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BioRegion Real Estate: Jun 19, 2009


University System of Maryland Restructures UMBI; Aligns Research Centers with UM Campuses

The Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland announced Friday it will restructure the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute to align its four research centers and their staffs with other USM campuses, in hopes of boosting research collaboration activity and access to outside research funding.

One key restructuring goal: USM hopes to multiply the $25 million in annual research funding now generated by UMBI.

"It also is expected to yield a higher level of technology transfer, commercialization, and business start-ups, and thereby advance economic development statewide," USM said in a statement.

USM Chancellor William Kirwan added in a statement that the restructuring "has the potential to double the research productivity of UMBI’s current assets within five years.”

Established in 1985, UMBI's areas of research include biotechnology's application to human health, the marine environment, agriculture, and protein engineering/structural biology. The institute currently comprises four centers: Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology, or CARB, in Rockville; Center for Biosystems Research, or CBR, in College Park; Center of Marine Biotechnology, or COMB, in Baltimore; and the Medical Biotechnology Center in Baltimore. UMBI also includes the Institute of Fluorescence in Baltimore.

The restructuring had been recommended in a study carried out by UM Regents Chairman Clifford Kendall. He cited what he termed flaws with the existing structure: A lack of a critical mass of graduate and undergraduate students involved in UMBI research; isolation among UMBI’s research centers; an inability to scale up UMBI programs for greater efficiency; and administrative inefficiencies.

"With a focus on collaboration — across disciplines and across institutions — and with recognition of the exceptional talent within the UMBI community and the system’s other institutions, this action will position USM to take fuller advantage of its system-wide strengths in the biosciences and to fuel the state’s knowledge economy even more," Kendall said in a statement.

The move isn’t a total surprise, according to the Washington Business Journal, which reported last month that several schools in the USM had been angling for a piece of UMBI’s real estate, laboratory space, and scientific talent, while the institute had hoped to remain a stand-alone entity.

Under the restructuring:

• USM will establish a joint research center at CARB facilities in Rockville. The system’s flagship College Park campus will oversee the facility, then work with the University of Maryland, Baltimore to elevate work in physics, engineering, and computational sciences; as well as structural biology, protein design and drug discovery.

• UMBI’s Center for Biosystems Research will also be overseen by College Park.

• A joint research center at COMB will be established, with administrative responsibility falling to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. UMBC will collaborate with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the University of Maryland, Baltimore to drive research in environmental and genomic sciences.

• The Medical Biotechnology Center will fall under the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s purview.

• UMBI’s Institute of Fluorescence will be administered by UMBC.

• UMBI’s K-12 educational programs will be overseen by Towson University with an eye on enhancing its teaching focus.

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UMBI President Jennie Hunter-Cevera is stepping down June 30 after 10 years in the position, to become executive vice president of discovery and analytical sciences and corporate development at the nonprofit R&D organization RTI International, which is based at Research Triangle Park.

Dearth of State Funds Could Stretch Construction Period for CU Boulder Biotech Building

The University of Colorado will leave its $179.8 million biotechnology building an empty shell until it can raise enough funding to complete it, after a subcommittee of CU regents gave preliminary approval this week to splitting construction of the facility into two projects, the Colorado Daily of Boulder reported.

The modification of construction plans comes about two months before an anticipated groundbreaking, and requires approval of the full Board of Regents, which is set to meet on Monday, CU system spokesman Ken McConnellogue told the newspaper.

Frank Bruno, the Boulder campus's vice chancellor for administration, told CU leaders that the campus wanted to split the construction into two projects so the university could begin constructing the building sooner, in the absence of state funding.

Of the $148 million in initial funding for the entire biotech project, $66.5 million will be privately raised, with CU Boulder matching that amount, followed by $15 million in federal funds, and — eventually — $31.8 million from the state, according to the Daily.

The first phase of the project would be about 262,000 square feet, and include an auditorium and three wings that will house labs and university departments. The second phase would be a 50,240-square-foot wing for undergraduate classes and the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

Construction of the main building could take two years — but no date has been set for when the final wing of the building would be completed, since it hinges on state funding. CU's Boulder campus will ask the state for $26.95 million in 2010-11 and $4.82 million in 2011-12 for the project.

