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Around the Regions: Jul 24, 2009

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Mass. Life Sciences Center OKs $600K in New Investigator Grants, Completing $1.8M Second Round

The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, the quasi-public agency charged with overseeing the Bay State's $1 billion, 10-year Life Sciences Act, has awarded $600,000 to three Harvard-affiliated researchers, completing a second round of New Investigator Matching Grants that included more than $1.3 million awarded last month to seven other scientists.

The three will receive $100,000 per year over the next two years. Each grant will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the scientist’s research institution. The winners:

Briana Burton (Harvard University) — Development of new methods to study the mechanisms used by bacteria to transport DNA, namely chromosomes, across cell membranes.
Matthias Marti (Harvard School of Public Health) — Establishment of a high-throughput screen to identify compounds that inhibit the formation and development of malaria transmission stages.
Tobias Ritter (Harvard College) — Use of late-stage fluorination, via positron-emission tomography tracers containing fluorine atoms, to aid in the development of new pharmaceuticals and diagnostics.

To date, the center said, it has spent a total $12.6 million in scientific research grants, on condition that they be matched dollar-for-dollar by academic institutions and company sponsors.

The new investigator grants are designed to advance the careers of young scientists carrying out life sciences research at Massachusetts institutions.


Mass. Life Sciences Center Program Matches 104 Interns with 59 Life-Sci Employers

The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center said this week that its Internship Challenge program has matched 104 college-level interns from 36 different colleges and universities with 59 life-sciences employers, both businesses and research institutions, during its inaugural year — meeting its goal announced earlier this year that it would find internships for at least 100 students.

The center, the quasi-public state agency that oversees the $1 billion, 10-year Life Sciences Act, said that 500 applicants contacted it seeking internships this summer.

The Internship Challenge — funded with $500,000 approved by the center's board in February [BRN, March 2] — is a workforce development program designed to boost the supply of professionals qualified for jobs with life-sci employers by linking academic institutions, research centers, and businesses with interns pursuing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics majors.

Students selected for the Internship Challenge receive a stipend of $4,800 for eight weeks of work. Host companies and institutions commit to providing a mentor and a "meaningful" internship opportunity related to the academic focus of eligible students.


Tennessee Launches Six Investment Companies, with Biotech, Innovation in Mind

Tennessee has launched six certified funds eligible to draw on a combined $120 million — or $20 million per fund — to be spent on nurturing startups in the life sciences and other technologies.

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The Tennessee Small Business Investment Company Credit Act will establish the funds, with money to come from insurance companies that will invest in the startups, in return for tax credits against their tax liabilities.

Tennessee's Department of Economic and Community Development is authorized to begin the program on Aug. 1, in collaboration with Tennessee Technology Development Corporation and others.

The program will likely be oversubscribed, Tennessee Technology Development Corp. President and CEO Eric Cromwell told his board at its July 17 meeting, according to the online business news site Venture Nashville. Cromwell said he believes no fewer than 22, and perhaps as many as 30 investment companies, will apply for TNInvestco certification by the Oct. 1 filing deadline.

Companies are eligible for funding if they have fewer than 100 employees, and if they are headquartered in Tennessee, with at least 60 percent of employees being residents of the state. Not eligible for funding are accounting firms, banks, gambling operations, insurance firms, legal offices, medical practices, and oil and gas exploration ventures.

In establishing the six funds, Tennessee is emulating the example of Alabama, which credits a similar program with generating new jobs totaling more than $32 million in annual payroll since it was started in 2004.

"This is a big opportunity," Gwin Scott, president of Emerge Memphis, a business and technology-based incubator, told the Associated Press. "It's important for the state to get this and to do this so that we remain competitive. Those funds I'm sure will be weighted fairly evenly throughout the state just for balance and for political purposes. "


Canada Mulls 'Temporary' Loan Program for Struggling Biotechs

The Canadian government is reviewing a proposal from Canada's life sciences industry association BIOTECanada for a "temporary" loan program designed to shore up struggling life-sci companies, Industry Canada spokesman Michael Hammond told Dow Jones Newswires.

