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Around the Regions: May 29, 2009

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BIO Attendance Drops 29 Percent from Last Year, to 14,352, Within Range Predicted by Organizer

The Biotechnology Industry Organization said that 14,352 people attended its BIO 2009 International Convention held May 18-21 at Atlanta's Georgia World Congress Center – a nearly 29 percent drop from the 20,108 who went to last year's BIO convention in San Diego, and a 37 percent plunge from the annual convention's all-time attendance high of 22,633 at BIO 2007 in Boston.

BIO said the 14,352 came from 58 countries, compared with 70 countries represented last year, and 64 in 2007.

This year's attendance fell within BIO's projected range of 12,000 to 15,000 announced on the eve of BIO 2009, though the initial estimates ranged from 18,000 to 20,000. BIO has blamed the downturn in attendance on the ongoing economic upheaval [BRN, May 15].

Despite the falloff from last year's attendance, and the shrinking of attendance estimates, BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood declared the convention "a phenomenal success" in a statement.

Also dropping off from last year was the number of partnering meetings — 14,040 at BIO 2009, compared with "more than 14,500" trumpeted by BIO last year. However, the number of participating companies jumped by about 20 percent, from 1,503 in 2008 to 1,800 this year.

BIO will hold its 2010 International Convention in Chicago's McCormick Place from May 3-6.


Worcester's Massachusetts Biomedical Initiative Faces 57 Percent State Budget Cut

The Massachusetts Biomedical Initiative, the Worcester, Mass., nonprofit operator of three incubators within the city, faces a 40 percent cut in its state funding for the fiscal year starting July 1, the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester reported.

The MBI, which operates on a $1.4 million annual budget, won $700,000 in direct state assistance in the current fiscal year. Last week, the Massachusetts state Senate trimmed the line item by 57 percent, to $300,000, part of a series of budget cuts designed to plug a $3 billion budget shortfall blamed by Bay State officials on lower-than-projected tax collections due to the economic downturn.

MBI houses 21 startup biotech companies at Gateway Park on Prescott Street, the Massachusetts Biotechnology Research Park on Plantation Street, and the MBIdeas facility at 100 Barber Ave.

“Maybe we will just have to operate two” of those facilities, Kevin O’Sullivan, the MBI's president and CEO, told the newspaper, adding: “We just have to be smarter and work harder."

Companies housed at MBI facilities have a combined total of about 90 employees. O'Sullivan told the Telegram & Gazette that of 34 companies that started at the MBI labs in the last eight years, 24 are still operating in Massachusetts and now employ about 300 people.

MBI provides below-market-cost lab space, shared scientific equipment, and facilities tailored to startup life-sci companies.


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Governor's Panel: Rhode Island EDC Board Should Resign, Agency Should be Restructured

The entire board of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corp. should resign, and the agency should be restructured to reverse "longstanding underachievement" that has hindered the state's job attraction and retention effort, according to a nine-member panel formed by Gov. Donald Carcieri, a Republican.

"The level of economic development has been unsatisfactory for well over a decade,' declared the Economic Development Corporation Review Panel, in a recent 17-page memo to Carcieri.

The panel blamed years of lack of coordination between governors and state lawmakers, what it called the absence of a clear economic development strategy for the state, a lack of sufficient funding, and lack of support from smaller businesses, who perceive the RIEDC as focused mainly on recruiting corporate giants to the Ocean State.

Among the panel's recommendations, in addition to the RIEDC resignations:

• Abolish the state Economic Policy Council, which sets job development strategy, and transfer its responsibilitites to the RIEDC board.

• Launch a nationwide search for "an experienced, professional economic development executive" to run the RIEDC: "To attract the best person, it is likely that the State may have to provide the next director with a three- to five-year employment contract at market-based compensation levels."

• Create within EDC an Office of Economic Research and Policy Analysis, led by a professional economist, which will periodically compile, prepare and distribute "key economic data and relevant trends."

• Create a new public-private effort focusing on business attraction and recruitment activities, to be funded in part by grants from businesses, and to work closely with EDC.


Bioenergy Facility, Generic Pharma Company Win NY Empire State Development Grants; Javits Expansion Advances

The Empire State Development Corp., New York state's economic development agency, approved grants for a pair of life-sci companies seeking to expand:

• The upstate town of Romulus won a $500,000 Restore II grant toward the restoration of a development site, and the construction there of a $40 million Seneca Bioenergy facility projected to create 60 to 100 new jobs.

