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BioRegion Newsmakers: May 8, 2009


Jeffrey Seemann, Key Player in Rhode Island's Life-Sci Effort, Leaving URI for Texas A&M

Jeffrey Seemann, a key advocate for Rhode Island's life sciences sector most of this decade, has been hired by Texas A&M University as its new vice president for research, after serving since 2001 as dean of the College of Environment and Life Sciences at the University of Rhode Island. He will leave URI on July 1.

“As the new vice president for research, Dr. Seemann will be responsible for facilitating institutional research initiatives; administering all aspects of the university’s sponsored research program; formulating and implementing policies for the utilization and distribution of research-related funds; and overseeing federal, state and local assurance and research compliance programs,” Texas A&M said in a statement announcing the appointment.

In an interview with the Providence Journal, Seemann denied that his leaving was related to him not being chosen as a finalist to succeed Robert Carothers as president of URI. He said he did not leave because of any unhappiness over his salary, quipping: “If I wanted to make money I would not be in academics.”

“It’s typical in academics that if you want to move up, you have to move out," Seemann told the newspaper, adding: “I am looking for that next great challenge."

Seemann played key roles in expanding URI's biotechnology program, shepherding the opening of a facility in Providence, and in helping attract Brown University researcher Annie De Groot, the CEO of EpiVax, to lead a new URI institute focused on developing vaccines against AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, dengue fever, and other diseases ravaging the developing world — an appointment announced in February.

A month earlier, Seemann joined Carothers in hailing the opening on URI's Kingston, RI, campus of the $59 million, 140,000-square-foot Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences, a five-level facility whose top floor will remain unfinished until URI can raise the $5 million needed to complete the administrative offices and research space planned there [BRN, Jan. 26].

Seemann, who is also co-chairman of the state's science and technology advisory board, has advocated greater state funding and support for its life sciences industry before state officials.

“The tragedy is that he was one of the people who could connect between state officials, the biotech sector and academe. I’m not sure we have people like that," De Groot told the Journal. “It’s a great loss for our state. He’s one of the true visionaries who sees the potential for biotechnology in Rhode Island."

Boston Law Firm Wolf Greenfield Names New Counsel for Pharma Practice

C. Hunter Baker has joined Wolf Greenfield & Sacks as counsel in the pharmaceutical group of the Boston intellectual property law firm. Baker will focus his practice on patent prosecution and strategic counseling in the areas of pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, chemistry, materials, and medical devices.

Baker was previously a partner with the Boston law firm Choate Hall & Stewart, where he represented major universities, research centers, startups and medium-sized companies in developing intellectual property strategies, conducting patentability searches and freedom-to-operate studies, prosecuting patent applications, drafting opinions, and counseling clients on licensing.

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Baker completed his medical training at Harvard Medical School, where he was an MD-PhD student in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. His graduate work in Professor EJ Corey’s laboratory at Harvard University focused on an important enzyme in the biosynthesis of cholesterol and other steroids. He received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from MIT, a master’s degree in chemistry from Harvard, and his law degree, cum laude, from Boston College Law School.

Calif. Stem Cell Agency Governing Board OKs Evaluation Process for Chairman, Vice Chairs, President

Directors of the governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine have approved an evaluation process for Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee Chairman Robert Klein; the ICOC’s two vice chairs, Duane Roth and Art Torres; and CIRM President Alan Trounson. The ICOC vote was 18-5 with two abstentions and one recusal.

While chairs for the new subcommittee have yet to be selected by ICOC, other members of the panel have been decided. They include:

• The chair and vice chairs of three ICOC subcommittees — Governance (Sherry Lansing, no co-chair), Finance (Michael Goldberg and Marcy Feit), and Legislative (Klein and Francisco Prieto).

Ed Penhoet, the chair of ICOC’s intellectual property task force.

• Roth, in his capacity as chair of the ICOC’s biotech loan task force.

• The vice chairs, or acting vice chair or co-chair where applicable, of three ICOC working groups — Grants (Joan Samuelson or Sheehy); Standards (Lansing), and Facilities (David Serrano Sewell).

• Two members appointed by the board but not yet named.

• Klein as chairman and Roth and Torres as vice chairs, except when they are the subject of an evaluation.

The creation of the subcommittee touched off significant debate among ICOC members at their April 28 meeting, the California Stem Cell Report reported. Board member Jeff Sheehy, director for communications at the AIDS Research Institute at University of California-San Francisco, introduced a motion to name as subcommittee chair and vice chair the ICOC board members who hold the same positions with the board’s governance subcommittee — Lansing, a UC regent and former CEO of Paramount Pictures; and Claire Pomeroy, dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine. Sheehy said it was not appropriate for the people being evaluated to have a voice in picking the chair of the evaluation subcommittee, according to the online news outlet.

Sheehy's motion failed on a vote of 5-15 with four self-recusals and two abstentions. Klein opposed the motion, but indicated he was willing to allow the full ICOC board to select the heads of the evaluation panel, according to the Report.

MichBio Elects Six New Members, Re-Elects Four Holdovers, to Board of Directors

At the May 6 annual meeting of MichBio, Michigan's life sciences industry association, two new members were elected to three-year terms on the group's board of directors, while four current directors were re-elected.

Elected to the board for the first time were J. Patrick Elliott, vice president of business development at Terumo Cardiovascular Systems in Ann Arbor; and Barry Klein, director of market development with GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals in Comstock Park.

Re-elected were James Freeman, vice president for laboratory services at Pfizer Animal Health in Kalamazoo; Mark Kielb, chief financial officer of the Altarum Institute in Ann Arbor; John JH (Joe) Schwarz, a former US Representative and currently a doctor of otolaryngology at Family Health Center in Battle Creek; and Eric Stief, director of venture development at Wayne State University-Technology Commercialization in Detroit.

The Scan

Omicron's Emergence

The World Health Organization has called Omicron a SARS-CoV-2 "variant of concern," the Los Angeles Times writes.

Not as Much

Merck's pill to treat COVID-19 reduces the risk of hospitalization and death among COVID-19 patients by less than previously reported, the New York Times says.

Bats That Hang Together

Discover magazine writes that researchers have found a social microbiome among vampire bats.

PLOS Papers on CEWAS, Simian Varicella Virus Transcriptome, Dermatomyositis Markers

In PLOS this week: multi-omic approach to home in on genetic risk variants, transcriptomic analysis of the simian varicella virus, and more.