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Around the Regions: Jun 26, 2009


iBio: Emerging Technology Industries Act a 'Hostage' to Illinois Budget Stalemate

A bill pending in the Illinois House of Representatives to set aside $25 million in grants and tax credits to help biotech, pharmaceutical, and medical-device startups commercialize new technologies "will be held hostage" as state officials continue their stalemate over the Prairie State's budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, Illinois Biotechnology Industry Organization President/CEO David Miller told members in an online update on the legislation.

The Emerging Technology Industries Act, Senate Bill 1522, would set aside up to $10 million in state funds annually for matching grants to Illinois-based tech startups that obtain federal Small Business Innovative Research grants. The measure would also create an annual $15 million tax credit program for state-registered and qualified investors in early-stage life-sci and other tech startups.

In his update, Miller praised iBio members and supporters in the legislature for advancing the bill — notably the measure's chief sponsor in the state House, Susana Mendoza (D-Chicago), who serves as vice-chair of the House Bio-Technology Committee. Mendoza recruited some 30 co-sponsors, tilting the bill toward repeating the strong support it enjoyed in the state Senate, when sponsor Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) lined up support that got the bill reported unanimously out of the Senate Revenue committee on March 6, followed by a 54-0 vote by the full state Senate on March 31 [BRN, April 6].

But Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, and legislative leaders are sparring over how to plug a $9.2 billion shortfall in crafting this year's spending plan. Quinn has proposed raising the state income tax from 3 percent to 4.5 percent, and raising the corporate income tax from the current 4.8 percent to at least 6 percent, a compromise of his original 7.2 percent proposed increase. While the tax hikes have drawn opposition from Republican lawmakers and even some of Quinn's fellow Democrats, Quinn has said the alternative would be to cut $1 billion by laying off 2,200 state workers and forcing the remaining state workforce to take 12 unpaid furlough days.

"As you’ve no doubt read in the press, the State government has not figured out how to address the severe fiscal issues confronting Illinois, and until that happens, SB 1522 will be held hostage to that deliberation," Miller wrote in his update, carried on iBio's web site. "Compounding the complexity, the political climate is very fluid, as prospective candidates jockey for position in the next election cycle, which begins this summer. So SB 1522 is not a done deal, but we’ve made enormous progress so far this year, winning over a majority of legislators and the Governor to our cause.

SB 1522 also contains a capped 25 percent tax credit for early stage “angel” or venture capital investors in small tech startups — a credit that has helped neighboring Wisconsin draw away many Illinois startups in recent years — as well as a capped grant-matching program, committing the state to match the amount startups receive in federal SBIR or STTR grants.

"Illinois has steadily been losing early-stage technology companies to other states that are more supportive. In the past, this loss of firms was mostly to costal jurisdictions; more recently, Illinois has forfeited job-creating startups to Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana, among others," Miller said in the update.

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Tech Council of Maryland's MdBio Endorses State's New Life Sciences Strategy

The MdBio Division of the Tech Council of Maryland said this week it would "wholeheartedly" support “BioMaryland 2020: A Strategic Plan for the Life Sciences Industry in Maryland." Unveiled last month by Gov. Martin O'Malley at the Biotechnology Industry Organization's 2009 International Convention in Atlanta, the strategic plan is a 17-point program that includes calls for increasing funding for the state Biotech Tax Credit, increasing funding for the Maryland Venture Fund, expanding Maryland’s R&D Tax Credit, supporting stem cell research, and encouraging nanobiotechnology [BRN, May 21].

The centerpiece of BioMaryland 2020: A Strategic Plan for the Life Sciences in Maryland is the Maryland Biotechnology Center, a state agency established "to coordinate and, in certain instances, consolidate Maryland support for the continued growth and success of the bioscience and biotechnology industry in the state," according to the report.

“It is our intention to work closely with the Maryland Biotechnology Center and the Maryland Life Sciences Advisory Board in a synergistic manner to advance implementation of these recommendations for the good of our member companies and for the life sciences industry in Maryland as a whole,” Richard Zakour, executive director of MdBio and its companion organization MdBio Foundation, said in a statement. “Many of our member companies have played a role in shaping the plan. Its success is critical to the future growth and success of the biotech industry in our state.”

The strategic plan followed two years of study by the Maryland Life Sciences Advisory Board, a panel whose 15 members were selected by O'Malley and the General Assembly [GenomeWeb Daily News, April 3, 2007].

Massachusetts Life Sciences Center Awards Nearly $1.4M in 2nd Round of New Investigator Grants

The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, the quasi-public state agency that oversees the state's $1 billion, 10-year Life Sciences Act, has awarded about $1.4 million in New Investigator Research Matching Grants. The grants are designed to support life sciences research at colleges and universities across the Bay State.

