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BioRegion Newsmakers: Jun 5, 2009

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Mass. Biotechnology Council Chairman Defends Coughlin After Name Surfaces in DiMasi Indictment

The chairman of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council this week defended the industry group's president Robert Coughlin, whose name surfaced in the federal indictment handed down this week to the former House of Representatives Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and three co-defendants.

According to the indictment, while he was a state representative in 2006, Coughlin filed two budget amendments related to educational technology as sought by DiMasi, and later approved by the state House of Representatives and state Senate.

One appropriated $5.2 million for an education data warehouse and reporting system, and set an earmark that not less than $4.5 million shall be spent on a statewide software license. The other bill raised state spending on supporting the educational technology program from $768,866 to $2.5 million, so the state Department of Education would have what it deemed sufficient funds to support a statewide software license.

DiMasi, a Boston Democrat, resigned in January from the state Legislature, ending a 30-year career, following a federal grand jury probe into payments he and other friends of DiMasi received from a software company that won two state contracts, Cognos ULC, as well as news reports on the payments in the Boston Globe. The indictment alleges that DiMasi and three others were involved in a scheme that allowed DiMasi to receive tens of thousands of dollars from Cognos in return for ensuring that it won state education technology contracts.

DiMasi and his co-defendants face a variety of charges that include conspiracy, mail fraud, money laundering, and aiding and abetting. In a statement, Coughlin told the Boston Herald that he did not know of the alleged scheme to which prosecutors have tied the budget requests.

Coughlin has won the support of MBC Chairman Mark Leuchtenberger, who issued to the Herald his own statement: “Bob Coughlin has done a tremendous job,” Leuchtenberger said, adding that the biotech council “looks forward to Bob’s continued dedication and leadership.”

Coughlin left the legislature in January 2007 to join Gov. Deval Patrick's administration as undersecretary for business development within the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. As undersecretary, Coughlin helped Patrick craft the state’s $1 billion, 10-year Life Sciences Act, a measure supported by the biotech council.

Coughlin took the helm of the MBC in September 2007. Last December, he paid a $10,000 fine to settle a State Ethics Commission complaint that he violated the state Conflict of Interest law when, as a state official, he took part in matters affecting the life sciences industry while seeking the state industry group’s top executive position [BRN, Jan. 5].


Toronto's MaRS Innovation Names Raphael (Rafi) Hofstein President and CEO

Raphael (Rafi) Hofstein has been appointed the president and CEO of MaRS Innovation, a Toronto commercialization center for three universities, 10 academic teaching hospitals, and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. His appointment takes effect June 8.

He succeeds Ilse Treurnicht, who served as interim managing director of MaRS Innovation, and is CEO of MaRS Discovery District.

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Hofstein previously served as president and CEO of Israeli-based Hadasit, the technology transfer company of the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem, a position he has held since 1999. He has also served as chair of publicly-traded Hadasit BioHolding since 2005. In both positions, he oversaw commercialization of intellectual property emerging from the Hadassah Medical Organization, clinical trials with industry partners, as well as the launch, development, and strategic oversight of spin-off companies focused on medical devices, biomedicine, and diagnostic equipment.

From 1997 to 1999 Hofstein was president of Mindsense Biosystems, an Israeli developer of neuropsychiatric immune assays. Previously, he was vice president of business development for Ecogen, a subsidiary of Monsanto in Langhorne, Pa.

Hofstein is a co-founder and board member of ILSI, the Israeli Life Science Industry Organization, and a co-founder and executive in Israel's Tech Transfer Network.

Hofstein received his PhD and MSci degrees in life sciences and chemistry from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. He received his BSci degree in chemistry and physics from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.


Nobel Laureate Bert Sakmann Named Scientific Director of Max Planck Florida Institute

Bert Sakmann, the 1991 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Medicine, has been named the inaugural scientific director of the Max Planck Florida Institute, the 100,000-square-foot biomedical research facility at Florida Atlantic University’s MacArthur Campus in Jupiter, Fla., to be developed by Germany's Max Planck Society.

Sakmann currently works at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Munich, Germany, and previously served as director of the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg, Germany.

Sakmann will begin assembling his research team this summer and start work in the temporary facility, previously occupied by Scripps Florida, on FAU’s MacArthur campus, Max Planck Florida said in a statement. He and his group are charged with laying the foundation of the scientific work of the new institute, to which additional scientists are to be recruited "in the near future," the statement said.

Under Sakmann, Max Planck Florida Institute plans to initiate a research program dedicated to elucidating the detailed and precise structural arrangement of nerves within the mouse cerebral cortex — a project expected to lay the foundation for future studies on brain degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.

Sakmann and physicist Erwin Neher won the Nobel Prize for their discoveries on single channels in cells, enabled by their invention of the patch-clamp technique. That achievement made it possible to examine, in real time, the operation of individual ion channel proteins, found in the membranes of virtually all cells, and to discover the role that ion channels play in diseases such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, several cardiovascular diseases, and some neuromuscular disorders.

More recently, Sakmann’s research has focused on the functional anatomy of circuits in the brain, specifically the cerebral cortex, that form the basis of simple behaviors such as decision making


The Scan

Gap in COVAX Doses

BBC News reports that COVAX is experiencing a vaccine shortfall, as the Serum Institute of India has paused exports.

Sanofi, GSK Report Promising Results

The Wall Street Journal reports that the candidate SARS-CoV-2 vaccine from Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline has had encouraging early results.

Influence of Luck

The New York Times examines how the US avoided variant-fueled increases in COVID-19 cases.

PLOS Papers on Retina GWAS, Hantaan Virus, COVID-19 Phenome-Wide Association Study

In PLOS this week: genome-wide association study of retinal morphology, analysis of hantaan virus found in a mouse, and more.