology investment tax credits cost the state an estimated $657.5 million in tax revenues, according to the tax department.

Only 123 taxpayers with annual incomes below $50,000 took advantage of the tax credit.

Lowell Kalapa, president of the nonprofit Tax Foundation of Hawaii, told the Advertiser that while the credits have succeeded in persuading wealthy Hawaiians to invest in local technology companies, the result of that activity shifts the state's tax burden to lower-income residents: "For those of us who don't have that kind of money to throw around, we're still ending up paying state taxes. We're paying for the schools. We're paying for the prisons, for healthcare, for social services. Meanwhile, the rich guys are not paying for anything."


All Ireland Seedcorn Business Competition Honors Thurles, Ireland, Biotech as Province's Best Startup

HKPB Scientific, an early-stage biotechnology company headquartered in the Technology Park in Thurles, Ireland, has been recognized as the best startup company in the province of Munster in the All Ireland Seedcorn Business competition.

A panel consisting of representatives of the Irish venture capital community and cross-border state agencies analyzed the business plan of HKPB, which was founded last year by local scientists Brendan Kennedy and Donncha Haverty. The company has already accessed €300,000 ($403,826) in equity and state funding just one year after incorporation.

Using its research relationship with the University of Limerick, HKPB has developed four technologies and progressed two patents in the high-technology, biomedical space to an advanced stage of international protection. The company has begun entering global markets totaling $20 billion annually, including the US, where it has a permanent presence.

The company has had support from Shannon Development and the Tipperary Technology Park, as well as Enterprise Ireland.


RNAi-Based Tech Platform Developer Wins $1.2M Grant from Indiana's 21st Century Research and Technology Fund

Kylin Therapeutics, a company based at Purdue Research Park in West Lafayette, Ind., has been awarded a $1.2 million grant from Indiana's 21st Century Research and Technology Fund toward commercializing its disease fighting technology.

The technology, called pRNAi, is a Purdue University platform that uses RNA interference or RNAi to directly target disease-causing genes. Kylin is in the pre-clinical stage of further developing the technology to target drug delivery for treatment of diseases ranging from AIDS to cancer.

"We are using this funding to develop a pRNAi-based cancer treatment," said Eric Davis, president and chief executive of Kylin Therapeutics, in a written statement. "The research in this area shows promise in treating prostate cancer, ovarian cancer and other diseases."

Formed through a joint effort between IN-vivo Ventures and North Carolina-based Golden Pine Ventures, Kylin Therapeutics acquired an exclusive license to pRNA from Purdue in 2007.

Kylin Therapeutics is one of 59 businesses awarded a 21st Century Fund grant since January 2006.


US Patent Office Registers San Diego Professional's Public Relations Strategy

The US Patent and Trademark Office has registered a San Diego professional's public relations strategy for clients in the life sciences and several other business sectors. Tom Gable's Guru Program received a service mark covering not only life-sci and biotechnology, but professional legal and accounting services, health care, financial services, real estate, lodging, hospitality, golf equipment, golf event, information technology, wireless, educational and not-for-profit organizations and institutions; and public relations.

Gable is the CEO and founder of Gable PR in San Diego, and is a former financial journalist and daily columnist. In a press release, Gable said his PR strategy has built credibility for clients that have included Pfizer, as well as university laboratories, and new technology companies raising money and preparing to either go public or be acquired by a larger firm in the same industry.


VaBio Voices Support for Items on Northern Virginia Tech Council's Legislative Agenda

The Virginia Biotechnology Association, also called VaBio, said last week on its blog it was working with the Northern Virginia Technology Council to lobby state lawmakers for several policy proposals included in the council's 2009 Virginia General Assembly Legislative Agenda.

The wish list:

  • Preserve the $30 million plus in directed research funds appropriated this fiscal year as the final installment in the 3-year $100 million plus university research package.
  • Narrow the scope of the angel investment tax credit by limiting eligibility to investments in small Virginia-based technology, biotechnology, life sciences, university spinoffs and alternative energy start-ups, to target industries with strong potential for statewide economic growth and job expansion.
  • Increase non-state research funding at Virginia universities through (a) expanded efforts to secure federal funding of basic research and (b) identifying opportunities to provide research services (as opposed to transferring IP) to large corporations. Longer term, explore opportunities to keep companies better informed of the research being performed at Virginia universities and to improve the pace and amount of technology transferred between universities and industry.
  • Restructure the Commonwealth Technology Research Fund (CTRF) to provide for targeted state research investment on a competitive basis with an emphasis on collaborative research initiatives between universities and the private sector with high potential for intellectual property commercialization and job creation.
  • Update Virginia's sales and use tax exemption for research equipment to reflect current research practices and activities and to elevate Virginia's competitive research environment. While not as competitive as the R&D tax credits offered by many states, a more meaningful tax exemption for research will help attract more private research activity.
  • Restore budget cuts to CIT's successful GAP Fund which has earned national recognition for its efforts in encouraging Virginia entrepreneurs and innovative technology start-up companies to locate and grow within the Commonwealth by investing in seed-stage firms and university spinoffs with a high potential for successful commercialization, rapid growth, and downstream private equity financing.

Life-Sci Conference Invest Northwest 2009 Selects 63 Presenting Companies

Organizers for Invest Northwest have selected 63 emerging and established public and private companies based in the region to deliver presentations at the life sciences investment conference, set for March 17-18 in Seattle at Bell Harbor International Conference Center.

Companies were selected through a jury of representatives of the organizers, Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association, in collaboration with BioAlberta, Life Sciences British Columbia, Montana BioScience Alliance and the Oregon Bioscience Association.

This year's line-up of companies includes 27 developers of therapeutics, 18 medical device companies, and the rest scattered amnong other life-sci specialties, such as bioinformatics and biofuels.

New to Invest Northwest this year will be "Speed Dating," an event where life sciences entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to give brief pitches to investors and potential corporate partners, while also gathering feedback and contacts. A list of presenters will be published before the event.

Keynote speaker this year will be George Poste, director of The Biodesign Institute, Del E. Webb Distinguished Professor of Biology, and Regents' Professor at the Biodesign Institute of Arizona State University. He will discuss "Biotechnology, Molecular Medicine, and the Future Evolution of Healthcare."

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.