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Around the Regions: May 15, 2009

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BIO Projects '12,000 to 15,000' at 2009 International Convention in Atlanta, Below Last Year's Attendance

The economy has taken its toll on the Biotechnology Industry Organization's upcoming international convention in Atlanta, with BIO "currently expecting between 12,000-15,000 attendees" will visit the four-day event set to start at the Georgia World Congress Center — compared with the 20,108 who visited BIO 2008 in San Diego, BIO spokeswoman Erin Reese told BioRegion News on Friday.

A falloff from last year was not unexpected given the economic turmoil of recent months. Speaking earlier this spring [BRN, March 30], Robbi Lycett, BIO's vice president for conventions and conferences, told BRN that while C-level executives from life-sci companies, academic institutions, and research centers were expected to attend as in past years, they were less likely this year to bring with them lower-level staffers.

At that time, BIO had held off on making a projection — though various organizations set to attend BIO 2009 had cited numbers ranging from 18,000 to 20,000.

Last year's attendance dipped 10 percent from the 22,366 attendees who visited the 2007 convention in Boston — but was 34 percent higher than attendance at San Diego's previous life-sci industry convention in 2001 [BRN, June 23, 2008].


NY Assembly Member Weprin Introduces Bill for $3M Biotech Tax Credit for NYC

New York state Assembly Member Mark Weprin (D-Little Neck) has followed through on a promise made earlier this year [BRN, Feb. 23] and introduced Assembly Bill 8131, which would allow New York City to award up to $3 million in tax credits to early-stage biotechnology companies that promise in return to relocate to or expand within the Big Apple.

The bill is pending in the Assembly's Ways and Means committee.

A companion measure, Senate Bill 4845, has been introduced in the state Senate by state Sen. Tom Duane (D-Manhattan), and is pending in the state Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee. He and Weprin were joined by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in announcing the measure on Friday.

“There is no reason New York cannot be a dynamic center for biotechnology companies," declared Weprin, who chairs the Assembly's Committee on Small Business. “This tax credit will spur growth in an exciting, new industry that has tremendous potential."

Weprin cited New York city's nine research institutions, 26 medical centers, 175 hospitals, and what he termed an "unparalleled" talent pool as offering "a natural advantage in the bioscience industry" in a statement, adding: "Yet it lags behind other cities, such as Boston and San Diego, in commercialization of new technologies."

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Eligible for the credit are small firms engaged in R&D that meet state standards as qualified emerging technology companies. Those qualified companies will be eligible for up to four years for the credit, which can be used to help equip laboratories, train technicians, and fund access to high-tech equipment.

Allowable expenses, and the credit based on those expenses, will be the same as for the New York State credit for businesses that increase their employment by at least 5 percent, compared to a base year. Those that do not grow will still be eligible for the credit but at half the rate.

New York's weaknesses in retaining startups and growing a biocluster have long been a source of frustration within the life-sci industry [BRN, May 27, 2008; Oct. 15, 2007].


Milken Institute, Regional Groups to Unveil Updated Study of Greater Philadelphia Life-Sci Sector at BIO 2009

The Milken Institute and several regional groups will release an updated study of the Greater Philadelphia region's life sciences sector on Tuesday during the Biotechnology Industry Organization's 2009 International Convention in Atlanta.

As with the previous 2005 report, the new study will focus on Greater Philadelphia’s competitiveness and sustainable economic growth in the tri-state region that includes portions of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.

Joining Milken are the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, also called PhRMA, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and six regional groups: BioAdvance, BioNJ, Delaware BioScience Association, Greater Philadelphia Life Sciences Congress (a division of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau), Pennsylvania Bio, and the economic development marketing organization Select Greater Philadelphia, an affiliate of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

The 2009 study will assess, analyze and benchmark the Greater Philadelphia region’s position in the life sciences industry and develop an evaluation mechanism intended to serve as a framework for an overall regional strategy in the sector. The study will identify industry strengths and specializations in the life sciences, identify industry assets, determine economic impact of the industry, and assess the growth of life sciences establishments. The study will also look at the role of entrepreneurship, new businesses, and corporate giving programs within the sector.

