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Around the Regions: Aug 7, 2009

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Delaware Economic Development Office Sheds Teams Devoted to Life-Sci, Other Industries

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell and the director of the state's Economic Development Office, Alan Levin, on Thursday announced a reorganization of job-attraction efforts that will scrap the agency's teams devoted to the life sciences/biotechnology and five other industries.

Under the "cluster" model advanced by Levin's predecessor, Judy McKinney-Cherry, EDO had professionals dedicated to attracting and retaining businesses in life-sci as well as automobiles, chemicals, tourism, financial services, and insurance. But changes in the state's economy — especially the shutdown of a Chrysler assembly plant in Newark, Del., and General Motors' Boxwood Road plant — have created more smaller and medium-sized businesses in a greater variety of industries.

The reorganization will allow DEDO "to be more focused on an entrepreneurial spirit and the midsize and smaller-size businesses, rather than putting all our eggs into one basket," Levin said, according to the News Journal of Wilmington, Del. Levin added that the former structure left companies without help from DEDO unless they fell within one of the targeted industry clusters.

"The answer always has to be 'yes' when any new business comes to town, both new and existing businesses," Levin told the newspaper.

He also said the reorganization will be achieved without expanding the staff, and that most realignments and changes in job responsibilities are expected to be completed early this month.

In a statement, Markell said the change "will make the office more responsive to businesses' needs" and is "part of my administration's strategy to use Delaware's size to our advantage."

DEDO's new Business Development Division will continue to support current Delaware businesses, while identifying sectors of growth, through business leaders designated to work within each county to support business outreach and expansion efforts, the News Journal reported.


Calif.'s Northern San Joaquin Valley Should 'Think in Terms of Decades' in Pursuing Life-Sci, BayBio Study Concludes

Efforts to transform the Northern San Joaquin Valley into California's next biotechnology cluster won't happen soon and won't happen easily, BayBio, the life-sci industry association for the San Francisco Bay Area and northern California, has concluded in a study, according to the Modesto Bee.

Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties are looking to the life sciences as a new anchor of a regional economy battered by the current economic upheaval — reflected in a regional unemployment rate of 17 percent — and two earlier recessions over the past two decades. The counties have formed a coalition that engaged BayBio to study the region's life-sci strengths and challenges — a study by consulting firm Frost & Sullivan whose results were presented at a recent meeting of the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance.

"What the report tried to emphasize is the need for the counties to approach this goal with a thoughtful and sustained approach. They need to think in terms of decades, not quarters or months," Matthew Gardner, CEO of BayBio, told the Bee.

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Bill Bassitt, CEO of Workforce Alliance, told the Bee that biotech was identified three years ago as an industry that could give the valley a much-needed economic lift.

But the Northern San Joaquin Valley suffers from a lack of skilled workers for life-sci jobs. According to the newspaper, the study found that the number of valley residents with bachelor's degrees and advanced degrees are roughly half the state average. Worse, 50 percent of the area's college freshmen need remedial help, and English proficiency is an issue for many students moving from high school to college.

And even worse, the study continued, too many students and their families in the region lack awareness of the importance of education. And those young people who do value learning do so by leaving the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

Other weaknesses identified by the study include the difficulty of coordinating the three-county coalition, fallout from the state's budget crisis, a lack of county-level funding for biotech initiatives, a deteriorating commercial real estate market in the East Bay submarket, reflected in a growing desire by life-sci firms to locate near San Francisco and the Peninsula submarket, with their clusters of higher education institutions.

On the brighter side, the Bee reported, the counties have a desire to combine their efforts, a younger population with improving academic test scores, several high school and community college-level life science training programs, and growing testing and quality control business niches.

Other strengths for the Northern San Joaquin Valley are increasingly affordable homes due to foreclosures, less traffic congestion compared with San Francisco and the Peninsula, and communities deemed family-friendly.


With 41 Students, UCF Opens College of Medicine, an Anchor for Region's Nascent Life-Sci Cluster

The University of Central Florida earlier this week welcomed its charter class of College of Medicine students with a traditional white coat ceremony, in which students received their coats from the donors who made their scholarships possible.

UCF used the ceremony to announce that community donations allowed for one additional student to receive the full four-year med school scholarship awarded to the initial 40-student charter class. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, UCF is the first US medical school to provide four-year full scholarships, worth $160,000 each, to an entire class.

The expanded 41-student class — selected from more than 4,300 applicants — enjoys the highest average MCAT score (32.2) and GPA (3.8) of any incoming class of medical students in the state, according to UCF.

