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Around the Regions: Feb 9, 2009


UC: Water Shortage Threatens Quantity, Scope of West Side Research Center Projects

The University of California said last week that planned cutbacks in water deliveries to its West Side Research and Extension Center near Five Points, Calif., are likely to have a significant impact on the amount and size of research projects that can be undertaken during the 2009 growing season, the Central Valley Business Times reported.

The research facility, located within the Westlands Water District, which has predicted it will not be able to make any irrigation water deliveries to its constituents in the coming year. The water shortage follows the third year of a drought, as well as federal court rulings relating to water quality that could reduce the amount of water that federal agencies may pump from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta into the California Aqueduct.

While the research and extension center operates a deep well, its capacity will only serve 50 acres of peak water needs for the 320-acre facility, the center's director, Bob Hutmacher, told the Business Times.

Hutmacher also said the quality of West Side groundwater from deep wells such as theirs limits its long-term use to more salt-tolerant crops, telling the newspaper: "Our well is still operating really well, but we don't know how long that will last."

Hutmacher said he believed some researchers will choose to suspend their projects rather than go forward with the lower-quality well water, adding: "We'll also be assessing what kind of flexibility researchers will come up with on a voluntary basis to reduce the size of their projects." The center's considerations in setting water-use priorities will be maintaining permanent crops, according to the Business Times.

Missouri House of Representatives Gives Initial OK to Show Me JOBS Initiative

Missouri's House of Representatives gave initial approval last week to the Show Me JOBS Initiative, a package of business tax incentives that lawmakers and new Gov. Jay Nixon hope will generate new jobs for the 'Show Me' State.

The economic development measure — House Bill 191, the first bill to be debated on the House floor — includes an expansion of tax credits for creating life-sciences and other tech jobs under the Missouri Quality Jobs Program, which was launched in 2005 by Nixon's Republican predecessor, Matt Blunt. The program offers tax credits and allows employers to retain withholding taxes for new jobs that offer health benefits and wages that equal or exceed the county average. Show Me JOBS would remove a $60 million cap on the amount of tax breaks the state can award, and eases rules on large employers seeking tax credits.

The $3 million cap for one program would be expanded to $30 million for businesses now eligible for a tax credit of up to $1 million. Companies qualify by keeping at least 1,000 workers in Missouri for two years, by being deemed likely to invest at least $70 million within two years, and by meeting other benchmarks. Among them: A company must employ 1 percent of all people employed in the county where it is located, or 750 workers in seven heavily populated counties and the city of St. Louis.

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Show Me JOBS would also provide low-interest loans to small businesses through the Missouri Development Finance Board, offer employers tax credits to offset pre-employment training costs for full-time workers; establish a task force to prepare workers to build fuel-efficient vehicles, and coordinate all state economic actions with those of Missouri's Congressional delegation and the Obama administration [BRN, Jan. 5]

The legislation won a 149-13 House vote, and needs another House approval before it can advance to the state Senate. According to the Associated Press, the House debated the legislation for about five hours before approving it by voice vote, with the most contentious issue being a tax credit for expenses for research in agricultural biotechnology, plant genomic products, prescription drugs and other areas. Debate focused on whether the measure could be used to facilitate embryonic stem cell research — the topic of a bitterly-contended 2006 voter referendum that supporters of the research narrowly won.

The legislation also allows for the creation of special "Business, Education, Science, and Technology," or BEST, districts that would be modeled after tax increment financing areas, which divert local sales taxes to pay for development.

Forward Wisconsin Ends Role as Marketer of Badger State

The public-private Forward Wisconsin is transferring its marketing function to the state Department of Commerce, after concluding the agency could sell the Badger State to out-of-state executives and others more efficiently — especially where tax breaks are concerned, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

The state commerce department will have a new Division of Global Ventures to help handle the marketing duties, and will put a greater focus on its Export Bureau, commerce secretary Richard Leinenkugel told the Journal Sentinel.

As for Forward, it might shift to a new role of channeling private funds to other groups and agencies that recruit businesses, Jerry Franke, Forward vice chairman, told the newspaper.

The change was prompted in part by the recession that has led state officials to cut spending, Leinenkugel said. The state provides $320,000 annually to Forward in the current state budget, which ends June 30. Also, companies that help fund Forward have cut back on their contributions because of the recession, Franke said.

Launched in 1984, Forward has two employees and has been without a president since 2007. The state commerce department that year took over managing Forward in order to save money on hiring a president for the group. But Forward will represent the state at business recruitment conferences through June 30 — including the Biotechnology Industry Organization's 2009 international convention, set for Atlanta from May 18-21.

MIPS Funds Nine Life Sciences Tech Commercialization Projects Involving U. of Maryland Faculty, Companies

The University of Maryland's Maryland Industrial Partnerships Program has approved for funding nine medical therapeutics or diagnostics projects among 17 academic-business tech commercialization efforts between Maryland companies and university faculty.

