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Around the Regions: Jul 10, 2009


Brockton, Mass., Aims for the Top in Biotech Council's BioReady Program

The head of the Brockton (Mass.) 21st Century Corp. told the Enterprise of Brockton that the city must do more to attract biotechnology companies to locate in the city, despite its enjoying the second-highest "gold" rating from the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council's BioReady Communities Campaign.

Donald Walsh, executive director of the publicly funded economic development group, noted that while Brockton was one of 10 communities to win the program's gold rating, 17 communities captured the top or "platinum" rating from the campaign, which rates communities based on their readiness to accommodate life-sciences companies seeking to relocate to or expand within the Bay State [BRN, May 1].

“We’re going to work to bring that up to platinum,” Walsh told the newspaper. “We have to shorten the timeframe to be permitted.”

Shortening the permitting time, he added, must involve cooperation from the City Council and city zoning officials, Walsh told the Enterprise, adding that biotechnology companies aren’t interested in locating in communities that don’t have buildings that are “pre-permitted” for biotech.

Among Brockton's assets for life-sci companies, according to Walsh, are a supply of available properties; water, sewer, and other public works systems with capacity for life-sci companies; and the city's location 20 miles from the top-tier Boston/Cambridge, Mass. cluster.

Brockton hopes that life-sci companies can help reverse the city's rising unemployment rate, which at 10.4 percent is above the state average of 8 percent.

New York State Issues Requests for Applications for $21.5M in State Funds for Stem Cell Research

New York state has issued separate requests for applications by researchers seeking state funding for stem cell research under two programs.

The $21.5 million will be distributed through two separate RFAs seeking proposals to stimulate stem cell research. The funding includes:

• $15 million for Investigator-Initiated Research Projects and Innovative, Developmental or Exploratory Activities (IDEA) in Stem Cell Research. The program is designed to stimulate and support basic, applied, translational, pre-clinical and clinical investigations on any aspect of stem cell biology deemed to lead to a better understanding of the properties of stem cells, and allow their use to treat disease; and

• $6.5 million for Targeted Projects in Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research, designed to derive and characterize new human embryonic stem cell lines, devise novel and improved derivation methods, increase efficiency in the production of new lines, standardize protocols, and enhance their potential for clinical application.

Letters of intent for the RFAs are due August 5, 2009, and the applications are due September 10, 2009. The full RFAs are available here and here.

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Over the past year, New York state has awarded $118 million from its Empire State Stem Cell Trust Fund to support stem cell scientists through the development of new infrastructure, research and training. The state has committed to spending $600 million on research and facilities designed to advance stem cell science, under a program signed into law by Gov. David Paterson's predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, in 2007.

The state Department of Health administers the stem cell initiative through the New York State Stem Cell Science/NYSTEM program, under the direction of the Empire State Stem Cell Board.

Wisconsin Budget Includes New Tax Credits, Projects Aimed at Growing Life-Sci, Tech

The Wisconsin Technology Council, an independent nonprofit charged with dispensing nonpartisan science and technology advice to Gov. Jim Doyle and the state legislature, said the Badger State's new budget signed into law included several tax credits and other tax breaks designed to stimulate life sciences and other technology growth statewide.

The programs survived despite the scramble by Doyle and lawmakers to plug a $6.6 billion shortfall caused by declining state revenues that officials have blamed on the ongoing economic upheaval — in part by adding $2.1 billion in new taxes and fees. The spending plan was the first one since 1977 to be enacted on time.

Among measures signed into law:

* An exemption to the sales and use tax for machinery and other tangible personal property used for qualified manufacturing or biotechnology research in the state, effective Jan. 1, 2012. “Qualified research expenses” would be qualified research expenses as defined under the Internal Revenue Code incurred by the claimant for research conducted in Wisconsin for the tax year — the same definition used for the research credit under current law.

* Research and development tax credits for businesses that increase R&D by more than 125 percent of the company’s three-year R&D average. The credit would be an income and franchise tax credit worth $1 for each $1 of investment above 125 percent. This provision would take effect Jan. 1, 2011, using the same “qualified research expenses” definition as the sales tax exemption.

* Spending $2 million on the Wisconsin Genomics Initiative, a collaborative effort between the Marshfield Clinic, Medical College of Wisconsin, UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health and UW-Milwaukee. This investment will promote Wisconsin leadership in personalized health care research.

* Spending $8.2 million on biotechnology, nanotechnology and information technologies research at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, a research institute at the UW-Madison charged with enhancing human health through interdisciplinary research. This budget item will leverage $150 million in private and public investment in construction of the Institute and its private counterpart, the Morgridge Institute for Research.

* A provision that will modify Wisconsin’s “self-dealing” law to lower barriers to university professors launching start-up companies, which can create high-wage jobs.

* Spending $240 million over six years on UW-Milwaukee's building plans, which include expanding its research and economic development activities.

* Spending $4.05 million per year in research and development projects at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center at the UW-Madison and related bio-energy projects at UW-Milwaukee, UW-Stevens Point, UW-River Falls and UW-Green Bay.

The council said several of the programs were based on recommendations it made in white paper reports to the governor and the legislature.

QPS Forms Strategic Alliance with Taiwan's Development Center for Biotechnology

Contract research organization QPS has entered into a strategic alliance with Taiwan’s Development Center for Biotechnology, a non-profit organization supported primarily by government funding to advance Taiwan biotech industry and serve as a bridge between Taiwan and the rest of the world.

In conjunction with DCB, QPS said in a statement it will expand its current services into chemistry, manufacturing and controls, in vitro/in vivo toxicology, and pharmacology. The CRO said the recently passed Taiwan Biotechnology Takeoff Package — consisting of a $1.76 billion, 10-year venture capital fund and development of a "Supra Incubator Center" to support life-sci businesses — has allowed DCB to expand its services to process development and cGMP production of biopharmaceuticals, all areas within the expertise of QPS, which operates a bioanalytical LC/MS/MS facility in Taipei.

“Our partnership with DCB provides QPS with access to enhanced service offerings, not only to our clients in the Asia-Pacific Rim region, but around the world,” stated QPS CEO and founder Ben Chien in a statement.

The Scan

Genetic Risk Factors for Hypertension Can Help Identify Those at Risk for Cardiovascular Disease

Genetically predicted high blood pressure risk is also associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk, a new JAMA Cardiology study says.

Circulating Tumor DNA Linked to Post-Treatment Relapse in Breast Cancer

Post-treatment detection of circulating tumor DNA may identify breast cancer patients who are more likely to relapse, a new JCO Precision Oncology study finds.

Genetics Influence Level of Depression Tied to Trauma Exposure, Study Finds

Researchers examine the interplay of trauma, genetics, and major depressive disorder in JAMA Psychiatry.

UCLA Team Reports Cost-Effective Liquid Biopsy Approach for Cancer Detection

The researchers report in Nature Communications that their liquid biopsy approach has high specificity in detecting all- and early-stage cancers.