Seven investigators will receive grants of up to $100,000 per year, for a two-year period. The grants will be matched dollar-for-dollar by each scientist’s research institution, adding up to nearly $2.8 million overall.

The seven researchers:

Jeffrey Bailey (UMass Medical School) — $100,000 per year for two years toward research in dissecting the role of human copy number variation in severe malaria. Bailey will design methods to determine if differences in the number of copies of various genes or DNA segments are related to malarial resistance. Techniques developed would also apply to diseases other than malaria.

Christopher Gabel (Boston University Medical Center) — $100,000 per year for two years toward exploring neural regeneration in C. Elegans using femtosecond laser surgery and advanced optical neurophysiology. Gabel will apply biophysical techniques and the genetic system of nematode worms in research designed to advance neural regeneration after traumatic brain and spinal cord injury.

Sun Hur (Immune Disease Institute, Children’s Hospital) — $100,000 per year for two years to elucidate the molecular mechanism by which a particular gene, RIG-I, recognizes viral RNAs and activates the immune response. The research is designed to help advance public health by aiding in the prevention or treatment of infection by many viruses.

Raul Mostolovsky (Mass General Hospital) — $100,000 per year for two years to study the SIRT6 protein which modifies histones. Histones are integral parts of the chromosomes and are involved in gene activity. His goal is to understand the role of chromatin in glucose metabolism, and the potential link between metabolism, DNA repair and cancer.

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Mark Niedre (Northeastern University) — $180,256 over the next two years toward development of an instrument to detect non-invasive, very rare cells circulating in the blood. He anticipates that such an instrument will have many applications, including the study of the development of metastatic cancer, study of blood stem cell mobilization, and testing of new compounds that induce mobilization of stem cells into the blood.

Konstantina Stankovic (Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary) — $100,000 per year for two years to investigate the significance of a discovery that the auditory nerve secretes a pro-survival molecule at extremely high levels, as well as to explore the therapeutic implications of this finding. She hopes to develop a method for treating hearing loss due to neural degeneration.

• Satoshi Yoshida (Brandeis University) — $100,000 per year for two years to explore how yeast cells maintain the integrity of their cell walls during environmental stress. Because cell walls are unique to fungi but are not found in human cells, the process of wall construction and maintenance in fungi provides an attractive target for anti-fungal therapies.

This is the center's second round of New Investigator Grants. The first round, announced in July 2008, awarded $3.1 million for a three-year period to eleven new investigators across the Commonwealth.

Canada's Federal Government Awards $954K to Quebec Biotechnology Innovation Centre

Canada's federal government has awarded just over C$1.1 million ($953,678) to the Quebec Biotechnology Innovation Centre, an incubator that advances life-sci growth in Greater Montreal. The funds — awarded through Canada Economic Development’s Business and Regional Growth program — will enable the organization to continue offering pre-incubation and incubation programs to biotechnology firms through March 31, 2011.

QBIC has provided support and guidance to start up small and medium-sized life-sci enterprises during the early stages of their development. QBIC incubated firms are expected between 2008 and 2011 to spend some $40 million, more than half of the $70 million in annual revenues garnered by the center from current tenants and alumni.

The Canadian funds will require QBIC to spend another $8 million of its own money. In return, supporters have projected the business and regional growth project will help create seven enterprises with a combined 50 jobs.

Hong Kong Official Vows Continued Investment by Chinese SAR into Biotech, Nanotech

Hong Kong's government will continue to invest in biotechnology and nanotechnology among six growing economic sectors identified by a task force, Nicholas Chan, assistant commissioner for innovation and technology in the Chinese special administrative region, said at a tech exchange forum, in comments reported by China's official Xinhua news agency this week.

Speaking at Sino-Italian TechX, an exchange forum between Italy and China on biotechnology and nanotechnology, Chan said Hong Kong had about 300 biotechnology-related companies, comprising mainly healthcare-related companies with businesses in pharmaceuticals, medicinal or healthcare products of traditional Chinese medicine, medical devices and diagnostics. Among them, about 70 companies are listed in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and Growth Enterprise Market.

Chan also said biotech and nanotech account for more than 12 percent of the roughly 1,400 R&D projects totaling about HK $4 billion ($516.6 million) awarded under Hong Kong's 10-year-old Innovation and Technology Fund, established with HK $5 billion ($645.8 million) to support applied Research and Development projects intended to enhance Hong Kong's international competitiveness.

"In the biotech area, projects that have been supported include those in bioinformatics, molecular diagnostics, drug and therapeutic discover and development, modernization of traditional Chinese medicine, and biopharmaceutical manufacturing," Chan said, according to Xinhua.

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