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Around the Regions: February 17, 2009

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Montgomery County Planners Recommend New Gaithersburg West Master Plan With More Life-Sci Space

The Planning Department of Maryland's Montgomery County has proposed a redevelopment of western Gaithersburg, Md., that it hopes will transform it into a mini life sciences city over the next several decades, the Baltimore Business Journal reported.

The department has recommended that the county planning board revamp Gaithersburg West's master plan to incorporate 20 million square feet of commercial space and 8,000 homes within the area's 700 acres — a change it projects will help create 60,000 new jobs. The area now allows 6.9 million square feet of commercial space, 3,300 homes, and 21,200 jobs, while Gaithersburg West's original 1990 master plan called for nearly 13 million commercial square feet, 3,800 homes, and 38,000 jobs.

According to the newspaper, neighborhood groups have contended that the expansion plans would worsen area traffic and congestion, and have asked county planners to not stray from the 1990 master plan figures. But supporters of the expansion plans say such a research neighborhood — which would be anchored by life-sci research meccas such as the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University's Belward Research Campus — is necessary to compete with other burgeoning life science centers worldwide.

"We're thinking big, and we're thinking of a real change in identity for the area," Elaine Amir, executive director of Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County, told the Business Journal, adding: "We're looking to get noticed by the world."

County planners envision a five-district research community connected by bike trails, walkways and three stops on the planned Corridor Cities Transitway linking neighboring communities and the Shady Grove Metro Station. The proposal calls for buildings of between 60 feet and 143 feet next to those CCT stops. The proposed master plan would move the county's Public Service Training Academy from its current 52-acre location next to the Rockville incubator, and replace it with a 2,000-unit residential community — an idea proposed last summer by county officials [BRN, Aug. 11, 2008].

The revised master plan would also build out JHU's 107-acre Belward property, a former farm deeded to the university for academic purposes, with between 4.6 million to 6.5 million square feet of research, medical and academic development — projected to create between 13,000 and 17,000 jobs.

Residents have asked JHU to scale down those plans by half. But the university countered that the proposed new master plan would lower Belward's proposed density levels to less than that of JHU's current campus in Rockville. It increases the buffers around the development and requires JHU preserve 10 to 12, rather than seven, acres for green space.


Study: Ben Franklin Tech Companies Added $9.3B to Pennsylvania GDP Between 2002 and 2006

Life sciences and other technology companies funded by Ben Franklin Technology Partners, a statewide economic development network, added $9.3 billion to the state economy between 2002 and 2006, and created thousands of jobs, the Pennsylvania Economy League concluded in a study released last week.

The study found that Pennsylvania received more than $517 million in additional state tax revenues from Ben Franklin-funded companies, reflecting a return of $3.50 for every dollar spent by BFTP. Ben Franklin funding comes from the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority under guidelines that target promising companies in biotechnology, nanotechnology, electronics, communications, information technology, advanced manufacturing, advanced materials and alternative energy and green technology.

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"As federal and state policymakers look for proven ways to stimulate the economy, investments in new technology companies and industries should be a priority," Rebecca Bagley, deputy secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, said in a statement.

Other findings:

• From 2002-2006 Ben Franklin generated an additional 10,165 "job-years" in companies receiving funding, as well as an additional 22,667 job-years in Pennsylvania when indirect effects of those companies' activities were studied. Job-years are equivalent to the number of jobs multiplied by the number of years studied, in this case five years.
• The weighted-average annual salary for Ben Franklin-funded industries is $54,509, or 33 percent higher than the average for all private nonfarm industries in Pennsylvania.

The Ben Franklin network has funded more than 3,000 companies since it was established in 1982


Texas Awards $5.5M Grant to University of Houston Toward New Institute of Biomedical Research

Texas has awarded a $5.5 million grant to the University of Houston to create an Institute of Biomedical Research in conjunction with the Methodist Hospital Research Institute. The new institute will house the Texas International Center for Cell Signaling and Nuclear Receptors.

Jan-Ake Gustafsson of Sweden will serve as director of the center, and will work with longtime research parter Margaret Werner of Sweden and a 10-member support staff from Sweden's Karolinka Institute. Preliminary research will extend Gustafsson and Werner's work in the use of nuclear hormone receptors as therapies for an array of diseases.

"This world class research team will lead the charge in developing treatments for diseases that plague our citizens and enhance the University of Houston's presence as a biomedical research institution," Texas Gov. Rick Perry said in a statement.

