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Around the Regions: Jun 5, 2009

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Mass. Life Sciences Act Survives Lawmaker's Bill to Kill the $1B, 10-Year Program

The Massachusetts state Senate, on a 32-7 vote, defeated an amendment to the state budget by state Sen. Richard Tisei (R-Wakefield) to kill the $1 billion, 10-year Massachusetts Life Sciences Act, the newspaper Mass High Tech reported.

Tisei told the newspaper he would re-submit the bill, contending that Massachusetts cannot afford the measure given the economy and the state's need to plug a shortfall of $3 billion in crafting a budget for the fiscal year set to start July 1.

Tisei also argued the bill represents unfair state favoritism of biotechnology over other industries.

“We shouldn’t be picking winners and losers among industries,” Tisei told Mass High Tech. “I’d rather see an across-the-board approach.” The Legislature should focus on cutting costs overall for businesses, he said, addressing things such as taxes, the cost of energy, and regulations, particularly around labor law.

But the life sciences act may not be able to survive this year's legislative budget process unscathed. Both the state Senate and House of Representatives have proposed funding the center's operations in the coming fiscal year at $10 million, down from $15 million this past fiscal year, in a bow to state budget woes, and well under the annual $25 million set by the law.

In the past year, the life-sci center has spent $46 million in state funds, leveraging $357 million in matching federal and private investment, and helping to create a projected 950 jobs, center spokesman Angus McQuilken told the newspaper.


Michigan Research Universities Likely to Keep Dominance of Drug Discovery in State, Report Concludes

Michigan's research universities are likely to continue to dominate the state's drug discovery sector, but the growing segment of life sciences services companies will comprise most private-sector biotech firms, according to a report released Thursday at the Mackinac Policy Conference and commissioned by the University Research Corridor, consisting of the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and Wayne State University.

"The line between what we call service and what we call technology development is very, very blurred. I think [service] is a major sector and it's growing," Stephen Forrest, University of Michigan's vice president for research and chairman of Ann Arbor SPARK, told the Michigan Business Review.

He added that companies that provide services to traditional drug discovery operations account for jobs that are just as important as research scientists, the newspaper noted.

One sign of the sector's growth: Most of the 23 companies that were formed after Pfizer announced it would shut down its 2-million-square-foot facility in Ann Arbor, Mich., displacing some 2,100 workers, were clinical services companies.

The report, by East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group, noted that Michigan is steadily assembling a variety of services firms whose customers are pharma companies, biotech firms, and universities from in and outside the state. The state also has budding segments of the life sciences industry focused on testing product kits and clinical trial services. However, the state's universities, which racked up $887 million in life sciences research spending in 2008, account for the vast majority of Michigan's pure drug discovery researchers.

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Stephen Rapundalo, MichBio's executive director, told the Business Review that Michigan's growing services sector needs policy support from the state and a strong marketing/branding effort. He said Michigan has several competitor states pursuing the same course in life-sci economic development, including Missouri and New Jersey.

The life-sci research carried out by the universities accounts for about 64 percent of the URC's total research budget of about $1.3 billion, the report noted — a figure expected to grow as universities win grants through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, President Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus measure.

The state's entire life sciences industry employed 79,062 workers in 2006, up from 71,443 in 1999, according to the report, which comes as the state's top life sciences association, Ann Arbor-based MichBio, is trying to brand the state as a biotech services provider of sorts.

"We do believe that life sciences has limitless potential for our state," U-M President Mary Sue Coleman said at a press conference, according to the Business Review.


California's Little Hoover Commission Targets CIRM Board Size, Salaries, Supermajority Rule

In preliminary recommendations included in a staff report, California's Little Hoover Commission has recommended changes to the governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, according to the California Stem Cell Report.

Changes included reducing from 29 to 15 the number of members of the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee that governs CIRM; eliminating salaries approved just a few months ago for ICOC Chairman Robert Klein and two vice chairs, Duane Roth and Art Torres; and eliminating the requirement of a supermajority quorum in order for the board to take action.

Other recommendations included removing CIRM's 50-employee cap, retaining the state stipulation that it spend no more than 6 percent of its budget on overhead, developing procedures for removing ICOC board members, creating a succession plan for CIRM leaders, and crafting a long-term plan for the agency to either shut down after 2014 or sustain itself afterward.

The proposals were unveiled at a May 27 meeting of the CIRM subcommittee of Little Hoover, officially known as the Milton Marks Commission on California State Government Organization and Economy. Little Hoover is expected to modify these recommendations in a final report the commission is set to vote on later this month; a date and time for that meeting had not at deadline been posted on the commission's web site.

Little Hoover would not make the staff report available to CIRM or the public, citing longstanding practice, but offered an oral overview of its findings, according to the Report.


Report Projects Slow Growth in Clinical Lab Scientist Jobs in Parts of Northern California

Employment for clinical lab scientists will rise a little over 1 percent each year through 2014, with no more than 40 openings for such jobs likely to emerge each year, according to California Employment Development Department data included in Allied Health Regional Workforce Analysis: Bay Area Region, released this week by the Center for the Health Care Professions at the University of California, San Francisco.