The new med school has won the support of community leaders and institutions: "The medical school launch bodes well for timely completion of the multiple projects and shows again the great benefits to be reaped when Brevard links its economic future to the rest of Central Florida," the newspaper Florida Today editorialized.

Students will spend their first year working in classrooms near UCF's campus in the Central Florida Research Park. Next summer, the students will move to a $68 million classroom and medical library building now under construction at the 600-acre 'Medical City' science and technology park to take shape within the $2 billion, 7,000-acre Lake Nona mixed-use master planned community in south Orlando.

Medical City saw its first facility open this spring when the Burnham Institute for Medical Research this spring completed its move of personnel and equipment from three smaller Orlando sites to a new $85 million, 175,000-square-foot building. Burnham brought with 75 staffers from the Florida locations, and agreed in 2006 to employ 303 people at Lake Nona within 10 years, in return for a $310 million package of state and local government incentives [BRN, May 8].

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Set to join Burnham and the UCF medical school at Medical City:

• The University of Florida, which has announced plans for a $62 million, 100,000-square-foot research and academic/conference facility adjacent to Burnham;

• UCF's $99 million, 198,000-square-foot Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, which like the med school within UCF's Health Sciences Campus;

• MD Anderson Cancer Center, which will relocate its Cancer Research Institute into 30,000 square feet of fifth-floor space it has agreed to lease at the five-story Burnett building from UCF, while it completes planning for a permanent facility;

• Nemours Foundation, which on Feb. 25 broke ground on a $400 million, 620,000-square-foot children's hospital with 95 beds, set to open in 2012; and

• The US Department of Veterans Affairs, which broke ground in October 2008 on a $656 million VA Medical Center to consist of a 134-bed hospital, a 118-bed nursing home, a 60-bed residential rehabilitation center, eight operating rooms, two cardiac catheterization laboratories, an outpatient clinic, and a veterans' benefits mini service center. The med center is also to open in 2012.

Combined, the institutions have been projected to generate $7.6 billion, 30,000 jobs and $500 million in tax revenues for Florida within 10 years.

"The fact that we have almost $2 billion of construction going on there ... we're already at the 'they will come' stage. Even before we completely built it, they came," German told the Orlando Sentinel, alluding to the famous line in the movie Field of Dreams, where a voice convinces the main character to build a baseball park in the middle of a cornfield: If you build it, they will come.

Angelos Angelou, an economic consultant based in Austin, Texas, who has studied Central Florida's economy for the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission, told the Sentinel that the region has had to embrace biotech because of the unlikelihood that local manufacturing jobs lost to the ongoing economic slump will return when the economy finally recovers: "There will be new jobs, however, in growth areas such as biomed and biotech. So from that perspective, this [medical city] is a well-timed investment for Orlando."


France's OSEO Innovation Agency Funds Oncology-focused Biotech Oncodesign

Oncodesign, a French oncology-focused biotechnology company, said this week it will receive more than 40 percent of the funding for its IMAkinib program aimed at oncology biomarker development from the French innovation agency OSEO. That percentage should come to about €9.9 million (about $14 million), based on the company's disclosure in a statement that the total cost of the program will be around €24.7 million over eight years.

Oncodesign heads the project, which is being undertaken in collaboration with two partners: Guerbet for the development of radiotracers and clinical trials for the biomarkers and Ariana Pharmaceuticals for the analysis of chemical and biological data.

"The program will be a cornerstone of our strategy, which we started a year ago, to become a key player in therapeutic and diagnostic oncology discovery over the next three years, Oncodesign CEO Philippe Genne said in a statement.

Oncodesign is being funded as part of France's Innovation Stratégique Industrielle, or strategic industrial innovation, program. OSEO focuses on funding small- and medium-sized companies in the life sciences and other "innovation" industries.

Founded in 1995 by Genne, Oncodesign Biotechnology is based in Dijon, France. The company said it employs 60 people, including 12 PhDs, and has a worldwide client base of over 400 large and small companies.


Germany OKs Grants for Apogenix Research into Treatments for Cancer, Chronic Inflammatory Diseases

Drug developer Apogenix — one of 60 small- and medium-sized biotech enterprises within Germany's public-private Biotechnology Cluster Rhine-Neckar — has won grants from the Germany's Federal Ministry of Research totaling €2.6 million ($3.7 million).

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The grants will fund two Apogenix research projects, the company said in a statement — the development of an IL-4 inhibitor for the treatment of cancer, and acceleration of the development of APG103 and other inhibitors of the CD95 ligand, for the treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases.