The biotechnology building is designed to bring together researchers now based in labs throughout the campus. The facility is credited with helping return Nobel laureate Tom Cech back to CU; he will be based there.

With $1M in Hand from Wisc., Exact Sciences Moving to Madison from Marlborough, Mass.

(GenomeWeb News) – Exact Sciences has received a $1 million loan from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce to relocate its headquarters and operations from 100 Campus Drive in Marlborough, Mass., to University Research Park in Madison, Wis.

The loan and relocation was announced this week by Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle. The molecular diagnostics firm, which has developed a technology to screen for colorectal cancer, will use the funds to purchase equipment and support other relocation costs.

The Department of Commerce said in a statement that the firm will make a significant investment in the relocated operations and could create as many as 150 jobs over five years. As of the end of 2008, Exact Sciences had four full-time employees.

As part of a restructuring last year, Exact Sciences eliminated eight positions, or 67 percent of its staff, to cut costs [See sister publication GenomeWeb Daily News, July 17, 2008].

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A few months ago, the firm brought in Kevin Conroy to serve as president and CEO. Conroy formerly was president and CEO of Third Wave Technologies, a Madison-based molecular diagnostics maker that was acquired last year by Hologic for $582 million. In addition to Conroy, Exact also hired Maneesh Arora, former CFO of Third Wave, to be CFO of Exact.

"The assistance provided by the governor was a critical part of our relocation decision," said Conroy in a statement. "We know from past experience that Wisconsin, and the Madison area, in particular, is a great place to build a biotechnology company."

Tom Wellen, executive director of the nonprofit Marlborough 2010 Corp., told the Worcester (Mass.) Business Journal that while it's disappointing that Exact Sciences is leaving, he knows of companies that have waited years to get space in one of the Campus Drive buildings.

Earlier this year, the cash-strapped firm sold to Genzyme certain intellectual property assets related to the fields of prenatal and reproductive health in a deal that is expected to provide it with a cash infusion of $24.5 million. The agreement with Genzyme ended Sequenom's hostile bid to acquire Exact Sciences for around $41 million.

The firm also announced last week that it had closed an $8.2 million private placement of 4.3 million shares of its common stock.

Report: Georgia Competing for 1,000-Person Life-Sci Facility Eyed for Metro Atlanta

Georgia is among several states competing for the facility of a biotechnology company that could employ at least 1,000 in metro Atlanta, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported, citing unnamed "people familiar with the deal."

The newspaper described the facility as "what might be a vaccine or pharmaceutical manufacturing operation that could locate on more than 100 acres."

Georgia economic development officials would not comment on the recruitment campaign, which has been dubbed “Project Boss” and headed up by Carol Henderson, director of the Innovation and Technology Office at the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the Business Chronicle reported.

Project Boss was “planning to potentially deploy two manufacturing facilities” that combined could employ about 1,500, according to a request for information dated June 5, 2008. The RFI also noted that the facilities could be located in the same region, or in separate locations with international air access, available life science labor, and an ability to source and attract engineers and PhDs.

The company has since downsized those initial plans — and has also scouted the suburban Atlanta counties of Cobb, Douglas and Gwinnett, the newspaper reported.

“It would be an outstanding recruitment [tool for new business],” Mike Cassidy, president of the Georgia Research Alliance, told the newspaper.

It would also fill a longtime hole in Georgia's life sciences effort. The Peachtree State has won praise for its Georgia Research Alliance, formed to commercialize technologies developed by the University of Georgia, the Medical College of Georgia, Emory University, Clark Atlanta University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Georgia State University. Georgia is also home to laboratories of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Cancer Society.

But Georgia has faced tough competition from other states, especially North Carolina, for life-sci employers and their jobs. In 2006, Georgia waged an eleventh-hour campaign to attract a Novartis manufacturing plant now under construction in Holly Springs, NC, only to lose out when the company chose the Tar Heel State over Maryland.

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And last December, the US Department of Homeland Security chose Kansas over Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, and Mississippi as the site of a planned National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. Georgia's bid suffered after Athens FAQ, also known as “For Athens Quality-of-Life,” persuaded hundreds of local residents to attend public hearings where dozens spoke out against the project [BRN, Dec. 8, 2008].

