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Around the Regions: May 1, 2009

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CIRM Awards $67.7M in Early Translational Research Grants; Businesses Among Honorees

The governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state's stem cell agency,
this week awarded 15 Early Translational research grants totaling $67.7 million, with the goals of aiding development of drug candidates for unmet medical needs, and addressing bottlenecks in the development of new therapies.

The 29-member Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee approved for grants 13 not-for-profit organizations and two businesses —$5.4 million to San Diego-based Novocell, and $4.7 million to BioTime of Alameda, Ca. A list of the winners is available here.

But the board held off on decisions for 12 additional grants that had been recommended for funding only as funds allow. Those grants will be considered at the ICOC's June meeting.

The grant funding decisions followed CIRM being allocated $275 million from a recent sale of state bonds, the first since California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders approved a $.. billion budget, and ended months of gridlock over the state's finances and fiscal policy. The $275 million is expected to allow CIRM to award grants through late 2010.


New England Biotech Association Blasts Vermont Pharma Marketing Disclosure Bills

The New England Biotech Association has warned Vermont lawmakers against enacting new marketing regulations that would ban most gifts to doctors by pharmaceutical companies, as well as disclose more of such activity publicly, saying the regs would make the Green Mountain state the least friendly to life-science companies.

NEBA made its pitch against Senate Bill 48, which passed the House on Feb. 25, and companion House Bill 270 in testimony to the Legislature, as well as in a full page ad in the Rutland Herald newspaper — which has editorialized in favor of the bills: "Most doctors do not let themselves be bought, but the extent of marketing money spent for speaking fees and other payments to doctors raises the question of whether medical decisions about prescription drugs are based on the sound judgments of practitioners."

"Plain and simple, this legislation will harm Vermont's biotechnology and life sciences sector and drive jobs away," NEBA Chair Paula Newton said in a statement.

The association represents more than 800 state biotech associations, companies, academic institutions, and other organizations.

Newton also said the bills would also eliminate existing protections of trade secrets, a contention that supporters have publicly denied. She cited a less strict marketing disclosure law that took effect in Massachusetts, which according to NEBA "has resulted in a drop in clinical trials and the cancellation of a major medical convention and the associated tourism and tax revenue."

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Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell has advocated for the bills by noting that doctors and nurses in Vermont received a total $2.9 million in payments from the pharmaceutical industry in the year ended June 30, 2008. Without identifying each recipient of the payments, Sorrell's office said, one psychiatrist received $112,000 in gifts and payments, while a geriatric specialist won more than $50,000.


St. Louis' Danforth Center Among 46 to Share $777M for Energy Frontier Research Centers

The White House this week announced the 46 new Energy Frontier Research Centers that it will fund using a total $777 million; each center will receive between $2 million and $5 million annually for five years. Selected from 260 applications, the 46 centers include 31 that are led by universities, 12 by Department of Energy National Laboratories, two by nonprofit organizations, and one by a corporate research laboratory.

Supported in part by President Obama’s $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the EFRCs are designed to bring together groups of leading scientists to address fundamental issues in the life sciences and other fields. One life-sci winner, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, will use its $15 million award toward establishing a biofuels center.

A complete list of designated EFRCs is available here.


Report: New York State's Life-Sci Industry Growing Despite Economic Upheaval

New York state's biopharmaceutical industry is still in expansion mode despite the economic upheaval of recent months, according to a report released earlier this week by the New York Biotechnology Association and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Representatives from these groups, as well as other life-sci business and academic leaders, discussed the report publicly during a press conference at the state Capitol. They touted several statistics from the report, prepared by Archstone Consulting.

Among them: The industry's average salary in New York is $68,000 — well below the $88,000 national industry average, 31st nationwide in the average wage per employee, and 38th in the US in annual employment growth. F. Michael Tucker, president and CEO of the Albany-based Center for Economic Growth, told the Times-Union of Albany he suspected the weak ranking in average pay reflected the fact that the operations of pharmaceutical companies in the Empire State are not always the highest-paying front office operations.

According to the report, the industry employs more than 55,000 employees statewide, of which the top two regions for the industry are New York City and Long Island, followed by the area in and around the state capital of Albany. New York state ranked second in National Science Foundation funding for biological science research and in the number of active clinical trials, third in National Institutes of Health funding, and fourth in direct biopharmaceutical employment.

Nathan Tinker, executive director of the state biotech association, told the newspaper the study's findings "have us reviewing our marketing strategies to attract companies to the area."


Delaware College-Hospital Partnership INBRE Wins $17.4M Federal Biomed Research Grant

The Idea Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence, or INBRE, a partnership between two Delaware hospitals and four colleges, has won a $17.4 million, five-year federal grant from the National Center for Research Resources for research studies on cancer, heart disease and neurological disease.