Apogenix, which is based in Heidelberg, Germany, will work with the research group of Peter Krammer at the German Cancer Research Center, from which the company was spun out in 2005. Since then, Apogenix has raised €43 million in two financing rounds, mainly from SAP co-founder and life-sci investor Dietmar Hopp.


Israel's Office of the Chief Scientist Raises Pluristem's Award to $2.3M

Pluristem Therapeutics will receive a total $2.3 million in funding for its stem cell programs from Israel's Office of the Chief Scientist, an increase from the previously announced amount of $1.9 million. The funding will primarily support the company’s clinical trials of PLX-PAD, a placenta-derived stem cell product cultured in Pluristem’s PluriX 3D bioreactor system, and designed to treat critical limb ischemia, the end-stage of peripheral artery disease.

PLX-PAD has received clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration, and the Israel Maternal Perinatal Database, and is now the subject of a Phase I clinical trial. Pluristem has research and manufacturing facilities in Haifa, Israel, and has offices in the US.

"We believe that ongoing funding from the OCS will enable us to become a leading global player in the cell therapy industry and make a significant contribution to the growing biotech industry in Israel," Zami Aberman, Pluristem's chairman, president, and CEO, said in a statement.


Casework Genetics Relocates to Innovation @ Prince William Technology Park in Woodbridge, Va.

Casework Genetics, a startup biotechnology company that provides forensics services intended to help law enforcement agencies solve crimes, will locate its headquarters and laboratory in Woodbridge, Va., Prince William County officials announced this week.

Casework has signed a seven-year lease for 8,850 square feet at the Engineering Groupe building, where the department said it will create 25 jobs over the next three years, at an average annual salary of $89,000. The company is set to move into its new offices by Dec. 31.

Kevin McElfresh, president of Casework Genetics, said in a county statement that the company chose the site because of its proximity to a US Federal Bureau of Investigation forensics unit at the US Marine Corps Base Quantico, which is also home to a US Drug Enforcement Administration lab. The new facility is also close to forensic labs run by the FBI and state of Virginia at the 1,500-acre Innovation @ Prince William Technology Park.

Jason Grant, a spokesman for the county Department of Economic Development, told the News & Messenger of Woodbridge that Casework was also attracted to Prince William by its local workforce, and ability to attract and provide skilled employees with technological backgrounds.

"So you have within Prince William County this sort of sequestering of forensic sciences that come into play,” Grant told the newspaper.

Casework received a $25,000 grant from the county's Economic Development Opportunity Fund “to be used for workforce services and development and capital equipment purchases."

According to the newspaper, Casework has begun advertising one new position on its website: “An immediate opening for an experienced forensic DNA casework analyst who is also interested in research."

Casework was represented in its site search by Appian Realty Advisors.


North Carolina Biotech Center Awards $300K to University-Industry Teams

The state-funded North Carolina Biotechnology Center has announced it will award $100,000 Collaborative Funding Grants to each of three partnerships between university laboratories and private companies. The grants allow the public-private teams to hire a postdoctoral researcher or technician to work at a North Carolina university, under the supervision of an academic scientist on a topic of defined commercial interest.

Winning partnerships:

• Wayne Cascio, vice-chair of the department of cardiovascular sciences in the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. Cascio is collaborating with an RTP-based startup Entegrion to study the ability of freeze-dried platelets to help stop excessive bleeding during open-heart surgery or in patients taking anti-clotting drugs.

• Scott Randell, an associate professor in the department of cell and molecular physiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will receive support for his collaborative effort with Durham’s Parion Sciences to grow epithelial cells from the cornea and conjunctiva in culture. These cultured cells are designed to help the company screen new drugs for the treatment of dry eye, one of the most common ocular diseases.

• Christian Melander, an assistant professor in North Carolina State University’s Department of Chemistry, won an award to further his joint project with Agile Sciences in Raleigh. The company develops compounds that disperse biofilms. Melander’s research is intended to help create a new agricultural treatment to help control bacterial spot disease on peaches.

The grant program is cosponsored by the Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology and Science at NCSU.


The Scan

Unwrapping Mummies' Faces

LiveScience reports that Parabon NanoLabs researchers have reconstructed how three Egyptian mummies may have looked.

Study on Hold

The Spectrum 10K study has been put on hold due to a backlash, leading the researchers to conduct consultations with the autism community, Nature News reports.

Others Out There Already

Reuters reports that Sanofi is no longer developing an mRNA-based vaccine for SARS-CoV-2.

PNAS Papers on GWAS False Discovery, PRAMEF2 Role in Tumorigenesis, RNA Virus Reverse Genetics

In PNAS this week: strategy to account for GWAS false-discovery rates, role of PRAMEF2 in cancer development, and more.