The report studied employment trends for 19 job categories, all but one in the broader healthcare sphere. Despite the economic upheaval, the report concluded, healthcare jobs remain among the Bay Area region's strongest employment opportunities — especially jobs as dental assistants, medical assistants, home health aides, and nursing assistants.

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For clinical lab scientists, the report examined three sub-regions of northern California:

Alameda/Contra Costa — 820 current jobs, 25 openings per year, for an annual industry growth rate of 1.3 percent.

Marin/San Francisco/San Mateo — 670 current jobs, 38 openings per year, for a 1.4 percent annual industry growth rate.

Santa Clara — 770 current jobs, 29 openings per year, for a 1.3 percent annual industry growth rate

A key limitation for job growth in the industry, the report concluded, was the small numbers of students that can be accommodated by the school laboratories that train CLSs: "In some programs, there is a limit of two to three students per year because of the need for close supervision and intensive clinical instruction."

That regulation, plus the closing of 90 percent of state training labs between 1975 and 2000, explain why, according to the report, "the number of candidates for licensure who were trained in California’s Clinical Laboratory Science programs declined by approximately 90 percent in the last two-and-a-half decades, from roughly 860 candidates in 1980 to just 96 in 2005."


12 Winners Awarded $3M in One-Time Maryland Nanobiotechnology Research and Industry Competition Grants

The new Maryland Biotechnology Center, an arm of the state Department of Business and Economic Development, joined with the Maryland Technology Development Corp. on Thursday to name 12 winners of a total $3 million in 2009 Maryland Nanobiotechnology Research and Industry Competition grants.

The 12 recipients are all within Maryland, and include public and private colleges and universities, as well as nonprofit organizations and businesses. The statewide nanobiotechnology research grants competition is a one-time program funded through DBED. Going forward, TEDCO will provide future grants for nanobio projects through the Coordinating Emerging Nanobiotechnology Research, or CENTR, in Maryland program approved last year by the state General Assembly.

The state examined 103 applications, with 43 finalists subject to technical reviews of their research proposals. Winners received up to $250,000 per grant.

The 12 grant recipients:

* Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation, a $250,000 research project led by John
Fulkerson, entitled, Targeted Protein Expression.

* AparnaBio, a $250,000 research project led by Puthupparampil Scaria, in collaboration
with the University of Maryland Baltimore and Siranomics, entitled, Targeted
Anti-anagiogenic siRNA Nanoparticle to Treat Lung Cancer
;

* ASR&D Corporation, a $250,000 research project led by Jacqueline Hines, in
collaboration with Temple University, Avianna Molecular & Technologies, and Drexel
University, entitled, Acoustic Array Biosensor Utilizing Nanostructured Films for
Multiplexed Point of Care Diagnosis of Infectious Agents
;

* Bioactive Surgical, a $250,000 research project led by Lew Schon, in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University and Union Memorial Hospital, entitled, High Density Nanofilms for Orthopedic Therapies;

* Cytimmune, a $250,000 research project led by Gulio Paciotti, in collaboration with
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, entitled, Development and Pilot Manufacturing for a Multifunctional Tumor
Targeting Nanomedicine
;

* Johns Hopkins University, a $230,000 research project led by Jeff Bulte, in
collaboration with Sugivieson, entitled, Image-Guided Encapsulated Cell Therapy using
Multimodal Nanoparticles
;

* Johns Hopkins University: A $250,000 research project led by Venu Raman, in collaboration with the University of Maryland Baltimore County, entitled, Functional Characterization of a Novel RNA Helicase Inhibitor Encapsulated in a Duel-MR Contrast Nanoparticles for Breast Cancer Treatment;

* University of Maryland Baltimore, a $250,000 research project led by Joseph
Lakowicz, in collaboration with the University of Maryland School of Medicine and
Advanced Fluidics, entitled, Plasmon-Controlled Fluorescence and its Application to
Fluorescence Sensing
;

* University of Maryland College Park, a $200,000 research project led by Arthur
La Porta, in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute Robert Wood Medical
School, entitled, Advanced Optical Torque Wrench for Manipulation of DNA structures;

* University of Maryland College Park, a $250,000 research project led by Bruce
Yu, in collaboration with the National Institute for Standards and Technology,
entitled, Force-Sensitive Nano Networks (FSNN);

* University of Maryland College Park, a $232,000 research project led by Volker
Briken, in collaboration with the University of Maryland Medical School, entitled,
Targeted Drug Delivery Mediated Nanocontainers; and

* University of Maryland College Park, a $250,000 research project led by Reza
Ghodssi, in collaboration with the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute,
entitled, A Micro-Direct Methanol Fuel Cell with Nanostructured Platinum Catalysts
Using the Tobacco Mosaic Virus
.


The Scan

WHO Seeks Booster Pause

According to CNN, the World Health Organization is calling for a moratorium on administering SARS-CoV-2 vaccine boosters until more of the world has received initial doses.

For Those Long Legs

With its genome sequence and subsequent RNAi analyses, researchers have examined the genes that give long legs to daddy longlegs, New Scientist says.

September Plans

The New York Times reports that the US Food and Drug Administration is aiming for early September for full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.

Nucleic Acids Research Papers on Targeting DNA Damage Response, TSMiner, VarSAn

In Nucleic Acids Research this week: genetic changes affecting DNA damage response inhibitor response, "time-series miner" approach, and more.