The nine were among a total of 17 projects valued at $4.8 million whose funding MIPS announced last week, with MIPS awarding $1.4 million and the remaining $3.4 million coming from participating companies. MIPS, an initiative of the A. James Clark School of Engineering's Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute, or Mtech, supports university-based research projects intended to help Maryland companies develop technology-based products.

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Four institutions participated in the program — the University of Maryland, College Park; the University of Maryland Baltimore; the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute; and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, one. Four project companies are in Baltimore or Baltimore County, four are in Rockville, one is in southern Maryland, and one is on the Eastern Shore. Company partners include 14 start-ups and three small companies.

Subject to final contract negotiations, the approved projects include:

• Rockville-based Cellex Inc. and Richard Zhao, associate professor, University of Maryland, Baltimore ($158,750): developing a 5-10 minute flu test that is economical, easy-to-use, and more sensitive than a leading rapid flu test. There are 25-30 million cases of influenza in the U.S. each year.

• Baltimore-based Columbia BioSystems Inc. and Vincent Lee, assistant professor, University of Maryland, College Park ($149,000): developing a diagnostic to rapidly detect antibiotic-resistant nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infections, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which result from medical treatment but are not part of a patient's original condition.

• Rockville-based Foligo Therapeutics and William Bentley, professor, University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute ($136,900): evaluating the folate receptor, a protein involved in ovarian cancer, as a target in cancer treatment.

• Rockville-based Fuzbien Technology Institute and Laundette Jones, assistant professor, University of Maryland, Baltimore ($222,348): developing rapid bioassays utilizing Fuzbien's ultrasensitive, carbon nanotube-based biosensors to accurately and inexpensively detect biomarkers of breast cancer.

• Baltimore-based Gliknik and Dean Mann, professor, University of Baltimore ($144,499): screening novel drug candidates for lupus to move forward into pre-clinical testing.

• Rockville-based Innovative Biosensors and Pamela Abshire, associate professor, University of Maryland, College Park ($235,596): developing a hand-held diagnostic instrument for Group B Streptococcus, a type of bacteria that causes illness in newborn babies, pregnant women and the elderly, which will enable rapid, automated detection for clinicians at the point-of-care.

• Hollywood-based Recovery Science LLC and Jae Kun Shim, assistant professor, University of Maryland, College Park ($2,082,800): developing a neuromuscular training exoskeleton and nutrition regimen that corrects motor control dysfunction due to aging, disease, and common medication side effects.

• Gaithersburg-based Sirnaomics and Archibald Mixson, associate professor, University of Maryland, Baltimore ($158,199): developing an RNAi-based therapeutic to reduce scar formation and increase the tensile strength of skin from burns or chronic skin ulcers caused by pressure, venous stasis, or diabetes mellitus.

• Baltimore-based Syan Biosciences and Gregory Payne, director, Center for Biosystems Research, University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute ($136,721): developing an electrochemical, multi-analyte biosensor solution for next-generation mobile analytics applications such as point-of-care diagnostics, water and food analysis, chemical and biological agent detection, and research.

Indiana Selects Two Life-Sci Businesses Among 19 Economic Entrepreneurship Award Winners

Two life sciences companies were among 19 small businesses that won the state's first Economic Development through Entrepreneurship, or EDGE, Awards during a recent Statehouse ceremony.

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Sponsored by the Indiana Economic Development Corp.'s Small Business Development Centers, the awards recognize clients of the agency's 10 regional small business development centers located throughout the state in emerging and established categories.

The 19 winners collectively employ 185 in Indiana and in total finished 2008 with more than $750,000 in increased sales.

The two life sciences winners: Safis Solutions, an Indianapolis life sciences regulatory compliance consulting firm serving the pharmaceutical, medical device, and biotech industries; and Vasc-Alert, a West Lafayette, Ind., provider of software designed to analyze data and generate reports for the hemodialysis market to help determine the risk of clotting in access sites.

San Francisco Wins $1.2M in Grants for "Brown Grease" Biodiesel Plant

San Francisco has received a combined $1.2 million in grants toward the city's first brown grease-to-biodiesel plant, whose operations will be designed to be replicated by cities across the US.

The California Energy Commission has awarded San Francisco $1 million, while the US Environmental Protection Agency has approved a $200,000 grant toward the plant, which will process "brown" or "trap" grease — the used oils and food scrapings that typically flow down the sink drain during dishwashing, food preparation, and daily cleaning.

The brown grease biodiesel plant will be constructed at the Oceanside Treatment Plant next to the San Francisco Zoo. It will be the first of its kind combining a sewage treatment plant with this new technology to generate three different types of alternative energy sources: High-grade, road-worthy certified biodiesel for vehicles; lower grade boiler fuel for running sewage treatment plant equipment; and converted methane to run the treatment plant.

The pilot project is a joint public-private collaboration between the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, BlackGold Biofuels, and URS. The project is an extension of the SFPUC´s existing SFGreasecycle program that since 2007 has been collecting used cooking oil for free and recycling it into biodiesel.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom joined other dignitaries in announcing the grants at the annual 2009 National Biodiesel Board Conference and the Sustainable Biodiesel Summit, held last week at the Moscone Center.