Members of INBRE include Christiana Care and Nemours hospitals, and four colleges, University of Delaware, Delaware State University, Delaware Technical & Community College and Wesley College.

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Of the $17.4 million:

• $7.5 million will be used to conduct 15 medical studies on cancer, heart and neurological disease.
• $3 million will fund research internships for students and professional development for faculty.
• $3 million will fund state-of-the-art research instruments and personnel.
• $2 million will be set aside for administrative costs.
• $1.65 million will pay for the bioinformatics hardware and software components required by the research.
• $250,000 will help fund the renovation of laboratories at Wesley College and Delaware State University.

"We are coming up with great ideas and learning how to play together," Karl Steiner, associate provost for interdisciplinary research initiatives at UD, told the News-Journal of Wilmington, Del. "Having this biotech institute will allow us to attract researchers and change the game for us."

In 2004, INBRE received a similar five-year, $17 million grant toward construction of state-of-the-art laboratories and funding for 19 medical studies. Roughly 100 papers were published in medical journals based on those studies, and the construction program is set to be completed in the next month.


Pittsburgh Eyes $2M for Life-Sci, Tech Startups; $2M Public-Private Lending Pool for Minority, Women Business Owners

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has announced a new up-to-$2 million Pittsburgh Entrepreneur Fund designed to assist startups in the life sciences and other technologies, as well as a new public-private lending pool for minority- and women-owned businesses projected to make available an equal amount in new funding.

"It's been my goal, as a young person, to keep and attract the young talent we have in this city. These two funds will enable them to capitalize on opportunities," Ravenstahl said at a South Oakland press conference announcing the programs, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The city's Urban Redevelopment Authority will manage the Pittsburgh Entrepreneur Fund, which is geared toward start-ups in the information technology, life sciences and environmental industries. The fund will start with $1 million in federal money and may soon be boosted to $2 million, Ravenstahl told the newspaper said.

While guidelines aren't final, the city expects to lend startups up to $200,000 for up to five years, at interest rates that will vary based on the level of risk involved.
One advantage of the fund compared with traditional lenders and existing URA business development programs: It can borrow against intellectual property, such as patents.

The public-private loan pool, known as the Metropolitan Loan Fund, has $1.75 million, from the county, other lenders, and the Heinz Endowments, said Howard Slaughter, Jr., CEO of Landmarks Community Capital Corp.

The loan fund is designed to assist women and minorities who are starting or expanding businesses, though others can also apply. The program awards five-year loans at below-market rates, with no minimum or maximum size. The fund is already weighing several dozen possible borrowers, including a new animal hospital, a toy store and a construction company, Slaughter told the Post-Gazette.


Massachusetts Life Sciences Center Board Approves First Round of Accelerator Program Loans for Early Stage Companies

Center will provide $3.4 million to support seven early-stage life sciences companies in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, a quasi-public state agency charged with carrying out the $1 billion, 10-year Massachusetts Life Sciences Act of 2008, on April 29 approved $3.4 million in loans to seven early-stage, state-based life sciences companies selected from among 88 applications..

Under the center’s Accelerator Program, early-stage companies engaged in life sciences research and development, commercialization and manufacturing can qualify for loans of up to $500,000. Loans must be matched by grants and investments from the federal government, foundations, non-profit agencies, institutional investors, and other sources of capital. The loans are designed to address the need for capital investment associated with the life sciences R&D cycle, as well as the cost of translating research into commercially viable products.

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The life-sci center has augmented support for the Accelerator Program with its Corporate Consortium Program, which provides matching funds for MLSC awards to companies. Johnson & Johnson has agreed to contribute $500,000 over two years to the consortium, with additional members expected to join over time.

Applications were subjected to peer review, an evaluation by the center’s Scientific Advisory Board, and a presentation before the investment subcommittee of the center’s board of directors. The full board jas final say on winners.

The seven companies to receive loans from the accelerator program:

