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Around the Regions: Sep 11, 2009

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This is an updated version of an item originally published on Sept. 11, with corrected information on potential large-scale life sciences projects within the master plan study area.

Montgomery County Council Schedules Committee Meetings on Gaithersburg West Master Plan, Life-Sci Zoning Changes

The County Council of Maryland's Montgomery County will start its review on the Gaithersburg West Master Plan, which would allow the development of at least 8 million square feet of new life-science space over the next 30 to 40 years, later this month with committee hearings stretching into mid-October.

The master plan, written in two parts [here and here], examines land use for a 4,360-acre swath of Montgomery County that is envisioned to include at least one large proposal with life-sci space proposed for the 900-acre Shady Grove Life Sciences Center. Johns Hopkins University would transform the 107-acre Belward Farm into a research campus with 4.5 million square feet of new R&D space.

Also interested in the zoning criteria to arise from Gaithersburg West is Silver Spring, Md., developer Percontee, which would build more than 2 million square feet of life-sci space outside the swath, within a mixed-use project for its 185-acre property near the US Food and Drug Administration campus in White Oak.

In July, the county Planning Board recommended approval of the master plan 4-1, with Joe Alfandre casting the sole vote against [BRN, July 17].

The council's Planning, Housing, & Economic Development Committee chaired by Council member Michael Knapp will listen to presentations of the master plan's land use and transportation overviews, as well as begin taking up the plan's revisions to the Life Science Center Zone at a Sept. 29 hearing to start 2 p.m. or at the conclusion of the council's regular session set for that day.

That same day, also at 2 p.m. or immediately following the council session, the council's Management & Fiscal Policy committee will listen to a presentation on the master plan's economic indicators.

Land use and LSC zoning revisions will be the topics when the PHED committee resumes its review on Oct. 5 at 2 p.m. And on Oct. 12 at the same time, the committee again takes up transportation and LSC zoning revisions.

The council publishes its agenda of upcoming committee meetings here.


Report: Pharma Industry Shielded from Recession, Biotech Likely to Shrink in East of England Region

The East of England's pharmaceuticals sector appears to have been shielded from the worst of the current economic downturn as Pfizer has announced expansion plans in Cambridge, while Japanese-owned Eisai has opened a £100 million ($167 million) research and manufacturing facility in Hatfield with 500 jobs, half of them new to the region, according to a new report from the East of England Development Agency's Insight East economic research and analysis service.

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But East of England Recession Impact warns that the pharma sector is still vulnerable to a wave of layoffs and facility closings as it faces long–term issues around consolidation and restructuring — citing the potential for 600 jobs being lost at GlaxoSmithKline facilities in Ware as part of a restructuring program announced in 2007; as well as plans by Merck and Schering Plough to shed 15 percent of their combined global workforce after the former completes its planned $41 billion acquisition of the latter. Both have UK headquarters in Hertfordshire.

The report also concluded that smaller biotech companies are expected to continue struggling to raise funds given the ongoing venture capital squeeze, which Insight East noted has allowed investors to set stricter terms such as greater equity stakes or more investment backed by intellectual property rights. While noting that Cambridge Enterprise has recouped more than £30 million of investment into 13 of its portfolio companies over the last 10 months, and that the Cambridge University Discovery Fund has raised its first £1 million of a £5 million fund for research, "the present funding squeeze, combined with the emergence of larger pharmaceutical companies hoping to take advantage of current valuations, could change the model of the biotech industry."

Recession Impact cited a survey by legal services company Marks and Clerk, in which 83 percent of 369 organizations surveyed said that the combination of tighter access to capital and more aggressive business strategies from large pharmaceutical companies will lead to a shrinking independent biotechnology sector.

As for the overall East of England economy, the report concluded that jobs lost by the region due to the current economic downturn will be regained by 2015, four years after the regional economy begins to pick up. The report concluded that the region is likely to lose 167,000 jobs — that number was not broken down for the life sciences or other industry sectors — but is likely to see more jobs in R&D, IT and other business services than before the recession started once employment recovers in 2015, four years into the expected recovery.

