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Around the Regions: Jul 17, 2009

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UK's New Life Sciences Blueprint Draws Praise from Four Trade Associations

The UK's four life sciences trade associations – the Association of British Healthcare Industries, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, the BioIndustry Association, and the British In Vitro Diagnostic Association – endorsed the three-year package of measures announced July 14 by the government's Office for Life Sciences in its "Life Sciences Blueprint."

In a statement, the groups said the Blueprint "provide[s] an excellent basis for firmly securing the future of the life sciences sector and re-establishing the UK's global competitive position."

Lord Drayson, the UK's minister for science and innovation; and Lord Darzi, health minister for quality and innovation, announced the Blueprint on Tuesday. The package of policy proposals followed six months of activity coordinated across four government departments and the National Health Service, plus industry and academia, to hammer out the components:

• An "Innovation Pass" designed to allow patients faster access to medicines. The Pass, to be administered by the National Institute for health and Clinical Excellence, will allow drug developers to have drugs for smaller patient populations available through NIH for a limited time, without having to undergo traditional but lengthy review by NICE. The Pass will be launched in the 2010/2011 fiscal year with a budget of £25 million (about $41 million) to be set aside by the Department of Health.

• Creation of a Strategic Health Authority Delivery Group, intended to improve both the adoption of new medical technologies, and engagement between industry and the NHS.

• Reinforcement of the need for greater emphasis on research in clinical trials in the next NHS Operating Framework.

• A commitment by the UK's Treasury to further investigate the possibility of a "patent box" tax incentive offering a lower rate of tax on profits derived from patents located in the UK. The proposal is designed to encourage creation and exploitation of intellectual property in the UK, with proposals to come ahead of the 2009 Pre-Budget Report.

• The launch by the Technology Strategy Board of an £18 million regenerative medicine investment program, designed to support key areas of commercial R&D and the development of R&D partnerships, with an additional £3.5 million from research councils.

• The establishment of a £150 million UK Innovation Investment Fund, announced June 29 [BRN, July 6], to invest in technology-based businesses with high-growth potential, including life sciences companies, intended to reinvigorate private investment in industry startups.

Drayson said next steps include: A review by NHS chief executive David Nicholson leading to greater emphasis on research and clinical trials in the next NHS Operating Framework; the formation of a UK Life Sciences Super Cluster to coordinate work across industry, higher education and the NHS, and to boost international recognition of UK life sciences.

"Assuming the full implementation of these actions, industry believes they do have the potential to significantly transform the prospects of the life sciences sector in the UK," the four groups said in the statement.


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Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, MassEcon Name Second Set of BioReady Communities

The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council this week added seven Massachusetts communities to its list of BioReady communities rated the readiest to accommodate life-sciences companies seeking to relocate to or expand within the Bay State.

Lowell, Mass., won the highest "platinum" rating, while four communities earned a silver rating —Chelmsford, Marlborough, Norfolk, and Somerville. Two other communities, Newton and Hatfield, won bronze ratings.

The MBC worked with the private, nonprofit Massachusetts Alliance for Economic Development or MassEcon and several regional economic development groups to evaluate the communities, which join 44 municipalities named in the inaugural round of BioReady Communities in April [BRN, May 1].

The MBC BioReady Community Campaign has been conducted with support from the private nonprofit group Massachusetts Alliance for Economic Development, or MassEcon, and regional organizations throughout Massachusetts.

Bronze communities have district municipal water and sewer services available in commercial and industrial areas. Zoning allows for biotech laboratory and manufacturing uses by special permit. An identified point of contact exists in the town or city government to assist life-sciences employers and their representatives.

Silver communities meet the Bronze rating criteria, and in addition allow biotech laboratory and manufacturing uses by right. Buildings and/or land sites have been identified for biotechnology uses in their municipal plans. Officials convene site plan review meetings, bringing together all pertinent departments, to provide an overview of the local approvals process for significant commercial and industrial projects.

In addition, Silver-rated communities have either identified land sites and/or buildings for life sciences use in the state BioSites inventory; or have been designated Priority Development Sites warranting fast-track review and decisions, under Chapter 43D of the General Laws of Massachusetts. In addition, Silver communities have at least one site designated by the state for redevelopment under the Massachusetts Growth Districts Initiative.

Gold communities meet the Silver rating criteria, and in addition, their municipal boards of health have adopted National Institutes of Health guidelines on recombinant DNA activity as part of their regulations. Gold communities have sites or buildings pre-permitted for biotechnology laboratory or manufacturing use, or have existing buildings where biotech laboratory or manufacturing activities are taking place.

Platinum communities meet the Gold rating criteria, and in addition include within their borders one or more buildings that are already permitted for biotech uses, and have 20,000 square feet or more of available space for biotech uses or have a ready-to-develop "shovel-ready," pre-permitted land site with completed Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act reviews, as well as municipal water and sewer capacity to meet additional demand.


Filmmaker Focuses on NC's Bent Creek Institute, as State Budget Crunch Imperils $200K Award

With the North Carolina General Assembly unlikely to renew the $200,000 it awarded the Bent Creek Institute toward research due to the state's budget crunch, the institute hopes a new documentary film will help bring decision-makers around to supporting its research, which focuses on transforming plants found in the mountains of Western North Carolina into medicines, the Asheville (NC) Citizen-Times reported.

