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Around the Regions: February 23, 2009

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At First Hearing, Georgia State Senators Clash on Gov. Perdue’s Biotech Tort-Shield Plan

Georgia’s state Senate Economic Development Committee has held its first hearing on a proposal by Gov. Sonny Perdue to shield drug and medical product manufacturers from product liability lawsuits over drugs or medical devices approved by the US Food and Drug Administration [BRN, Feb. 2].

The shield would apply to all Georgia-based life sciences companies and out-of-state life-sci companies with more than 200 employees.

“This is about jobs and investment,” Kenneth Stewart, commissioner of the state Department of Economic Development, told committee members, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle. “This bill gives confidence to these companies. Our intent is to be the No. 1 place for companies to be inventive.

However, state Sen. Seth Harp (R-Midland) said at the hearing that FDA approval is far from a guarantee that a drug or medical product is safe, since the agency has turned over product testing responsibilities to private companies, then approves the results. “It’s only after a drug is in the market and people are harmed that they start looking over shoulders,” Harp said, according to the newspaper.

Harp also cited the recent outbreak of salmonella poisoning that has resulted in nine deaths, and has been connected to peanut products at a Peanut Corp. of America plant in South Georgia. In response, Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), who introduced the bill on Perdue’s behalf, said the problem there stemmed from the company’s manufacturing process, while the shield bill’s provisions would only apply to products certified safe by the FDA once they leave the manufacturer’s control.

“[The salmonella case concerns] a food, not a drug,” Cowsert said, in an exchange captured by the newspaper.

“It is the same government agency,” Harp retorted.

The bill is one of two tort-reform measures sought by Perdue, in hopes of warming his state’s climate for recruiting new life sciences busineses and their jobs, and retaining existing life-sci companies in the Peachtree state. The other measure, which has been referred to the state Senate Judiciary Committee, would force plaintiffs to pay all court cases in lawsuits that are dismissed early in the process.


Maryland Life Sciences Industry Leaders Seek Doubling of $6M Tax Credit Program

Maryland life sciences leaders have told Maryland lawmakers to double the state's current $6 million state tax credit for startup biotechnology companies in the new budget that state lawmakers are now crafting, the Washington Business Journal reported.

Industry executives and legislators acknowledged that the state is unlikely to increase the tax credit in the budget being hammered out for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Gov. Martin O'Malley has retreated from earlier plans to double funding for the credit to $12 million in the 2010 budget, as the state struggles to plug a budget shortfall that has ballooned to about $2 billion and may result in a second straight annual reduction in stem cell research funding [BRN, Feb. 2].

According to the newspaper, the executives have expressed hope that Maryland officials will set aside money for increased tax credits from the state's share of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the economic stimulus measure signed into law last week by President Obama.

The biotech tax credit program allows investors receive a tax credit equal to 50 percent of the money they spend. To qualify for the credit, the company must be based in Maryland, have fewer than 50 employees and be in business less than 10 years. The state has spent $18 million in tax credits, generating $13 million in private biotech investment, according to figures from the Tech Council of Maryland.

The tax credits can help Maryland find the “future MedImmune,” said Tom Watkins, chief executive officer of of Human Genome Sciences, and chairman of the Maryland Life Sciences Advisory Board, the 15-member panel appointed by O'Malley to map out a strategy for growing the state's life-sci sector. MedImmune is the Gaithersburg, Md.-based biotech business that is arguably the state's biggest life-sci success, nearly two years after its $15.6 billion acquisition by AstraZeneca.

The biotech tax credit program is in its fourth year. Last year, biotech executives camped out in the state capital of Annapolis to apply for the tax credits, which were snatched up on their first day available.


NC Gov. Bev Perdue Sets Second-to-None Goal for State's Life-Sci Industry

Addressing the Biotech 2009 conference held last week at the Raleigh Convention Center by the Council for Entrepreneurial Development, the state's new Gov. Bev Perdue set a goal for her state of being number-one in the life sciences, surpassing even California and Massachusetts.

Perdue said she wanted to see the revenues of NC-based companies more than double by the end of her four-year term in 2012, from the current $45 billion to $100 billion.

“We’re number three in biotechnology, but I’m not happy being number three at anything," Perdue told the crowd, according to numerous local news reports.

An industry executive listening to her speech responded in a whisper, “I hope she’s prepared to pump some money into it," according to TechJournal South.

