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Around the Regions: April 6, 2009

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Maryland Senate OKs $6M for Biotech Tax Credit Program in FY'10 Budget Bill

Maryland's state Senate voted as expected to retain the full $6 million proposed by Gov. Martin O'Malley for the state's Biotechnology Investment Tax Credit program, as part of the $13.8 billion operating budget approved for the fiscal year starting July 1.

The funding fate of the biotech tax credits will rest with a conference committee of state senators and members of the House of Delegates, which voted last week to cut funding for the program to $4 million.

While the legislature or General Assembly was supposed to pass a budget by April 6, that had yet to occur at deadline, and the deadline can be pushed back. The legislative session is scheduled to end April 13. According to Maryland Community Newspapers, pending bills include one requiring the Maryland Technology Development Corp., also known as TEDCO, to organize public-private partnerships to boost nanobiotechnology research in the state. That measure passed the House, and was under review in the Senate.


Missouri Tax Credit Advocates Say Bill Could Entice Monsanto Expansion within State

Supporters of a Missouri state Senate bill that would award biotechnology employers a tax credit equal to a percentage of their research expenses say the measure could help persuade Monsanto to select the Show Me state rather than Iowa as the site of a planned expansion.

The tax credit is part of Senate Bill 45, introduced by state Sen. David Pearce (R-Warrensburg). The measure is in the Senate's Jobs, Economic Development and Local Government Committee, where it faces opposition from some state senators opposed to what they deem excessive economic incentives for large businesses.

"We cannot continue to piece off all of the natural growth and say we will not tax it. Just because the neighbors are doing something stupid, does that mean you're going to do something stupid too?" state Sen. Matt Bartle (R-Lee's Summit), told the Associated Press.

Bartle is among a group of Republican state senators who have counter-proposed capping most tax credit programs, as well as allowing lawmakers to set total amounts of spending on each credit program while considering state budgets. State Senators narrowly rejected the latter stipulation 18-16, then agreed to re-insert the budget provision after state Sen. Jason Crowell (R-Cape Girardeau) began filibustering the bill.

State Sen. Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles) acknowledged that tax credits have "cannibalized" state resources, but maintained to the wire service that incentives were the best way to attract companies: "We're playing that game. If you don't play in the game, you get left behind."

Pearce's bill would allow companies to receive a credit equal to 3 percent of research costs up to $2.5 million; 5 percent between $2.5 million and $5 million; and 7.5 percent for costs exceeding $5 million. Individual companies could not receive more than $2.1 million in credits each year. The tax credit is part of a larger bill that includes an expansion of Missouri's Quality Jobs Act sought by Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat who took office in January.

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Monsanto "has long supported" the tax credit, spokeswoman Danielle Stuart told the AP, without stating it was a prerequisite to the expansion being considered by the company — which she said would over four years generate 1,500 jobs, most of them researcher, scientist, and office worker positions.

Dempsey has introduced another bill pending before the same committee. Senate Bill 572 would create a new Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Authority that would "create, attract, and enhance new and existing science and innovation companies in the state and make Missouri the most attractive state for conducting, facilitating, performing, and supporting science and innovation research, development, and commercialization."

The authority would be similar to the Kansas Bioscience Authority, credited with attracting and retaining dozens of life-sci businesses to that state, as well as the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, set to rise on the Manhattan, Kans., campus of Kansas State University.


Minn. House Panel Advances Plan for $16M to Mayo-UM Genomics Partnership

A proposal by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to guarantee $16 million in funding for the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic's genomics partnership in the state's next two-year budget appeared to be advancing through Minnesota's state legislature last week, when a House committee agreed to consider including the provision in a larger bill related to higher education and workforce development funding, the Post-Bulletin of Rochester, Minn., reported.

Rep. Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester) is sponsoring the bill, which would award the money to the university-Mayo entity Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics. That is the same amount that Pawlenty, a Republican, recommended as part of his budget. A similar bill is being sponsored in the Senate by another Democratic-Farmer-Labor state senator from Rochester, Ann Lynch.

Norton's bill would also prevent the University of Minnesota's Board of Regents from unilaterally cutting funding from the partnership without first consulting lawmakers and partnership members. That provision comes a year after the state Board of Regents, in a budget-cutting move, sliced $3 million from the $25 million appropriated for the partnership by the Legislature.


UK's New £13.5M Genome Analysis Centre Eyes June Opening at Norwich Research Park

The UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council announced last week that its £13.5 million ($20 million) Genome Analysis Centre focused on analysis of plant, microbial, fish, and farm animal genomes will become operational over the next two months and will be formally opened in June at Norwich Research Park.

TGAC will provide genome sequencing to underpin advances to improve food security, to protect UK agriculture from exotic animal disease, and to exploit weaknesses in microbes to develop new ways to kill superbugs. The new center will also serve as a center of excellence in bioinformatics. The center will be run by a business development director that BBSRC said it had yet to hire.

BBSRC said in a statement it is providing the majority of the funding needed for TGAC, and will underwrite its running costs for several years. Additional money for the center will come from the East of England Development authority, Norfolk County Council, South Norfolk Council, Norwich City Council, and the Greater Norwich Development Partnership.

Funding for TGAC was delayed last fall when the Norfolk County Council postponed to November its plan to award a £1 million grant toward the center. The council held off pending more information on its losses on a £32.5 million investment in three Icelandic banks that failed as part of that nation's financial crisis last September.


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hESC Funding Restrictions Draw Fire from BIO President, Ex- Official from Georgia City

Separately in recent days, the president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization and a former City council member from East Point, Ga., have criticized the concept of restricting government funding of human embryonic stem cell research in part by citing impact on individual states.