• Generic pharmaceutical company Epic Pharma won a $300,000 capital grant to purchase the Sandoz Eon Labs manufacturing facility in Queens, including its machinery and equipment, a $22.9 million project that will save the plant from closing. Epic will manufacture products and perform lab stability studies for Sandoz, and will also develop and manufacture other products under its own brand. The company has pledged to ESD that it will retain 165 jobs and create 20 new jobs in return for the grant.

Empire State Development's board of directors also approved a $463 million expansion plan for the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. The center would add 40,000 square feet of new exhibition space within a total 100,000 square feet of new construction. The expansion would increase the amount of exhibition space at Javits, which opened in 1986, from the current 675,000 square feet to 715,000 square feet, making it the nation's 18th largest convention center.

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The city announced its expansion plan March 20, as part of a bid to host a future Biotechnology Industry Organization international convention. BIO responded by saying it would study the plan; the group last held an annual convention in the Big Apple in 1998 [BRN, March 30].

The expansion plan will be submitted to the Public Authorities Control Board for approval at its June 1 meeting.


BFTP/NEP OKs Combined $105K for Three Early-Stage Life-Sci Companies

Ben Franklin Technology Partners/Northeastern Pennsylvania has approved funding totaling $105,435 for three early-stage life-sci companies, part of a total $567,245 approved by BFTP/NEP's board of directors and announced Thursday:

InfraRed Imaging Systems, Bethlehem, Pa., won $42,941 toward producing and marketing its VascularViewer medical imaging device, which allows clinicians to better visualize veins and arteries in the human body in accurate detail, in real-time, and non-invasively. This enables clinicians to more painlessly and efficiently insert needles and catheters. The VascularViewer has both FDA clearance and UL approval. The device is now being placed in hospitals.

Third Eye Diagnostics, Bethlehem, won $30,000 to conduct prototype development and clinical studies leading to the commercialization of Cerepress, a non-invasive intracranial pressure monitor.

Puritan Products, Bethlehem, won $32,494 toward help in attaining the current Good Manufacturing Practices status from the US Food and Drug Administration, allowing the company to expand in the pharma and biotech markets. The company has a university partner, Lehigh University.


Oklahoma's EDGE Board Reviewing 64 Pre-Proposals for $5M, Down from Last Year's $12.5M

Oklahoma's Economic Development Generating Excellence Policy Board announced it has received 64 pre-proposals seeking money to support new technology development for Oklahoma’s economy. That figure is less than the 94 pre-proposals submitted for five awards totaling $12.5 million awarded in 2008. This year, only about $5 million will be available.

The board has identified biotechnology among eight business sectors on which it recommended the state should focus. The other seven are aerospace, agriculture, biotechnology, energy, information technology/telecommunications, nanotechnology, sensors, and weather science.

Last year’s recipients included three biotechnology companies: Hyalose, Charlesson and OrthoCare Innovations; one project in wind energy; and an engineering project directed toward Oklahoma’s aerospace industry.


McKinsey Report: Indian Healthcare Market Poised for Growth Despite Economic Upheaval

India's pharmaceutical industry and its broader healthcare market are expected to grow rapidly in the next few years despite the global economic slump that has all but frozen the financial markets, McKinsey & Co. concluded in a new report on the nation's life sciences and healthcare industries.

New Opportunities for US-India Biopharma and Healthcare Collaboration projected that India's healthcare market would grow at close to previously-estimated rates of 10 to 12 percent, due to strong local demand:

• India's annual healthcare cost is projected to grow at 10 per cent, with the number of insured also set to rise from 100 million to 220 million.

• Further hospital beds are expected to double from 1.5 per thousand to 2.9 per thousand inpatients.

• India's diagnostic laboratories business is projected to grow by 20 to 25 percent.

• Plans by India to graduate 3 million to 4 million doctors, as well as another 2.5 million to 3 million nurses.

• A double-digit rise in the prevalence of chronic diseases, such as congestive heart disease, diabetes, asthma and obesity.

The report was released at the US India Biopharma and Healthcare Summit, held in Boston by the USA Indian Chamber of Commerce.


The Scan

US Booster Eligibility Decision

The US CDC director recommends that people at high risk of developing COVID-19 due to their jobs also be eligible for COVID-19 boosters, in addition to those 65 years old and older or with underlying medical conditions.

Arizona Bill Before Judge

The Arizona Daily Star reports that a judge weighing whether a new Arizona law restricting abortion due to genetic conditions is a ban or a restriction.

Additional Genes

Wales is rolling out new genetic testing service for cancer patients, according to BBC News.

Science Papers Examine State of Human Genomic Research, Single-Cell Protein Quantification

In Science this week: a number of editorials and policy reports discuss advances in human genomic research, and more.