Eutropics Pharmaceuticals, an oncology drug company with operations in Dorchester, Mass., and Boston. Eutropics develops drugs for treating aggressive forms of myeloma, lymphoma, leukemia, and other cancers.
Good Start Genetics, a Boston molecular diagnostics company working to develop a low-cost, pre-pregnancy test for 50 genetic disorders that will replace single-disorder tests now on the market, using a process developed by team members from George Church’s Laboratory at Harvard Medical School.
InVivo Therapeutics, a Cambridge medical device company targeting the traumatic spinal cord injury market, based on research by Robert Langer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Jay Vacanti of the Massachusetts General and Children’s Hospitals in Boston.
Pluromed, a Woburn developer of injectable plugs designed to let surgeons remove a tumor while normal blood flow is maintained in the rest of an organ. Pluromed was honored for its LeGoo Internal Vessel Occluder with the 2008 European Association of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery Techno-College Innovation Award for the most important technological breakthrough related to thoracic and cardiovascular surgery.
Spectra Analysis, a Marlborough supplier of molecular spectroscopy systems and applications for chromatography.
Wadsworth Technologies, a Westborough medical device entity whose Dermaloc Wound Closure System helps close skin wounds without anesthesia or sutures.
Wolfe Laboratories, a Watertown provider of assay development, formulation development, process development, and other services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. Wolfe has told the center it hopes to use its accelerator loan to help build a new manufacturing facility focused on aseptic fill finish services and the manufacture of innovative biologic and cytotoxic drugs.


Maryland's TEDCO Awards $225K to BioMarker Strategies, LeukoSight

The Maryland Technology Development Corporation, known as TEDCO, has awarded a total $225,000 to a pair of early stage healthcare companies, BioMarker Strategies, and LeukoSight.

BioMarker Strategies, located at the Science + Technology Park at Johns Hopkins in East Baltimore, is working with Johns Hopkins University researchers to develop the SnapPath automated tumor biopsy processing and testing system, designed to reduce patient waiting time by testing and analyzing live tumor samples. The company is also developing a series of biomarker tests to help guide oncologists in the use of targeted cancer therapeutics.

LeukoSight, based in College Park, Md., is working with the University of Maryland College Park to develop a mine of anti-inflammatory therapeutics that can be used to treat a variety of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

Both received funding from TEDCO’s joint Maryland Technology Transfer Fund with the Johnson & Johnson Corporate Office of Science & Technology. BioMarker Strategies received $75,000 and LeukoSight received $150,000.

The companies were funded under a program that awards up to $150,000 to existing TEDCO portfolio companies, or up to $75,000 for Maryland companies that have not received a tech transfer fund award in the past. Companies must be early stage businesses engaged in life sciences and biotechnology technology transfer collaboration with a university or federal laboratory in Maryland.


Life-Sci Leaders Promote San Diego Regional Partnership Aimed at Developing Biofuels

San Diego life sciences leaders joined city Mayor Jerry Sanders and UC San Diego Chancellor Marye Anne Fox to announce support for a regional partnership designed to develop new ways of transforming algae into biofuels.

At a news conference on the UC San Diego campus, Sanders and others said the San Diego region could become as much a major center for renewable energy development as it is for biotech and pharmaceutical companies; more than 500 biotechnology companies are based, or have operations, in the region.

The show of support from industry and civic leaders followed the establishment by scientists from UC San Diego, the Scripps Research Institute, and other local research institutions of a research effort to develop advanced transportation fuels from algae. To that end, the scientists have recently established the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology, known as "SD-CAB," to create a national facility capable of developing and implementing research technologies toward the commercialization of fuel production from algae.

"By sharing and facilitating the interactions of these multiple researchers through this center, we hope to make sustainable algae-based fuel production and carbon dioxide abatement a reality within the next five to ten years," Fox said in a statement, adding: "This consortium will strengthen our ability to obtain grants and attract resources to the area. Algal biofuels will allow us to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and other economies, and will provide opportunities for a new economy and workforce."

According to an economic assessment completed last week by the San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG, Service Bureau, research on algal biofuels now employs 272 scientists and other workers in San Diego, and provides nearly $16.5 million in payroll and $33 million in economic activity for the region.

Direct spending on algal biofuels, combined with the additional jobs and spending in related service industries this spending generates, is currently responsible for 513 jobs, $25.4 million in wages and $63.5 million in economic output in the San Diego region, according to the SANDAG study.

Last year, venture capitalists invested $175.9 million in the US to develop biofuel from microalgae, according to Biofuels Digest — which noted that more than half that total, $100-million, went to a single company, the San Diego biotech Sapphire Energy, which is working to convert algae to biofuel for automobiles and airliners.

The Scan

Pfizer-BioNTech Seek Full Vaccine Approval

According to the New York Times, Pfizer and BioNTech are seeking full US Food and Drug Administration approval for their SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.

Viral Integration Study Critiqued

Science writes that a paper reporting that SARS-CoV-2 can occasionally integrate into the host genome is drawing criticism.

Giraffe Species Debate

The Scientist reports that a new analysis aiming to end the discussion of how many giraffe species there are has only continued it.

Science Papers Examine Factors Shaping SARS-CoV-2 Spread, Give Insight Into Bacterial Evolution

In Science this week: genomic analysis points to role of human behavior in SARS-CoV-2 spread, and more.