In his announcement of the grant, Perry also urged the Texas Legislature to continue to appropriate funds to the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, a $200 million initiative created by the Texas Legislature in 2005 and reauthorized in 2007. The ETF has allocated $56 million in funds to 16 universities, attracting more than 40 top researchers and their teams to the state and creating more than $69 million of industry capital investment, according to Perry's office.


Connecticut Gov. Rell Proposes Consolidations in Economic Development Effort

Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell has proposed consolidating Connecticut Innovations, a 20-year-old quasi-public agency that provides venture capital to high-tech start-up companies, and the Connecticut Development Authority to form a new Connecticut Economic Innovations Authority. The authority, in turn, would be folded into the state's Department of Economic and Community Development headed by Joan McDonald.

DECD would oversee the state's Small Business Innovation Research program, as well as tourism, film, and art programs currently run by the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism.

Rell's DECD recommendation, which would have to pass the Connecticut General Assembly, is part of the governor's two-year budget that attempts to eliminate billions of dollars in deficits in part by eliminating 23 agencies and commissions, and more than 70 boards. The newly structured DECD would receive $92.6 million in the governor's 2010-11 biennial budget, designed to plug a $6 billion, two-year shortfall.


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Following Layoffs, South San Francisco, Two Agencies Organizing Biotech Job Fair

With more than 1,500 scientists, technicians and research assistants having been laid off from biotech companies in San Mateo County during the last year, the city has joned with the Economic & Workforce Development agency and the California Applied Biotechnology Center-Bay Area, also called CalABC, to host a Life Science Career Fair in early March.

The career fair, to be held at the South San Francisco Conference Center, would be designed to link recently laid-off professionals with companies, Nora Lem, director of CalABC, told the San Mateo County Times: "This is about a community helping itself."

Fred Sloan, workforce development manager for San Mateo County's Human Services Agency, told the newspaper that his county saw more than 500 biotech-related layoffs in the first six months of 2008, followed by 1,000 layoffs in the months since. Many of those professionals worked at Exelixis, Anesiva and Theravance, three life-sci companies based in South San Francisco. A fourth SSF company, Elan Pharmaceuticals, is expected to lay off 53 people later this month, according to the state Employment Development Department.

Travis Blaschek-Miller, spokesman for BayBio, the life-sci industry group for the Bay Area and northern California, told the Times most of the laid-off professionals should be hired soon by other regional biotech companies, given the Bay Area's pipeline of about 210 medical treatments expected to be available in the next five years.


NYC Council Speaker Proposes Tax Credit for Life Sciences Industry

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) has proposed the council approve a new city tax credit intended to encourage hiring of staffers and construction of facilities by startup biotechnology and other life sciences companies, in her annual State of the City address.

"Instead of creating jobs and economic activity here, biotech companies leave our city for places like Boston or San Diego," Quinn said, "New York is already a leader when it comes to the world of medicine. We train more of the nation's doctors than anyone else, and we're home to the best hospitals in the world. We're also a center of cutting edge research for the biotech industry, creating advances in medicine our parents could never have imagined.

"But when it comes time to turn that new discovery into a new drug, New York loses out," Quinn acknowledged.

Quinn said that by becoming more competitive, "we'll create nearly a thousand high-tech and high-paid jobs." She noted current efforts by the city to fulfill years of promises of creating a life-sci cluster, from the development of the BioBAT facility that drew its first tenant late last year [BRN, Dec. 1, 2008] to the East River Science Park, whose first phase under construction by developer Alexandria Real Estate Equities — but whose second phase is on hold, with Alexandria citing the ongoing economic turmoil [BRN, Feb. 11].


The Scan

Pfizer-BioNTech Seek Full Vaccine Approval

According to the New York Times, Pfizer and BioNTech are seeking full US Food and Drug Administration approval for their SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.

Viral Integration Study Critiqued

Science writes that a paper reporting that SARS-CoV-2 can occasionally integrate into the host genome is drawing criticism.

Giraffe Species Debate

The Scientist reports that a new analysis aiming to end the discussion of how many giraffe species there are has only continued it.

Science Papers Examine Factors Shaping SARS-CoV-2 Spread, Give Insight Into Bacterial Evolution

In Science this week: genomic analysis points to role of human behavior in SARS-CoV-2 spread, and more.