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Around the Regions: Aug 21, 2009


Budget Squeeze Threatens Fiscal Year 2010 Funding for Science Foundation Arizona

Several Arizona startups that rely on grants from the private, nonprofit Science Foundation Arizona told the Arizona Republic they may lay off workers and halt research following the state legislature's decision to plug the state's $1.6 billion budget shortfall, in part by gutting a key funding source for the organization that promotes development of the state's biotech and other tech industries in the Grand Canyon State.

The budget cut came two months after Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Buttrick in June issued an $18.5 million judgment against the state on behalf of the foundation. But the court also ruled that it lacks the power to order that the state government satisfy the judgment.

"The governor is very aware of the effectiveness of the program and is carefully reviewing Judge Buttrick's ruling," Paul Senseman, a spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer, told the newspaper.

Brewer, a Democrat who succeeded Janet Napolitano when she became secretary of homeland security, has sparred with Republican lawmakers over how to cut the budget. Republicans, led by state Rep. Sam Crump (R-Anthem) have opposed funding for SFAz, citing the state's deteriorated finances since the foundation was established, and contending that tax dollars should not subsidize selected private businesses.

"This private group wants taxpayer dollars to spread around in their pet projects. Who wouldn't? But our state is in fiscal crisis, and there are thousands of people suffering the loss of government assistance," Crump wrote in a March 7 op-ed column in the Republic.

William Harris, SFAz's president and CEO, told the newspaper private companies may be reluctant to spend money on future research in Arizona if the state does not live up to a 2007 commitment, made while the state enjoyed a healthier fiscal situation, that it would spend $25 million a year each of four years through fiscal year 2011, for a total $100 million. That $25 million has been matched each year, he said, as three business groups have paid for the group's operating costs and private donors have chipped in $25 million each year to match the state's contribution.

"This is more about trust," Harris told the Republic. "Will a company believe they can trust doing research and development in this state? That is key for technology jobs."

A report released earlier this year by Battelle Technology Partnership Practice, The Economic Impact of the Arizona Biosciences Sector, concluded that by 2020, Arizona’s life-sciences industry will be able to pump more than $10 billion into the state's economy, generate some 25,600 jobs, and raise roughly $312 million in state and local taxes — but only if the state maintains its commitment to the life-sci industry.

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Among companies the newspaper said were awaiting the fate of SFAz is Tucson, Ariz.-based Critical Path Institute, or C-Path. SFAz awarded C-Path $8 million over four years to accelerate the group's efforts to ease the regulatory process for pharmaceutical companies. The non-profit group hired a staff of 24 employees in Tucson, in part, based on the foundation's grant. But with its funding in doubt, some employees are beginning to look for jobs elsewhere, Ray Woosley, C-Path's president and CEO, told the Republic.

"If we lose this (grant), we lose momentum. The Food and Drug Administration can't count on us to bring companies together, and the whole idea will be lost. We're really sweating this," Woosley told the newspaper. "How do we keep our employees knowing that come January 1, we may no longer have funding?"

BayBio Joins Business Coalition Focused on Boosting California's Manufacturing Economy

BayBio, the life sciences group for the San Francisco Bay Area and northern California, has joined with several business groups from outside the life-sci industry to promote an "Agenda for Economic Recovery" that they said would enhance California's chances of attracting new manufacturing businesses and retaining existing ones in coming years.

“We need California to get its priorities right,” Matt Gardner, president and CEO of BayBio, said in a statement. “Promoting investment in the innovation economy is rightfully a main concern, but we ignore the fruits of that research by letting small, growing companies expand in neighboring states with favorable economic development strategies. This does an enormous disservice to the fiscal health of the state and job opportunities for Californians.”

According to BayBio, California life-sci companies oversee 1,200 approved treatments, with another 210 expected to reach the market in the next five to 10 years, with the industry set to spend $50 billion on developing them. A total 738 treatments, diagnostics, and technologies from California companies could reach patients within 15 years, the group said.

Components of the economic-policy agenda include creating a statewide economic development plan to retain and attract new companies, establishing a process to analyze the economic impact of new legislation and regulations, facilitating high-wage job creation, crafting a statewide strategy for attracting and retaining math and science teachers; and creating incentives for local municipalities to rezone some of their land for biotech use.”

Citing Torrent of Applications, Mass. Life Sciences Center Postpones Decision on Tax Incentive Program Awards

The quasi-public Massachusetts Life Sciences Center said it will postpone a scheduled Sept. 23 decision on awarding tax incentives to life sciences companies certified by the state through its Life Sciences Tax Incentive Program, citing an avalanche of applications. The center in a statement cited as reasons for its decision "our receipt of over 80 applications for the Life Sciences Tax Incentive Program, and the thorough process that we are employing to review this high volume of applications."

"Tax incentive awards will be brought before the Board for consideration before the end of the calendar year," the center said in the statement. "This will provide sufficient time for the Center to fully consider each application and reach the soundest possible set of recommendations in the first year of this important program."

The tax incentive program has been capped by the state at $25 million per year.

The center was created in 2006 by then-Gov. Mitt Romney and expanded by his successor, current Gov. Deval Patrick, into its current role of implementing the $1 billion, 10-year Massachusetts Life Sciences Act.

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University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Scientists Receive Fellowship for Summer Research at the Marine Biological Laboratory

Two professors from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth have been awarded the Eugene and Millicent Bell Fellowship Fund in Tissue Engineering of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. The Bells launched the fellowship at MBL in 2006 with $400,000, with the goal of enabling scientists to research "biomedical questions that expand the possibilities for tissue and organ regeneration and replacement."

