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Around the Regions: Jul 31, 2009

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NY State Senate Passes $3M Biotech Tax Credit for New York; Enactment Expected

A bill allowing New York City to award up to $3 million in tax credits to early-stage biotechnology companies that promise to relocate to, or expand within, the Big Apple is expected to be signed into law by Gov. David Paterson, following its passage by the state Senate a month after the measure passed the state Assembly unanimously, Senate sponsor Tom Duane (D-Manhattan) said in a statement.

Senate Bill 4845, as with its companion Assembly Bill 8131 introduced by Assembly Member Mark Weprin (D-Little Neck), allows the New York City Department of Finance to award 100 percent of tax credits up to $250,000 per calendar year to biotech companies that grow their workforces by at least 5 percent above the number for the year they were approved for the tax credit.

That level, or "tier," of tax credit also applies to companies "that are newly established, newly relocated, or did not have any employees in the year prior to which the credit is claimed."

Companies that increase their payroll by less than 5 percent can only receive a maximum 50 percent of the maximum amount of the credit, up to $125,000. Firms in academic incubators are not eligible for the 50-percent credit.

The tax credit program would run for three consecutive years beginning in January 2010, allowing companies to equip labs, train technicians, and fund access to high-tech equipment. The memorandum includes an estimate from the New York City Council Finance Division that without a cap on total credits, the credit would cost the city approximately $2 million in the city's 2011 fiscal year, which starts July 1, 2010, and would rise to approximately $3 million by NYC FY 2013.

Beyond individual companies that stand to benefit from it, the new tax credit is aimed to help New York City retain startups and grow its own biocluster. That effort — part of a broader economic-development push by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to broaden the city's economy beyond Wall Street and the financial services sector — won its biggest boost earlier this month, when Eli Lilly and Co. signed a 15-year lease for 91,000 square feet, plus 9,000 square feet of core services space, at the East River Science Park now under construction on 1st Avenue between 28th and 30th Streets, a Manhattan site within Duane's district [BRN, July 24].

Eli Lilly will use its space to house a new oncology research headquarters for its wholly-owned subsidiary ImClone Systems, which the pharma giant acquired last November for $6.5 billion.

"This is about more than just jobs for our economy. As we diversify as a business center and enhance the life sciences sector in particular, we are branding New York City as a home for cutting-edge technology. This is a positive step for this city and a bright spot for companies that want to come to New York," Duane said in the statement.

The state Senate passed the bill July 16, a week after two Democratic senators returned majority control of the chamber to their party, ending a month of stalemate that followed their joining with Republicans to remove Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) as state Senate Majority Leader.


Texas Children's is first TMC institution to join Rice's BioScience Research Collaborative

Texas Children's Hospital has become the first Texas Medical Center institution to lease space in Rice University's new BioScience Research Collaborative, a venue designed for collaborations between scientists and educators from the university and TMC institutions.

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Developed and built by Rice, the 477,000-square-foot facility features eight floors of research labs, classrooms and auditoriums to facilitate laboratory, theoretical, and computational investigations. The BRC is designed to eventually accommodate a visualization center and an entire floor dedicated to biomedical informatics.

"Texas Children's Hospital, with its strong commitment to medical research as well as teaching and health delivery, has become an increasingly important partner for Rice, and we are immensely pleased to enter this new and deeper phase of working together," Rice University President David Leebron said in a statement. "With better and more integrative research facilities that enable researchers and doctors to work more closely together across disciplines and institutions, we can be confident in our ability to be leaders in contributing to new breakthroughs in medical treatments that will benefit people not only here in Houston, but across the globe."

Several Rice researchers have already moved their labs into the BRC, including Professors Vicki Colvin and John McDevitt, both of whom are exploring the use of nanotechnology in health care. Colvin and her research group are investigating how to make nanoparticles safer in medical applications, while McDevitt and his research group are testing a new "nano-bio-chip" system that diagnoses heart attacks, cancer, and HIV status by testing a person's saliva or blood.

Over the next several months, more Rice research teams will make the move, including the rest of Rice's Department of Bioengineering, the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering, Beyond Traditional Borders, Rice 360°, the Texas-UK Collaborative Research Initiative and the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology. The Gulf Coast Consortia, which represents researchers in six TMC institutions, will also move to the BRC early next year.

Negotiations are under way with several other TMC institutions about leasing space in the BRC, Rice said in its statement.

The BRC, which is the largest building project Rice has ever undertaken, houses a 280-seat auditorium, a 100-seat seminar room, classrooms and 10,000 square feet of retail space for a restaurant and shops, as well as three levels of underground parking. The site includes the potential for adding a second research tower that could add another 150,000 gross square feet.