Recession Impact also said that economic growth in the region is likely to shrink this year by 4.1 percent, just above the 4 percent shrinkage predicted for all of the UK. But East of England growth will inch up in 2010 by 0.3 percent, matching the average for all of the UK, before climbing again to 3.9 percent in 2013, above the UK's projected 3.6 percent growth for that year.

Manufacturing and construction were the worst hit sectors, followed by transportation and logistics, the report found.

The East of England region's total employment is down by 14,000 in the 12 months from the second quarter of 2008 to the second quarter of this year, the report stated, with the number of unemployed people rising during that time by 59,000, to the current figure of 194,000. Peterborough, Harlow, Luton and towns in the Thames Gateway have seen the biggest rise in claimant unemployment at around 2.5 percent. In total, 167,000 jobs are likely to be lost between 2008 and 2010, when Insight East projects the economic downturn will end, the report concluded.


NYS Approves Solicitation for Core Facility Renovation, Repair, and Improvement for its Matching Grant Program

The New York State Economic Recovery and Investment Cabinet has approved a life sciences facility-related solicitation for funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as eligible for additional state money equal to 10 percent of the federal award:

• The NIH Core Facility Renovation, Repair, and Improvement (G20) is due Sept. 17. (RFA-RR-09-007). Funds are to upgrade core facilities to support the conduct of PHS supported biomedical and/or behavioral research.

Awardees would receive $1 million from New York state for every $10 million in ARRA funding they win, under Gov. David Paterson's new $100 million Innovation Economy Matching Grants program. Would-be applicants seeking a matching fund commitment letter can find more information on the program here.


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RPI Wins $9.2M Over 10 Years, But No Restoration of Earlier Cut, as NYSTAR Renews CAT Designation

The New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation, or NYSTAR, has re-designated as a Center for Advanced Technology the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Center for Automation Technologies and Systems, with a commitment made by Gov. David Paterson that it will receive $921,000 in funding annually for up to ten years.

The RPI CAT offers manufacturing, precision, design and information automation services to companies in biotechnology, as well as in manufacturing, energy, semiconductors, aerospace and defense. The CAT's promised $921,000 reflects a $60,000 annual cut from its peakfunding level a few years back, a reduction not restored.

RPI CAT was one of two centers re-designated as a CAT by NYSTAR; the other was the Stony Brook University Sensor CAT, which focuses on research topics that include new materials, infrared lasers, signal processing, semiconductor opto-electronics, and fluorescent detection technology for sensors and imaging.

NYSTAR's CAT initiative is part of a statewide effort designed to encourage greater technological and economic collaboration between the Empire State's high-tech industries and research universities. According to NYSTAR, a CAT must help increase the competitiveness of New York state companies by solving production, applied research and development, and technical problems.


Singapore Awards Three Life-Sci Propect Teams S$750,000 in Proof-of-Concept Grants

Singapore’s National Research Foundation has awarded a combined S$750,000 ($527,733) in Proof-of-Concept grants to three life sciences project teams, which were among the 16 teams winning a combined S$4 million in grants intended to help them finance prototypes of their innovations.

The 16 were chosen from a short list of 27 proposals winnowed down from an initial field of 91 proposals submitted by Singapore-based researchers from local universities and polytechnic schools. In addition to the life-sci winners, nine of the 16 projects receiving POC funding were for research in engineering, four in info-communications technologies.

The life science project teams:

• Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School — Demonstration of a novel mechanism to deliver protein-based drugs into the nucleus of cells to prevent pathogens from replicating through the cell.

• NUHS academic and clinician researchers — Collaboration to develop an endoscopic sleeve for creating a duodenal-jejunal (i.e. small intestine) bypass targeting the treatment of Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

• NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine — Development of two proprietary components, a drug and a drug delivery system, toward a new micro-emulsion gel with anti-inflammatory peptide. The gel is designed to prevent the formation of fibrous bands between tissues and organs during and after surgical operations.