Paul Calvert, a professor in the Materials and Textiles Department, and Alex Fowler, professor of Mechanical Engineering, will work to identify strong hydrogels in marine tissues that can be used as models for designing medical implants capable of replacing soft tissues such as cartilage or the cornea. MBL considers the research an important component of its plan to establish a program in regenerative biology and medicine, a longtime goal of the institution.

Charlotte, NC, Glucose Device Maker Relocating 200 Manufacturing Jobs Stateside from China

Diagnostic Devices of Charlotte, NC, said this week it will shift 200 manufacturing jobs over the next 18 months from China to its home region, where it plans to create a manufacturing-and-distribution facility. The move comes some two decades after DDI offshored the company's manufacturing from Charlotte.

DDI makes "talking" blood glucose monitoring systems capable of being used by vision-impaired people with diabetes, under the brand Prodigy.

Rick Admani Abulhaj, DDI's chief operating officer, said in a statement that the company was able to shift its jobs to the US by achieving savings through "the implementation of cutting-edge automation and robotics technologies that deliver an enhanced bottom-line effect and give us greater control of our operations and our intellectual property.”

With $1.5M Hilton Humanitarian Prize, PATH Plants Seed of $25M 'Innovation' Fund

Seattle-based nonprofit PATH has won the $1.5 million 2009 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize for its work in helping to develop 85 technologies, along with what the Hilton Foundation cited as PATH's commitment to sharing ideas and making sure drugs are sold at affordable prices in developing countries.

PATH said it will use the $1.5 million prize to seed an innovation fund aimed at investing in new technology and health interventions, as well as launch a five-year drive aimed at raising a total of $25 million for the innovation fund.

The non-profit has an annual budget of $250 million, 65 percent from foundations, 30 percent from governments, and 5 percent from global organizations. Only a small percent of the contributions are unrestricted, a portion Elias calls "innovation" capital. Through the fund, PATH CEO Chris Elias told the Seattle Times, he plans to raise the amount of that unrestricted capital from about 3 percent to about 10 percent of PATH's budget.

According to the newspaper, Elias said one goal of the fund was to invest in applying new diagnostic tools and other technology innovations to affordable products for the developing world. The fund will also be used to increase the usage of essential health products PATH has developed and to expand its field presence, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, Elias told the Times.

The Hilton Foundation plans to present the award to PATH at a Sept. 21 ceremony in Washington DC. PATH has 850 employees working in 20 countries.

Pennsylvania Bio Releases Enhanced Version of its MedTRACK Database

Pennsylvania Bio, the life sciences industry group for the Keystone State, has released an enhanced version of its Pennsylvania Bio MedTRACK Database of information on public and private bioscience companies in the commonwealth.

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New features include: Global information on branded products with unexpired patents; evaluations of R&D spending versus other key metrics, such as sales and marketing; expansion of the active-ingredient search feature to allow searching by product name, as well as active ingredient and associated synonyms; data on disclosed, calculated, and estimated royalty values of agreements within the biosciences; data on analyst consensus sales forecast estimates; and additional search capabilities for route of administration, therapeutic indication, mechanism/mode of action, and chemical/biological classification.

Other new tools, according to Pennsylvania Bio, include competitive products, drug delivery, extended product profiles, financial tools, management tool, merger tool, M&A search, milestone calendar, news manager, pipeline profile, product sales, and trend analysis.

MedTRACK is a product of Life Science Analytics, a Scranton, Pa.-based company that provides company, pipeline, and financial information on more than 16,000 bioscience companies worldwide.

Schwartz Communications Acquires UK-Based Healthcare/Life-Sci PR Firm Hayhurst Media

Public relations firm Schwartz Communications, which has offices in Waltham, Mass., and San Francisco, has acquired Hayhurst Media, a UK-based healthcare and life sciences public relations firm founded by Richard and Amanda Hayhurst.

Hayhurst Media has more than two dozen European clients, including Innovation Norway, the London Biotechnology Network, the European Union-funded EuroGentest, and the Oslo Cancer Cluster.

"The acquisition of Hayhurst represents both a serious expansion of our European talent and deeper penetration of two core areas — healthcare and cleantech," Schwartz Communications said in a statement. "A deeper team in the UK, along with our pan-European coverage from Stockholm, means even easier integration of [Europe, the Middle East and Africa] communications efforts with the US Schwartz team."

The Hayhursts will become co-managing directors for Schwartz UK, reporting to Kristina Ebenius, the firm's European managing director.

The Scan

Wolf Howl Responses Offer Look at Vocal Behavior-Related Selection in Dogs

In dozens of domestic dogs listening to wolf vocalizations, researchers in Communication Biology see responses varying with age, sex, reproductive status, and a breed's evolutionary distance from wolves.

Facial Imaging-Based Genetic Diagnoses Appears to Get Boost With Three-Dimensional Approach

With data for more than 1,900 individuals affected by a range of genetic conditions, researchers compared facial phenotype-based diagnoses informed by 2D or 3D images in the European Journal of Human Genetics.

Survey Suggests Multigene Cancer Panel VUS Reporting May Vary Across Genetic Counselors

Investigators surveyed dozens of genetic counselors working in clinical or laboratory settings, uncovering attitudes around VUS reporting after multigene cancer panel testing in the Journal of Genetic Counseling.

Study Points to Tuberculosis Protection by Gaucher Disease Mutation

A mutation linked to Gaucher disease in the Ashkenazi Jewish population appears to boost Mycobacterium tuberculosis resistance in a zebrafish model of the lysosomal storage condition, a new PNAS study finds.