The 2005 study found that the sector accounted for 11.4 percent and 12.8 percent of all employment and the total earnings, respectively, in the region, based on 2003 data. The study also found that the region ranked third among benchmarked metropolitan regions in the study’s overall composite index, after Boston/Cambridge, Mass., and the San Francisco Bay Area.


In Report, Canada's STRIC Faults Weak R&D Funding by Businesses, Need for More Collaboration

Canadian businesses must step up their funding of research and development if the nation is to compete effectively with other nations for top talent and technologies, according to a recently released report by Canada's Science, Technology and Innovation Research Council.

"There is the need to change the culture within the business leadership," STRIC Chairman Howard Alper said, according to CBC News.

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STRIC consists of 18 members from the research, business and government spheres. The 18 were appointed by the federal government in 2007 to provide policy advice on science and technology issues, as well as measure Canada's performance in those areas against that of other nations.

"There's a big role for business to invest in R&D and it simply hasn't done that at a level that would have it be competitive across these sectors with the very best in the world," STRIC member Heather Munroe-Blum, principal and vice-chancellor of McGill University, said at a news conference, CBC reported.

In its first report, called Canada's Science, Technology and Innovation System: State of the Nation 2008, STRIC concluded that Canada was second to last in the amount spent on research and development by companies as a portion of the nation's gross domestic product, compared with 29 other countries in the the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, based on 50 indicators of science and technology performance.

The study, released May 5, also found Canada spends more public money on university-based research than most other nations — but recommended that such funding be more focused on priority research areas as identified by Canada's Minister of Industry Tony Clement.

Canada should also boost local and international collaborations between academics and industry, as well as among companies, the report also concluded.

In addition to low business R&D spending, the council said Canada's life-sci and other technology industries were hampered by:

• Fewer Canadian students completing master's and doctoral degrees in science, engineering and business, compared with other countries, plus what the report called Canada's failure to attract top international students.

• A significant portion of the population having low literacy and numeracy skills.

• Relatively low collaboration among Canadian companies, as well as between companies and researchers at public research institutions such as universities, colleges and government laboratories.

• A "frail" venture capital market.

• A lack of international visibility and recognition of Canada's best researchers.

On a brighter note, STRIC said Canada enjoyed some strengths: What it termed strong public funding for R&D and higher education; a student population that excels in science, math, and reading; and renewed efforts to attract researchers from overseas.


University of Strasbourg, NC State's BTEC to Collaborate on Bioproduction Employee Training Program

The University of Strasbourg and the Golden LEAF Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center, or BTEC, of North Carolina State University on Friday announced an agreement to collaborate on life-science worker training efforts.

Strasbourg — formed Jan. 1 through the merger of the University Louis Pasteur (STEM disciplines), University Marc Bloch (humanities) and University Robert Schuman (law and business) — will construct a bioproduction training facility similar to that operated by BTEC within the Alsace Biovalley cluster.

Other efforts included in the collaboration include short courses designed to be tailored to industry needs, shared certificates, and exchanges of students, interns, and faculty members. Workers laid off from other industrial and manufacturing industries will be trained to qualify for new life sciences jobs.

The Alsace Biovalley cluster brings together and encourages the development and growth of public and private entities based in Alsace, France, and involved in life sciences and healthcare. Alsace has joined with Switzerland's Basel region and Fribourg, Germany to form a "network of excellence" called Biovalley.


The Scan

Should've Been Spotted Sooner

Scientists tell the Guardian that SARS-CoV-2 testing issues at a UK lab should have been noticed earlier.

For Martian Fuel

Researchers have outlined a plan to produce rocket fuel on Mars that uses a combination of sunlight, carbon dioxide, frozen water, cyanobacteria, and engineered E. coli, according to Gizmodo.

To Boost Rapid Testing

The Washington Post writes that new US programs aim to boost the availability of rapid at-home SARS-CoV-2 tests.

PNAS Papers on Strawberry Evolution, Cell Cycle Regulators, False-Positive Triplex Gene Editing

In PNAS this week: strawberry pan-genome, cell cycle-related roles for MDM2 and MDMX, and more.