Designed by Skidmore Owings and Merrill and constructed by Linbeck, the BRC meets Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards of energy efficiency developed by the US Green Building Council. Among sustainable design features include: a vegetated "green" roof designed to reduce storm-water runoff and energy consumption; and the use of groundwater pumped from beneath the parking garage to irrigate the baseball field at nearby Reckling Park.


Connecticut Innovations Provides Pre-Seed Support to Developer of Software Application with Clinical Trials, Medical Uses

Connecticut Innovations, the state's quasi-public authority responsible for technology investing and innovation development, has accepted NLP International of Westport, Conn., into its pre-seed support services program, allowing the company to receive business assistance from CI, including help in connecting NLP International with potential investors and other resources.

NLP has developed a medical software application for data mining and analysis for health care providers, healthcare IT vendors, and medical research organizations. The company has acquired from Columbia University the exclusive worldwide distribution rights for MedLEE, a patented natural language-processing software application designed to automatically and accurately extract and encode clinical information from "free text" electronic medical reports. The technology is intended to support clinical trials management, as well as help healthcare providers and payers.

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NLP is the 12th company to participate in CI's pre-seed support services program. CI provides mentoring, coordinates services, and provides funding for business assistance designed to prepare technology companies for future investments. Among services that an entrepreneur may access through this program are intellectual property reviews, technology reviews, business plan development and reviews, market analyses, market entry strategy development, and other related services. Also, companies in the program may receive direct investments from CI and/or its network of allied investor organizations.


South Africa Sci-Tech Minister Sets Goal: Develop Top-10 Biotechnology Industry by 2018

South Africa's Science and Technology Minister, Naledi Pandor, said her nation must stick to the goal it set in its 2007 National Biotechnology Strategy, namely to develop a biotechnology industry within its borders to ensure the advancement of therapies for HIV and other illnesses, BuaNews reported.

"We want to make South Africa one of the top 10 nations in the world in terms of the pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, flavour, fragrance and biopesticide industries by 2018," Pandor said at the National Biotechnology Workshop in Pretoria last week, adding that the heavy burden of disease in southern Africa created the need for added impetus in searching for biotechnology solutions. "This is a sector that we have to build and grow."

"Although the development of a sustainable and vibrant biotechnology industry remains a complex task, and although the global biotechnology environment is highly competitive, we are confident that South Africa will be successful," she added.

Pandor said the development of research and innovation platforms and programs would facilitate rapid drug discovery, rational drug design and development, and the validation of traditional therapies.

Pandor also said there was hope that advances in diagnostics, genomics and proteomics would help produce "radical and affordable" treatments and cures. As for the controversy over developing genetically modified crops, the science-technology minister said South African officials had not yet fully discussed this science, but needed to do so.

South Africa is more certain, Pandor said, about its desire to capitalize on indigenous knowledge of developing medicinal products from plants: "South Africa is rich in biodiversity, and the government has initiated programmes for the development of medicines based on traditional remedies."

"Already, we have initiated four bio-prospecting and product development flagship projects – on traditional medicines, cosmeceuticals, nutraceuticals and ceramics – and registered a Bachelor of Indigenous Knowledge Systems degree, the first of its kind in the world," the minister added.


UK Agency Will Spend $20M for Industrial Biotech Demonstrator Facilities in Wilton

The UK's Department for Business Innovation & Skills will spend £12 million ($20 million) to develop demonstrator facilities for industrial biotechnology at Wilton, in the north east of England, the Engineer Online reported.

The government will also provide £2.5 million to support companies using the demonstrator facility and match funds from the Technology Strategy Board for new projects related to industrial biotech. The facility will build on the capabilities at the Centre for Process Innovation, including the National Industrial Biotechnology Facility.

The NIBF has to date been providing vital testing facilities for new industrial biotechnology products and processes, but industry leaders have indicated that facilities are required on a larger scale to ensure the future development of industrial biotechnology in the UK, according to Engineer Online.

The new facilities will be tailored to the development and testing of the production of alcohols, biodiesel, low-volume speciality and higher value chemicals from renewable biomass feedstocks and through biocatalysis.

The facilities will immediately create around 15 jobs, and could directly support a projected 10 to 40 new jobs per year when they are fully operational, which is estimated to be between October and December 2010, according to Engineer Online.


The Scan

Response Too Slow, Cautious

A new report criticizes the global response to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nature News reports.

Pushed a Bit Later

Novavax has pushed back its timeline for filing for authorization for its SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, according to Bloomberg.

AMA Announces Anti-Racism Effort

The Associated Press reports that the American Medical Association has released a plan to address systemic racism in healthcare.

Nucleic Acids Research Papers on miRMaster 2.0, MutationTaster2021, LipidSuite

In Nucleic Acids Research this week: tool to examine small non-coding RNAs, approach to predict ramifications of DNA variants, and more.