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Around the Regions: May 8, 2009


'One-Stop' Maryland Biotechnology Center Wins $4.7M for FY '10; Details to Come at BIO 2009

Gov. Martin O'Malley and state legislative leaders have agreed to spend $4.7 million toward the first full year of operation for Maryland's long-awaited one-stop agency for its life-sciences economic-development effort in the state's recently adopted $32.3 billion budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

But Maryland officials aren't yet saying how the new Maryland Biotechnology Center will deploy that money as it gears up for its first full year of operations. Those details will come in an announcement Maryland officials are planning for the Biotechnology Industry's Organization's 2009 International Convention, set for Atlanta May 18-21, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Business and Economic Development, Karen Glenn Hood, told BioRegion News last week.

But the biotech center has begun operating, if a glance at BIO 2009's own web site is any indication. A section of the site listing convention exhibitors by specialty included a listing under professional and business services for the MBC, an overview of its operations, as well as its address: 401 East Pratt St., Seventh Floor, Baltimore, MD 21202.

Until now, officials have not said where the biotech center would be based, though they have hinted it would have more than one location across the state.

"The Maryland Biotechnology Center (MBC) is a newly created organization by Governor Martin O'Malley and the Maryland Life Sciences Advisory Board. The MBC is a portal to resources and coordinated programs of entrepreneur and biotechnology infrastructure development, workforce training, connection to federal facilities, and marketing Maryland's bioscience community," the overview stated.

The MBC's first-year budget of $4.7 million is about 22 percent less than the $6 million originally envisioned for the agency by Gov. O'Malley last summer, when he announced his $1.3 billion, 10-year BIO 2020 package of programs designed to grow the state's life sciences industry over the next decade. BIO 2020 calls for the state to spend $91.5 million over 10 years to launch and operate the biotech center.

Since then, Maryland has struggled to plug budget shortfalls caused by declining state revenues, which O'Malley and other officials have blamed on the economic upheaval. Three times since April 2008, the state has cut funding for its Stem Cell Research Fund, reduced in the FY 2010 budget to $15.4 million. And while the state's Biotechnology Investment Incentive Tax Credit will maintain its current $6 million in annual funding next fiscal year, the state House of Delegates had proposed trimming the program to $4 million a year [BRN, April 17].

Those sums vary from the $20 million originally envisioned by O'Malley for the stem cell program, and $12 million envisioned for the tax credit program, during FY 2010 under his BIO 2020.

The biotech center would serve as the anchor of BIO 2020, and was envisioned last year as a "one-stop shop" for linking life sciences employers to economic incentives, business assistance, and other state services. In a revised DBED organization chart distributed to employees last year, the agency said the biotech center will be "designed to assist bio entrepreneurs, fund life-sciences research, develop bio curricula and provide workforce and education training grants."

"Working closely with industry partners, the MBC will concentrate on efforts to create new biotechnology companies, sustain the growth of successful enterprises, and leverage Maryland's unique life sciences assets in the academic and federal sectors to advance Maryland's role as a global biotechnology leader," according to DBED.

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Speaking with BRN last year at BIO 2008 in San Diego, O'Malley said the biotech center would be modeled after the successful North Carolina Biotechnology Center, a state-funded agency credited with transforming the Tar Heel State into one of the nation's top 10 bioclusters, especially within Research Triangle Park.

The NC Biotech Center has operated this fiscal year with $19.4 million in state funding — but after Gov. Bev Perdue asked all state-funded agencies to cut their expenses by 9 percent, the center asked all its 81 employees to take one day a month in unpaid leave starting last March, at a projected $250,000 annual savings — in return for no layoffs.

Hurts Biofuels? Cleans the Air? Industry, California Clash After State OKs Regs to Cut Carbon 10 Percent, Ban Underground Storage of B20 and Purer Biodiesels

California's Air Resources Board has voted to adopt first-in-the-nation regulations that cut the amount of carbon permissible in all transportation fuels sold in the state, with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent by 2020 — a rule critics said would hurt the state's biofuels industry as well as boost gasoline prices.

Opponents of the new rules cited a provision forcing providers, refiners, importers, and blenders to ensure that the fuels they sell in California meet an average declining standard of "carbon intensity." That standard, according to ARB, is established by determining the sum of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production, transportation and consumption of a fuel, also referred to as the fuel pathway.

"The model incorporated in California's regulations to measure these emissions uses highly uncertain assumptions and may in fact be fundamentally flawed by its assumptions," Biotechnology Industry Organization Executive Vice President Brent Erickson said in a statement released by his organization.