Hershey (Pa.) Center for Applied Research Delays Second Building, Hires Business Development Specialist with Tenant Recruitment in Mind

The Hershey (Pa.) Center for Applied Research has put on hold plans for a second research building of 100,000 square feet that, like its current building, would have been built by owner/developer Wexford Science + Technology, the Central Penn Business Journal has reported.

Laura Butcher, HCAR's executive director, told the newspaper HCAR's expansion plans have been snagged by tighter rules from lenders in the capital markets and fewer tenants to fill the existing 80,448-square-foot HCAR building. Opened in May 2007 the building is one of up to a dozen buildings totaling 1.2 million square feet envisioned for a 165-acre campus near Penn State University's Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and College of Medicine.

Speaking with BRN earlier this spring, Butcher said HCAR and Wexford were seeking federal and state funds to help them construct the second building, projected to cost $40 million [BRN, May 1]. HCAR has applied for a $1 million grant under the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the economic stimulus measure enacted by President Obama in February.

Butcher told the Business Journal HCAR must reach three milestones before it can proceed with the second building. Because of the current economic upheaval, potential lenders want the second building to be at least 60 percent pre-leased to tenants, including at least two anchor tenants. In addition, would-be lenders want HCAR to lease more space in the existing building, from the current occupancy rate of 70 percent to at least 85 percent full.

To speed construction of the second building along, HCAR has hired Jack Atchason as its new director of business development. Atchason, who started May 18, has the task of marketing the new building to tenant prospects.

HCAR hopes to recruit as tenants several startups launched by executives recently laid off from pharma giants, Butcher told the newspaper.

Life-Sci Company Miltenyi Biotec Buys 60K-Sq.-Ft. Auburn, Calif., Building

German-owned Miltenyi Biotec has purchased a 60,000-square-foot building within the Auburn (Calif.) Airport Business Park from the Abbey Co., a Long Beach, Calif.-based real estate company, the Sacramento Business Journal has reported.

The sale price was not disclosed.

Abbey paid $10 million when it bought the four-building, 256,000-square-foot business park in 2007. Among the buildings is 2303 Lindbergh Street, which was sold to Miltenyi. The company develops, manufactures, and sells more than 1,000 products focused on cell biology, immunology, regenerative medicine, and molecular biology.

Hamner Institutes, UNC Chapel Hill Launch Drug Safety Sciences Institute

The Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill last week launched the Institute for Drug Safety Sciences, with the recent dedication of a 14,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art research laboratory located on the Hamner’s 56-acre campus in Research Triangle Park.

The Institute will be led by Paul Watkins, an expert in drug-induced liver injury who also serves as the Verne S. Caviness Distinguished Professor of Medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill. The institute said in a statement Watkins has assembled a core group of internal scientists and academic partners to develop new global drug safety initiatives, in collaboration with the bio/pharmaceutical industry, the National Institutes of Health, and the FDA. A major initial focus of the institute, it said, will be to develop new computational models and in vitro assays, starting first with evaluating liver toxicity, and expanding into cardiovascular and kidney drug side effects.

The Hamner and UNC committed to raising the $10 million needed for the new institute on June 11, more than a year after the Hamner and UNC in April 2008 signed a memorandum of understanding pledging to collaborate in developing the institute.

“The Institute for Drug Safety Sciences is positioned to make transformative advances in human predictive safety sciences that will accelerate the development of new and safer therapeutics,” said William Greenlee, President and CEO of the Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences, in a statement.

The Scan

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.

Study Presents New Insights Into How Cancer Cells Overcome Telomere Shortening

Researchers report in Nucleic Acids Research that ATRX-deficient cancer cells have increased activity of the alternative lengthening of telomeres pathway.

Researchers Link Telomere Length With Alzheimer's Disease

Within UK Biobank participants, longer leukocyte telomere length is associated with a reduced risk of dementia, according to a new study in PLOS One.

Nucleotide Base Detected on Near-Earth Asteroid

Among other intriguing compounds, researchers find the nucleotide uracil, a component of RNA sequences, in samples collected from the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu, as they report in Nature Communications.