In Arizona, which restricts public hESC funding, BIO President James Greenwood told an audience in Phoenix that Arizona's scientists and citizens are missing out on a potential lucrative source of research funds and medical benefits. Lifting such restrictions "seems to be a no-brainer," Greenwood said March 27, according to the Arizona Republic, which also quoted him as adding: "They are going to be destroyed one way or another."

Arizona's restrictions include a ban on conducting research on cells collected from an aborted fetus, as well as using federal, state, or private money on human cloning.

"My hope and expectation is the science will allow research beyond the use of embryonic stem cells, and it will get the same results," Bob Eaton, president and CEO of the Arizona Bioindustry Association, told the Republic.

In an opinion column published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, former East Point (Ga.) City Council member Teresa Nelson faulted Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue for supporting proposed hESC funding restrictions

Nelson said the restrictions could negate efforts by Perdue to redevelop the US Army base Fort McPherson, set to close in 2011, by trying to draw a bioscience research facility as an anchor.

"Perdue may have destroyed the possibility that a future bio-science research center will be located anywhere in Georgia — let alone at Fort McPherson," Nelson declared, adding: "Why would a biotechnology firm choose to locate in a state where a threat to restrict the firm's research constantly loomed? They'll head to friendlier states. What will the economic engine be to redevelop Fort McPherson then?"


NC Biotechnology Center Presents April 9 Conference on Combination Products

The state-funded North Carolina Biotechnology Center will hold a conference on Thursday (April 9) focused on new business opportunities arising from the creation of combination products — a result of the merging of drugs, devices, and biologics.

Scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs from throughout North Carolina are expected to attend the event, which will take place at the biotech center's headquarters in Research Triangle Park.

Speakers will include John Barlow Weiner, associate director for policy in the US Food and Drug Administration's Office of Combination Products, and the agency's product-classification officer; Ken Tindall, senior vice president of science and business development at the biotech center; and Sam Taylor, president of the North Carolina Biosciences Organization.

Taylor will provide an update on the biotech center-funded Center of Innovation in Advanced Medical Technologies, formed to create and support companies that develop combination products, among other technologies. The AMT center recently received a $2.5 million, four-year grant from the biotech center toward supporting commercialization of new products, as well as recruitment and expansion of companies developing advanced medical technologies.

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Registration is $50 for corporate participants, and $40 for academics; the fee includes materials, meals, and an informal reception at the end of the day. Would-be attendees can register here, while information for potential sponsors and exhibitors is available from the biotech center's Pamela Gaster at (919) 541-9366.


Gov. Heineman to Present Inaugural Bioscience Award at Bio Nebraska Annual Meeting

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman will present the inaugural Governor's Bioscience Award during the Bio Nebraska Life Sciences Association's 2009 Annual Meeting, set for Thursday (April 9) at the Strategic Air and Space Museum in Ashland, Neb.

The event will begin with a membership meeting membership to include presentations by Lori Reilly, vice president for policy and research at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America or PhRMA; and Peter Pellerito, senior policy consultant in state government relations and university outreach for the Biotechnology Industry Organization and managing director of PMP Public Affairs Consulting, based at North Carolina's Research Triangle Park.


New Google VC Fund Targets Biotech, Healthcare, Tech Startups

Google said last week that its new venture capital fund — to be based jointly in Cambridge, Mass., and at its corporate headquarters city of Mountain View, Calif. — will seek to do deals with "exceptional" startups specializing in biotechnology as well as healthcare and consumer Internet, software, and alternative-energy "clean" technologies.

While Google has not confirmed the size of its fund, the Wall Street Journal and the
Boston Globe said the Internet giant would spend $100 million on its new Google Ventures.

"The goal is to follow the best practices of a top-tier venture capital firm, but to do that inside Google, where we can leverage Google's lens on what's interesting," Rich Miner, a Cambridge-based managing partner of Google Ventures, told the Globe.

Miner is one of two managing partners of Google ventures; the other, Bill Maris, has a background in biotechnology and healthcare, and will be based in Mountain View. Before joining Google, Maris managed the biotechnology and health care portfolios for Stockholm, Sweden-based Investor AB, and carried out scientific research into cholinergic visual pathways, cell membrane patch clamping techniques, and in vivo neuronal cell injection at Duke University Medical Center's neurobiology department.

"If we find an interesting therapeutics company, we'd be happy to put down a term sheet," Maris told the Globe.


Thrive's $9K in Grants Enable Five Madison, Wis.-Area Biotechs to Attend BIO 2009

Thrive, the economic development organization promoting the eight counties in and around Madison, Wis., has awarded a total $9,000 from its pilot BIO Partnering Grant program to five Madison-area life sciences companies to attend the Biotechnology Industry Organization's 2009 International Convention in Atlanta from May 18-21.

The five companies are: FluGen, Primorigen Biosciences, Shiloh Laboratories, Anteco Pharma, and Scarab Genomics.

"In the future, Thrive hopes to expand its Partnering Grant program to other events that connect companies with corporate partners and investors," said Cheryl Gain, Thrive's director of biotech initiatives, in a statement.


The Scan

Booster for Kids

The US Food and Drug Administration has authorized a booster dose of Pfizer-BioNTech's SARS-CoV-2 vaccine for 5-to-11-year olds, the Washington Post reports.

Novavax Anticipates Authorization

Novavax expects to receive US Food and Drug Administration authorization for vaccine soon, according to CNBC.

Some Old Microbes Indeed

Vice reports that researchers may have uncovered 830-million-year-old microbes.

PNAS Papers on Meiotic Crossover, RNA Targeting, SNAT7 mTORC1 Regulation

In PNAS this week: meiotic crossover formation in C. elegans, approach to identify small molecules affecting RNA activity, and more.