Almac's McClay Establishes Foundation to Promote Advancement of Diagnostics, Research, Third-World Access to Drugs

Almac Group Chairman Sir Allen McClay has announced the establishment of the McClay Foundation, among the first charitable trusts to be formed in Northern Ireland. In a statement, the foundation said its goals consist of advancing the use of diagnostic tools and drugs in the prevention, control and cure of disease; supporting and encouraging research and innovation in healthcare and allied technologies; increasing the ability of all people, especially those in the developing world, to access the latest benefits in healthcare; and to generate and promote employment opportunities for the people of Northern Ireland.

"This is a new era for Northern Ireland and will ensure the region becomes internationally recognised for its excellence in medical research," McClay said in the statement.

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The foundation said plans are in the works to join with Queen’s University Belfast and the region’s economic development agency, Invest NI, on a "Strategic Research Collaboration in Drug Discovery and Synthetic Organic Chemistry," which will include the establishment of a five-year research plan for the advancement of personalized medication in oncology.


UMass Memorial Medical Center Cites Life-Sci Expense as Factor in Higher Cost for Tests, Procedures

The president of the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Mass., said the expense of sustaining life sciences research and development, and the spinout companies that result from it, explain in part why the publicly funded med center charges more for tests and procedures than privately-held St. Vincent Hospital, the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester reported.

Walter Ettinger Jr. told the newspaper that unlike St. Vincent, UMass Memorial is a teaching hospital with a research component as well as a public medical school and medical services provided nowhere else in Worcester County, such as a Level 1 trauma center or a neonatal intensive care unit. He compared that to St. Vincent, a community hospital that offers many of the same medical procedures but doesn't offer as many specialty services.

Ettinger also said Worcester's fledgling biotechnology industry — which includes offshoots of research and technology conducted at UMass, is subsidized to some extent by the rates the facility commands, the newspaper added.

The Telegram & Gazette reported that UMass Memorial Med Center charges an additional 50 percent or more for some of the same inpatient and outpatient procedures than its cross-town rival, for-profit St. Vincent, according to public and private healthcare rate data obtained by the newspaper.


iBIO Joins Industry Groups in Defending Illinois' Technology Development Efforts

David Miller, president & CEO of the Illinois Biotechnology Industry Organization, or iBIO, joined with leaders of four other Illinois technology industry groups in defending the Prairie State's technology development efforts following criticism by a Chicago Tribune columnist.

Greg Burns on Aug. 6 cited IBM's planned $1.2 billion acquisition of Chicago software provider SPSS as yet another example of a locally grown tech company to leave the region. In their announcement, the two companies said IBM "intends to integrate SPSS within IBM's Information Management software portfolio."

Burns also cited a Milken Institute study, released in May, showing the Chicago region placing 14th in a ranking of top North American tech centers led by Greater Philadelphia due to its life-sci industry [BRN, May 21], as well as critical comments by Paul O'Connor of the Chicago Metropolis 2020 civic group that Chicago has continued to lag as a technology mecca largely because it has lacked leadership capable of unifying various institutions and businesses around a common commitment to tech leadership.

The coalition responded with an Op-Ed column that cited in part the results of iBIO's Propel initiative, a series of programs designed to boost the number of Illinois life sciences start-ups, as well as the success rates of existing state life-sci companies. Since its launch in June 2007, the coalition wrote, Propel programs have helped 48 formation-stage and early-stage life sciences companies by providing entrepreneurs with access to specialized resources and expertise.

The coalition also cited the iBIO Institute, which helps Illinois high school teachers incorporate biotechnology into their curricula, and encourages students to explore career opportunities in the life sciences.

Illinois life-sci and tech leaders have stepped up efforts to promote their industries as the Biotechnology Industry Organization prepares to host its 2010 International Convention in Chicago, set for May 3-6.

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"Today public officials, private industry executives and academic centers of excellence leaders are collaborating toward a common goal: to make Chicago, Illinois and the surrounding Midwest one of the top technology and life sciences centers in the world."