"The biotechnology industry supports and applauds California's attempt to mitigate the impact of transportation on climate change through adoption of a Low Carbon Fuel Standard," Erickson added in the statement. "Unfortunately, the rule adopted [April 23] – in particular the inclusion of indirect land use change measurements and methodology – may discourage investment in continued research and development of the same low carbon biofuels that are needed by California to meet its goals."

Not so, according to CARB Chairman Mary Nichols.

"(This) will be a boon to the state's economy and public health — it reduces air pollution, creates new jobs and continues California's leadership in the fight against global warming," Nichols told the Mercury News of San Jose, Calif. "The new standard means we can begin to break our century-old dependence on petroleum and provide California with greater energy security."

In a press release issued soon after its action, ARB cited the projected economic benefits of its new regulations: "To produce the more than 1.5 billion gallons of biofuels needed, over 25 new biofuel facilities will have to be built and will create more than 3,000 new jobs, mostly in the state's rural areas. Production of fuels within the state will also keep consumer dollars local by reducing the need to make fuel purchases from beyond its borders."

ARB also cited an existing state program that sets aside about $120 million in state money each year through 2015 to promote development and commercial use of low-carbon fuels — the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program, enacted in 2007 and managed by the California Energy Commission.

For biofuel makers, the carbon-cutting regs were one of two regulatory blows suffered in recent weeks. On May 5, California's State Water Resources Control Board voted 3-1 to ban the storage of fuel blends with heavier than 20-percent concentrations of biodiesel in underground storage tanks, even if the tanks are double-walled. Instead, B20 and higher concentrations must be within above-ground storage tanks.

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"This is stupid. It's a step backwards," Chris Bellizzi of Bellizzi Tree Service in San Jose told the Mercury News. "It's like they are picking on us. We are trying to do the right thing."

State officials defended the new rule by citing several instances of pollution created through underground storage of fuels and chemicals — from the leaking of MBTE from gas tanks into drinking water during the 1990s, to the leaching of chemical cleaning solvents into groundwater in Silicon Valley during the 1960s and 1970s.

"We learned a real lesson. We've not forgotten that lesson. We don't want to repeat that," water resources control board spokesman Bill Rukeyser told the newspaper.

Report: Massachusetts' Medical Device Industry 'Holding Its Own' Despite VC Plunge

Venture capital outlays for medical equipment start-ups in Massachusetts declined by 74 percent in the first three months of this year, compared with the same period in 2008, while total financing from VC and other private as well as public sources dropped by 71 percent in the medical device sector, according to Ernst & Young's 2009 "Pulse of the Industry" study, released May 5 during the annual conference of the Massachusetts Medical Device Industry Council, known as MassMEDIC, at Boston's John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

According to the study, Massachusetts medical device companies raised $65.8 million in VC funding in Q1 '09, more than one-sixth of the $366 million raised by medical device companies nationally. The largest deal was a $33 million funding round in March for Still River Systems of Littleton, Mass., a manufacturer of proton beam radiotherapy systems used in cancer treatment.

The drops were blamed on the continuing economic upheaval.

"Hospitals are putting off their decisions on purchases for another year. The medical device companies have to wait it out, knowing there will be pent-up demand at the end of the recession that will ultimately be beneficial to the industry," Tom Sommer, president of MassMEDIC, told the Boston Globe before the conference.

While acknowledging that the medical device industry "is getting beat up, like everyone else right now," Jason Hillenbach, an Ernst & Young global operations director in Boston who helped to prepare the report, told the newspaper that the industry is also "positioned to weather a recession better than other industries.

"And despite the financial turmoil and the drying up of credit, Massachusetts is still holding its own. It's got all the tools for a cluster: strong universities and hospitals, access to venture capital, and the skills needed to run businesses," Hillenbach said.

WBBA, Sirti Form Partnership with Goal of Growing Eastern Washington Life-Sci Companies

The Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association this month will open an Eastern Washington state office in the Sirti Building, located in Spokane's University District and designated Innovation Partnership Zone — part of a partnership announced this week by the trade group and the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute, also known as SIRTI, with the goal of stimulating the growth of the region's life science industry.

WBBA said the new office is designed to provide a site for tech transfer efforts by startups, as well as for efforts to support member organizations; WBBA represents more than 450 life sciences companies, universities, academic institutions and other members.

Sirti is a Washington state economic development organization focused on accelerating the development and growth of technology and life sciences companies in the Inland Northwest.