BIOTECanada has asked Canada's federal government to launch a program that would issue loans equal to the value of the company's accrued non-capital tax losses at Canada's 2009 corporate tax rate of 19 percent. As envisioned by the industry group, the loans would carry no interest and no payments for the first two years, then convert to debt with a 6-percent interest rate for the following three years. Loans would flow through Canada's Business Development Bank, with funds guaranteed by the Canadian federal government.

To press its case for the loan program, BIOTECanada earlier this month announced the results of a membership survey, in which 70 percent of Canadian biotech companies said they will run out of money in the next 12 months — up from 50 percent in a December 2008 survey.

According to a BIOTECanada statement, some 2,500 researchers and scientists have already been laid off: "This number will increase to over 7,000 permanent cuts within a year if short‐term financing cannot be obtained to bridge companies until the normal investment market reopens."

Hammond told Dow Jones that Canada is working to "improve access" to venture capital for high-growth companies — in part by setting aside C$350 million ($323 million) for the Business Development Bank of Canada, or BDC, to invest in small- and medium-sized businesses through its venture capital efforts. Last year Canada committed C$75 million to BDC to establish a late-stage, privately-run venture capital fund. BDC has an existing C$601 million venture capital portfolio that includes C$189 million for life-sciences companies, Hammond told the wire service.


NC Biotechnology Center Honors Bayer CropScience with Industrial Biotech Leadership Award

The North Carolina Biotechnology Center has named Bayer CropScience as the 2009 winner of its North Carolina Industrial Biotechnology Leadership Award, citing its support of university research and science education as well as what the center said was Bayer's scientific and technical excellence.

In addition to its support of academic research and online science-education materials, the company was cited for its enhancements of agricultural technology, strategic partnerships for the development of advanced seed technologies, and advances in pest- and disease-control chemicals. Bayer CropSciences’ American-region headquarters are in Research Triangle Park.

In May, the company announced a $10.2 million expansion of its RTP campus that is expected to add 128 new jobs over the next five years to the company’s current state-based work force of 476. [BRN, May 8].

A committee of representatives from the biotechnology center, the Biofuels Center of North Carolina, and the state's departments of agriculture and commerce selected Bayer CropScience from among 16 nominees.

The award was given at a breakfast reception during the sixth annual World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology & Bioprocessing.


Training in Biotech, Other Fields Set for RR Donnelley Workers with $664K in Stimulus Funding

More than 120 workers who worked at the RR Donnelley printing plant in Spencer, Iowa, before the company laid them off this past winter will be retrained for careers in biotechnology and other fields through a $664,074 federal grant funded through the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the stimulus measure enacted in February by President Obama.

US Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced the grant during a press event held at Des Moines Area Community College's Ankeny Campus. The grant will pay for retaining jobs in biotech as well as in three other industries deemed by Washington to be fast-growing: Advanced manufacturing, alternative energy, and health care.

"We submitted the grant earlier this year when we learned of the closure of the company," Executive Director Ted Kourousis of the Northwest Iowa Planning and Development Commission told the Daily Reporter of Spencer. "It's taken this long to get a determination back from the federal government on the award of this."


The Scan

Rise of B.1.617.2 in the UK

According to the Guardian, UK officials expect the B.1.617.2 variant to soon be the dominant version of SARS-CoV-2 there.

Anne Schuchat to Retire

Anne Schuchat is retiring after more than 30 years at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Politico reports.

US to Share More Vaccines

CNN reports that the US will share 20 million doses of the Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson SARS-CoV-2 vaccines with other countries.

PNAS Papers on Gene Therapy Platform, Aspergillus Metabolome, Undernutrition Model Microbiome

In PNAS this week: approach to deliver protein-based treatments to cells, pan-secondary metabolome of Aspergillus, and more.