"We are confident that our region will improve its ability to translate the amazing quality, breadth, and depth of scientific research conducted here into an even more vibrant technology-based community, including the launching and nurturing of startup companies," the coalition continued. "Our respective organizations, along with other private and public sector leaders, particularly the past and current directors of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, will accept nothing less."

The coalition also pleaded for more positive press coverage of state-based life-sci and other tech efforts: "We encourage our friends and colleagues in the media to celebrate the successes occurring in our backyard. Our businesses and tax base would surely benefit if the world regularly heard about the innovations that emanate from Illinois."


Life-Sci Startup Among Three Early-Stage Companies Selected for San Diego's EvoNexus Incubator

Medipacs, a developer of a programmable, electronically controlled disposable infusion pump designed to facilitate development of mobile, accurate low cost drug and fluid delivery systems, has been selected by CommNexus of San Diego — a non-profit network of communications industry companies, defense industry companies, service providers, trade organizations, and local government — as one of three startups for its three-month-old non-profit EvoNexus incubator.

Medipacs' technology uses polymer pumps instead of electric motors and pump mechanisms. The company, which is headquartered in Tucson, Ariz., is looking to tap into the San Diego region's wireless industry expertise, so it can add remote monitoring capabilities to its pump and expand into the wireless health market, Cathy Pucher, the incubator’s executive director, told Xconomy San Diego.

Medipacs joins fabless semiconductor startup IO Semiconductor and video imaging company Pixon Images as the first three of a planned 10 to 12 startups to occupy space at EvoNexus. Pucher told the technology news website the three were culled from about 45 applicants for space at the incubator, which will move by month's end into commercial office space recently vacated by Leap Wireless in the city's Sorrento Mesa section.

EvoNexus finished taking applications Aug. 31 for a second round of tenant selections, which, according to its web site, is anticipated to occur in the first quarter of 2010.


SourceOne Named Primary Supplier in Massachusetts Biotechnology Council Purchasing Consortium

The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council has named SourceOne a primary supplier in its Purchasing Consortium, designed to facilitate access to the energy services provider's energy management and power solution services to MBC's more than 500 members.

SourceOne will offer services that include power master planning, owner's agent/representative performance contracts; sustainability planning and carbon management; primary and back-up infrastructure reliability review; commodity procurement and management; power/grid due diligence; metering and monitoring integration; internal billing and tenant metering; monthly utility billing management, demand response programming; and LEED certification consulting.


BioOhio and GCIC Launch Expanded Ohio Bioscience Resource Directory

BioOhio and the Global Cardiovascular Innovation Center have launched an expanded Ohio Bioscience Resource Directory, an online collection of Ohio companies, organizations, and research centers involved in the life sciences.

The expanded directory, whose development was led by Columbus-based Reflex Design & Technology, now includes profiles of more than 1,900 entities and 2,600 location listings, including market-facing companies, value-chain suppliers, research organizations, and B2B service providers. Based on the visitor traffic to the original directory, which was launched in 2003, Scott Osborne, BioOhio's director of business development, said in a statement that he expects the new Ohio Bioscience Resource Directory to attract up to 1,500 users each month.

Directory visitors can look up companies and organizations through a search engine or an index that offers nine bioscience industry sectors and dozens of subsectors. Members of BioOhio will receive exclusive access to individual contact information associated with company profiles.

BioOhio will demonstrate the system at a webinar to be held Sept. 16 at 10 a.m. EDT. More information on the webinar can be found here.

The directory can be accessed here or here.


The Scan

Could Cost Billions

NBC News reports that the new Alzheimer's disease drug from Biogen could cost Medicare in the US billions of dollars.

Not Quite Sent

The Biden Administration likely won't meet its goal of sending 80 million SARS-CoV-2 vaccine doses abroad by the end of the month, according to the Washington Post.

DTC Regulation Proposals

A new report calls on UK policymakers to review direct-to-consumer genetic testing regulations, the Independent reports.

PNAS Papers on Mosquito MicroRNAs, Acute Kidney Injury, Trichothiodystrophy

In PNAS this week: microRNAs involved in Aedes aegypti reproduction, proximal tubule cell response to kidney injury, and more.