Also during the conference, which drew about 1,000 attendees:

• Mike Lanahan, vice president of Massachusetts biotechnology firm Agrivida, said at a panel discussion that it could be up to 10 years before North Carolina can grow a local crop that can be broken down into ethanol, according to the Triangle Business Journal. The state in 2007 set a 2017 goal generating 10 percent of liquid fuels sold in the state from biofuels grown and produced locally.

• Jim Greenwood, CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, said he expects further financial pain for life-sci companies in 2009. Greenwood cited figures showing that biotech companies raised 55 percent less in funding in 2008 compared with the year before, in part because more than a dozen initial public offerings were withdrawn as the economy skidded into its current turmoil. About 30 percent of BIO's publicly traded members have less than six months' worth of cash on hand, while another 45 percent have less than 12 months of cash available, he said.


Scientists Group Advocates Louisiana Boycott Over State's Science Education Law

The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, which says it has more than 2,300 members, said it would not hold its 2011 convention in New Orleans because of its concern that the state's 2007 Science Education Act "undermines the integrity of science and science education in Louisiana" by promoting the teaching of creationism, the Times-Picayune of New Orleans reported.

The society's president, Richard Satterlie of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington sent a Feb. 6 letter to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal — a Republican who is one of the party's top presidential prospects in 2012 — stating that it would instead hold the conference in Salt Lake City in 2011.

The society sides with opponents of the law, who argue it is a stealth attempt to force into the state's science curricula the belief that the universe was created by God, or evidences "intelligent design" by a creator.

"As scientists, it is our responsibility to oppose anti-science initiatives," Satterlie wrote.

Replied a Jindal spokesman, Kyle Plotkin: "That's too bad."


Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse Pumps $3M into 25 Deals Since Spring '08

The Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, a state-created funder of pre-commercial "seed-" and early-stage life-sci companies in western Pennsylvania, said last week it had made more than 25 direct investments to businesses totaling $3 million, of which nine were made to new companies, since the spring of 2008 when it had recorded investments in 32 companies totaling $10 million.

The nine new company investments include: Biomed Research & Technologies; Blacktown NC LLC, Caliber InfoSolutions, Chronic Health Metrics, Circadiance, Complexa, Flexicath, NeuroInterventional Therapeutics, and Wright Therapy Products.

Overall, the Greenhouse has made 57 investments totaling $13.2 million since it was founded in 2001, drawing more than $400 million in additional capital for the region. The Greenhouse is a as a public/private partnership consisting of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Pittsburgh's regional foundation community.

John Manzetti, PLSG President & CEO, said in a statement the Greenhouse would focus most of its future investment on existing companies due to the economic upheaval.

"Everywhere you look, read and listen there are warnings about the scarcity of capital and the continued downturn of the economy. Accordingly, we have made adjustments to our plan so that we can continue to evaluate, help develop and invest in additional promising life sciences innovations, while we help secure the sustainability of our existing portfolio companies," Manzetti said in the statement.

Manzetti told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the Greenhouse's funding comes mainly from the state and foundations, plus returns on its own investments. This fiscal year, the group got $413,000 in federal money, and "we'll try to double that for 2010," he told the newspaper.



With Economy in Turmoil, Singapore Sees Steep Declines in Pharmaceutical Exports

 

Singapore’s pharmaceutical exports have tumbled from $850 million in September, which was still down 28 percent from the year-ago month, to $477 million in December — less than half the pharmaceutical exports recorded in December 2007, according to In-PharmaTechnologist.com.

Some key pharma markets saw drops of as much as 94 percent a month

Exports to the EU and US have dropped significantly, with falls of 64 percent and 94 percent respectively being the biggest. Singapore’s reliance on overseas trade has resulted in it becoming the first Asian country to enter recession, the online news source reported.


The Scan

Billions for Antivirals

The US is putting $3.2 billion toward a program to develop antivirals to treat COVID-19 in its early stages, the Wall Street Journal reports.

NFT of the Web

Tim Berners-Lee, who developed the World Wide Web, is auctioning its original source code as a non-fungible token, Reuters reports.

23andMe on the Nasdaq

23andMe's shares rose more than 20 percent following its merger with a special purpose acquisition company, as GenomeWeb has reported.

Science Papers Present GWAS of Brain Structure, System for Controlled Gene Transfer

In Science this week: genome-wide association study ties variants to white matter stricture in the brain, and more.