Southwest Michigan First Life Science Fund Wins Executive In Residence Loan

The Southwest Michigan First Life Science Fund of Kalamazoo, Mich., has been awarded an Executive-In-Residence loan of undisclosed amount to partially support the annual salary of its EIR, Paul Neeb. A former Pfizer employee, and most recently a vice president with the Fund's General Partner, Southwest Michigan First, Neeb will identify and then join a new SWMF Life Science Fund portfolio company within one year.

EIR was developed in 2007 by the Michigan Venture Capital Association to help Michigan venture capital firms support the placement of qualified leadership, an EIR, into a firm's operations.

"We expect him to find several potential portfolio companies, perform the due diligence on the most interesting opportunities and lead the one that's best fit. We're betting on him," Patrick Morand, Managing Director of the SWMF Life Science Fund, said in a press release.

A graduate of the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, Neeb spent most of his career with GD Searle (later Pharmacia and Pfizer) in finance, sales, and leadership roles. Most recently, Neeb served as vice president at Southwest Michigan First, supporting the life science cluster, working with early stage companies and founding First Angels, a Kalamazoo-based angel group.

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In the release, Neeb said he is already guiding 10 life sciences companies through the fund's investment process.

The SWMF Life Science Fund accesses capital on a rolling subscription basis to build a portfolio that includes companies working in therapeutics, medical devices, bio-IT, ag-bio, and diagnostics.

Grant Applications Available for New Jersey's Edison Innovation Clean Energy Manufacturing Fund

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority has issued applications for grants to support the commercialization and development of Class 1 renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies in New Jersey through the Edison Innovation Clean Energy Manufacturing Fund Program, administered through NJEDA.

The CEMF program, funded by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, provides up to $3.3 million in grants and zero-interest financing to qualified manufacturing projects in New Jersey through a competitive solicitation.

The program awards grants for project assessment and design and project construction and operation. The project assessment and design component provides up to $300,000 in grants, not to exceed 10 percent of total CEMF project funds requested, to assist with the manufacturing site identification and procurement, design, and permits. Twenty percent of the grant is available up front as seed funds.

The project construction and operation component provides up to $3 million as a zero-interest, 10-year loan to support site improvements, equipment purchases, and facility construction and completion. One-third of the loan, up to $1 million, may convert to a performance grant if business and technology-based milestones specific to each company are met during the first three years when no repayments are required.

Applications are available here.

A prescreening eligibility intake form must be submitted prior to completing the application. The qualification requirements and frequently asked questions are available here.

BioPartnering China Sets Networking Forums in '09, Full Conference in '10

Technology Vision Group and strategic partners will launch BioPartnering China, a new initiative designed to allow Western life sciences companies to meet their counterparts from China and expand there.

The strategic partners include that include the China National Center for Biotechnology Development, the Tianjin Municipal Science and Technology Commission, the European Federation of Biotechnology, and BayHelix Group, an elite organization of Chinese lifescience business leaders.

The initiative will include a networking forum of the same name to be held on June 26 in the special economic zone in the Tianjin area. It will form part of the biennial BioEconomy conference on June 26-28, 2009, initiated and sponsored by the entity that oversees the China National Center for Biotechnology Development, the Ministry of Science and Technology of China; and the Tianjin Municipal Government. Another China networking forum, BioPartnering 2.0, will follow in London as part of BioPartnering Europe on Oct. 14. BioPartnering 3.0 will be a full conference in China in 2010 and will comprise partnering, conference, networking, and an exhibition.

TVG said it will also work with ChinaBio which is based in Shanghai, San Diego, and Palo Alto, Calif.

7th Annual BioPartnering North America Conference Concludes in Vancouver

The 7th Annual BioPartnering North America is set to end on Feb. 10 in Vancouver, BC. Representatives from more than 500 companies based in over 30 countries attended the conference, held at the Westin Bayshore Resort.

The conference program included presentations from more than 90 podium and 10 open house presenters, a leadership session chaired by industry leaders and including eight workshops hosted by various countries, and five pharma presentations.

The Scan

Genes Linked to White-Tailed Jackrabbits' Winter Coat Color Change

Climate change, the researchers noted in Science, may lead to camouflage mismatch and increase predation of white-tailed jackrabbits.

Adenine Base Editor Targets SCID Mutation in New Study

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, report in Cell that adenine base editing was able to produce functional T lymphocytes in a model of severe combined immune deficiency.

Researchers Find Gene Affecting Alkaline Sensitivity in Plants

Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Science have found a locus affecting alkaline-salinity sensitivity, which could aid in efforts to improve crop productivity, as they report in Science.

International Team Proposes Checklist for Returning Genomic Research Results

Researchers in the European Journal of Human Genetics present a checklist to guide the return of genomic research results to study participants.