"Plants to People" director Kurt Mann told the newspaper he was initially examining the scientific research being conducted on the plants found in the mountains of Western North Carolina. But as the economy slumped and funding for Bent Creek became threatened, Mann shifted his focus toward the potential for job creation held by the region's medicinal plants.

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"What was needed was for potential [business] partners, for the legislators, for people in this region to understand how important it is to build a business infrastructure … focused on the assets we already have, which is the incredible biodiversity of Western North Carolina," Mann, who runs the film company American Green in Asheville, told the Citizen-Times.

State lawmakers are scrambling to plug a $4.5 billion budget shortfall in the overdue budget bring crafted for the fiscal year that started July 1. The film premiered last week at the WriteMind Institute in downtown Asheville for a group of legislators, scientists, and business leaders. Mann has posted the film on YouTube and Facebook, hoping to draw more viewers, and win more support for the institute's cause.

Last year's state funding paid for administrative costs and Bent Creek's cancer research, which has identified about a dozen plants as having promise in treating brain, breast and prostate cancer.
The institute has raised about $2 million in the past two years through public funds, the state university system and the state-funded North Carolina Biotechnology Center, as well as private money through Mission Hospital and other sources.


MSF Completes $1.8M Series B Funding Round in Southwest Michigan First Portfolio Startup

The Michigan Strategic Fund board this week has completed a $1.8 million convertible Series B investment in Venomix, a life-sci startup within the portfolio of the Southwest Michigan First Life Science Fund. The funding followed a recommendation by the state's Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Located in the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center in Kalamazoo, Mich., Venomix has developed insecticides based on the peptides used by spiders to kill insects. The company has identified more than 50 spider peptides, as well as target markets that include agriculture, animal health and specialty non-crop uses such as household insects. The company began its research at the University of Connecticut before moving to Michigan.

The portfolio is overseen by Southwest Michigan First's $50 million limited partnership venture fund. SMF is a private nonprofit economic development corporation serving the Kalamazoo region.


Four San Antonio-Area Life-Sci Startups Win $7M From Texas Emerging Technology Fund

Four San Antonio-area life sciences startups have won a total $7 million from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, Gov. Rick Perry announced this week:

AdviTech has won $2.5 million to commercialize a therapy and solution for spatial disorientation, vertigo and motion sickness. The company's software generates a display of an artificial horizon, projected on the lenses of specially developed eyeglasses or pilot helmets to combat the illusions found in flight, and control the human sensory mismatches causing spatial disorientation and motion sickness.

America Stem Cell has received $2.5 million to commercialize a bone marrow transplant enzyme technology. The technology has the potential to benefit patients with cancer and other diseases by allowing the use of cord blood derived stem cells rather than attempting to find a compatible bone marrow transplant donor.

Bio2Medical has received $1 million to commercialize a temporary inferior vena cava filter to help critically ill patients with pulmonary complications. The filters are inserted into a patient to trap blood clots and prevent pulmonary emboli.

Pronucleotein has won $1 million to commercialize a suite of products for rapid onsite food safety testing. The technology uses DNA aptamer sequences in a portable hand-held detection device for fast, real-time, on-site detection of pathogens, such as E. coli and salmonella in food and water.

The ETF was launched with $200 million in 2005, and was reauthorized earlier this year with $203.5 million for 2010-2011. A 17-member advisory committee of high-tech leaders, entrepreneurs and research experts reviews potential projects and recommends funding allocations to Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and Speaker of the House Joe Straus. To date, the ETF has allocated more than $99 million in funds to 78 early stage companies.


Connecticut Innovations Awards $750K to Orthopaedic Technology Company

Connecticut Innovations, the state's quasi-public authority for technology investing, has awarded $750,000 from its Eli Whitney Fund to Soft Tissue Regeneration, which is relocating its operations from Charlottesville, Va., to Connecticut.

STR has licensed from Drexel University, on an exclusive worldwide basis, technology designed to treat anterior cruciate ligament injuries. The technology is also designed to address issues associated with autografts, tissue transplanted from one part of a patient's body to another, and allografts, tissue transplanted from a cadaver.

The funding was CI's 18th award to early-stage Connecticut technology companies since July 2008 — and was part of a $3.5 million Series A round also involving Philadelphia-based MentorTech Ventures II LP.

Russell Tweeddale, CI's managing director of investments, will represent CI on STR's board of directors.


Biomedical Company Wins $40K from One North Carolina Fund Toward 20 New Jobs

Adhezion Biomedical, a global provider of surgical adhesives, wound-care dressings, and infection-prevention sealants, will add 20 new jobs over the next three years at its Hudson, NC, facility, a $750,000 expansion the state sought to advance by awarding a $40,000 grant from its One North Carolina Fund.

Headquartered in Wyomissing, Pa., near Reading, Adhezion Biomedical now employs seven workers at its Hudson facility, which carries out manufacturing, and research and development.

"We are delighted to be awarded this funding from the state of North Carolina and look forward to increasing our presence and commitment in the city of Hudson," said Pete Molinaro, Adhezion's chairman and CEO, said in a statement issued by Gov. Bev Perdue.


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