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Seven Universities Win $122M from NIH toward Biomedical Research Excellence Networks

The National Center for Research Resources, part of the National Institutes of Health, this week announced it would award seven universities a combined $122 million over the next five years to fund Institutional Development Award, or IDeA, Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence. INBRE grants aim to enhance biomedical research capacity, expand and strengthen the research capabilities of biomedical faculty, and provide access to biomedical resources for promising undergraduate students throughout the eligible states.

INBRE is part of the IDeA program, which is designed to improve the competitiveness of investigators in states that historically have not received significant levels of NIH research funding. Through IDeA, NCRR supports institutions and communities in 23 states and Puerto Rico with grants that fund multiple areas of biomedical research, as well as researchers from diverse populations.

Lead institutions for the winning networks are:

• New Mexico State University (Las Cruces) — $17.4 million for New Mexico IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence. Principal Investigator: Jeffrey Arterburn.

• University of Alaska Fairbanks — $17.7 million for Contaminants and Infectious Agents: Molecular Approaches. Principal Investigator: George Happ.

• University of Delaware (Newark) — $17.4 million for IDeA Network for Biomedical Research Excellence. Principal Investigator: David Weir.

• University of Idaho (Moscow) — $16.5 million for Idaho INBRE Program. Principal Investigator: Carolyn Hovde.

• University of Kansas Medical Center (Kansas City) — $18.5 million for Kansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence. Principal Investigator: Joan Hunt.

• University of Nebraska Medical Center (Omaha) — $16.6 million for Nebraska Research Network in Functional Genomics. Principal Investigator: James Turpen.

• University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center (Oklahoma City) — $18.2 million for Oklahoma IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence. Principal Investigator: Frank Waxman.

Descriptions of the networks are available at INBRE's website.

Axial Biotech Wins 2009 Utah Innovation Award for Biotechnology

Axial Biotech, a developer of molecular diagnostics for common spinal diseases and disorders, was honored with a 2009 Utah Innovation Award presented to the company by the Utah Technology Council and the law firm Stoel Rives, which has offices in Salt Lake City, at the 9th Annual Utah Innovation Award Ceremony held April 30.

Axial was honored for its ScoliScore, which the company said was the first-ever genetic test for patients diagnosed with Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis or AIS. The scoliosis research used in the development of this test included collecting DNA samples from over 9,500 patients from 85 clinical sites throughout the world. The test was then further validated in two separate clinical trials.

Axial topped two other finalists for the award, the Salt Lake City nanotech company Nanopartz, GlycoMira, the Salt Lake City developer of an anti-inflammatory drug against rosacea.

Presentations at May 19-21 Eastec APEX in West Springfield, Mass., to Link Manufacturers, Biotech Pros

Eastec Advanced Productivity Exposition, or APEX, the largest annual manufacturing trade show held on the East Coast, will join with the Regional Technology Corporation later this month to host the Biotechnologies and Opportunities Resource Center, a series of presentations designed to link manufacturers with professionals in biotechnology and nanotechnology.

The presentations will be held May 19 as part of Eastec's 30th anniversary expo, to be held May 19-21 at the Eastern States Exposition Grounds in West Springfield, Mass. The expo is expected to draw 14,000 attendees and 600 exhibitors.

"This Resource Center will connect experts in Nanotechnologies and Biotechnologies to entrepreneurial manufacturers who want to enter these markets of the future," Ellen Bemben, president of the RTC, said in a statement.

Resource Center presentations involving the life sciences will include:

• Materials in Biotechnology: New Frontiers
• Business Development Strategies for Small Businesses in Biomedical and Other Markets
• The SBA, SBIR & STTR Funding and the Stimulus Package Explained
• State Resources in Biomedical Manufacturing
• Overview: Massachusetts $1 Billion Life Sciences Initiative & Its Opportunities

Another goal of the presentations: Showing manufacturers how to fund equipment purchases through the US Small Business Administration by using the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Eastec is co-sponsored by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, the American Machine Tool Distributors' Association, and the Association for Manufacturing Technology.

The Scan

Support for Moderna Booster

An FDA advisory committee supports authorizing a booster for Moderna's SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, CNN reports.

Testing at UK Lab Suspended

SARS-CoV-2 testing at a UK lab has been suspended following a number of false negative results.

J&J CSO to Step Down

The Wall Street Journal reports that Paul Stoffels will be stepping down as chief scientific officer at Johnson & Johnson by the end of the year.

Science Papers Present Proteo-Genomic Map of Human Health, Brain Tumor Target, Tool to Infer CNVs

In Science this week: gene-protein-disease map, epigenomic and transcriptomic approach highlights potential therapeutic target for gliomas, and more