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BioRegion Real Estate: Mar 30, 2009

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Texas Rep. Seeks End to Tech Fund Transfers After Perry Gives $50M to Texas A&M System for Drug Manufacturing Center

Texas Rep. Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie), the chairman of the state House of Representatives' Appropriations Committee, last week added language to the state's proposed new budget for Fiscal Year 2010 requiring the 10-member Legislative Budget Board to approve transfers between, or grants from, two funds at the center of a dispute between him and Gov. Rick Perry, the Austin (Tex.) American-Statesman reported.

At issue is Perry's $50 million grant to the Texas A&M System toward creation of the National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing, which would be built on the A&M-College Station campus. Pitts has objected publicly to the grant because it came about after Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and previous Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick transferred $50 million from the state's Texas Enterprise Fund, created to attract businesses to the state, to the state's Emerging Technology Fund, which promotes academic-industry partnerships at the state's universities.

Perry's office initially said the transfer was approved by the emerging tech fund's 17-member advisory board, but retracted that comment and said it misspoke. But the governor and spokespeople stayed firm in arguing all last week that the transfer was appropriate. Pitts has contended that the state erred in transferring the funds because it was by far the largest made from the emerging tech fund, which until now has not been used to fund facilities.

But in a video interview with the American-Statesman, Pitts conceded that he had no power to reverse or nullify the transfer, which a Perry spokeswoman defended in numerous news interviews as legal, and necessary to jumpstart development of the drug manufacturing center.

Pitts has also introduced House Bill 4583, which abolishes "all funds and accounts created or re-created in the state treasury by an Act of the 81st Legislature, Regular Session, 2009," as well as "all dedications or rededications of revenue in the state treasury or otherwise collected by a state agency for a particular purpose by an Act of the 81st Legislature." The abolition would take effect Aug. 31, or later if the bill is signed at a later date.

Pitts did not return messages from BRN seeking comment on the bill.


With $9.5M Grant in Hand from Mass. Life-Sci Center, Tufts Opens New England Regional Biosafety Lab

Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine on March 30 formally dedicated its newly built $33.7 million New England Regional Biosafety Laboratory on the school’s North Grafton, Mass., campus, five days after the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center awarded the school a $9.5 million grant toward completion of the project.

The regional biosafety lab was designed to help researchers develop diagnostic tools, therapies, and vaccines for infectious diseases, as part of a network of 13 regional biosafety laboratories nationwide commissioned by the National Institutes of Health. The lab is also designed to be a regional resource for researchers who require access to Biosafety Level-2 and -3 and select agent facilities.

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The new biosafety lab is the anchor tenant of the Cummings School’s Grafton Science Park, a 100-acre build-to-suit area fully entitled for up to 702,000 square feet of commercial life science, medical device, and medical-related space. In addition to Tufts faculty, the NE-RBL will be available to qualified regional investigators, including scientists from academia, research institutes, non-profit organizations and the private sector.

The facility will include 41,000 gross square feet of space, including 649 square feet of BSL-2 space and 8,480 square feet of BSL-3 space, including laboratory, vivarium and vivarium support facilities. Also within the facility are an insectary for study of diseases transmitted by insects, an aerobiology suite for airborne pathogens research and challenge studies¬¬, and high-containment animal housing with related animal support space.

The regional biosafety lab generated the equivalent of 56 full-time staffers in design, development and construction of the facility, and is projected to create about 29 long-term positions for scientists, research technicians, and other facility staff.

Tufts constructed the lab using a $23.1 million grant from NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as well as financing from the life sciences center, which oversees Massachusetts' $1 billion, 10-year Life Sciences Act. The center has authorized $24 million in capital project funding, designed to attract more than $275 million in private or matching investment, and projected to create more than 800 new jobs in the commonwealth.


EMD Serono Plans New Satellite Lab in Cambridge, Mass., with More Neurodegenerative Disease Research in Mind

EMD Serono announced on March 30 that it will open a site in Cambridge, Mass., to support its growing research operations. The company said its Cambridge laboratory space will be designed to accommodate its US drug discovery activities in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis, as well as strengthen its existing US research in oncology and fertility.

EMD Serono said it expects nearly 50 scientists across several disciplines — including neurobiology, pharmacology and chemistry — to work at the nearly 18,000-sqare-foot Cambridge satellite laboratory, which it said will be designed to address its immediate need to secure necessary laboratory space for its additional scientists as a result of accelerated employee growth.

The company, which is based in Rockland, Mass., bases more than 700 employees there and in Billerica, Mass. — where it recently won site plan approvals for a $50 million expansion of another research site, over the objections of a labor union seeking to restrict the construction work to union contractors [BRN, March 23].

"EMD Serono is following our outlined strategy to broaden our research capabilities by expanding our footprint in the state of Massachusetts in close proximity to leading academic centers and qualified expertise that can be complimentary to our organization and add researchers that can grow with our team," Fereydoun Firouz, EMD Serono's president and CEO, said in a written statement.

EMD Serono is the US affiliate of Geneva, Switzerland-based drug firm Merck Serono, which is owned by German pharmaceutical giant Merck KgaA. The company has completed the first Phase III trial of an oral multiple sclerosis drug, cladribine, which is targeted for registration filing later this year.


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Covance Opens $175M First Phase of Chandler, Ariz., Testing Facility, the Company's First in the Southwest

Covance Labs has completed the first phase of its first testing site in the US Southwest, a $175 million, 288,000-square-foot facility in Chandler, Ariz., that will soon begin its first tests for pharmaceutical clients developing next-generation drugs, the Arizona Republic reported.

"Let the record show Covance is open for business in Chandler, Arizona," Covance CEO Joe Herring told about 100 guests at a March 26 ribbon-cutting ceremony. "We are betting the entire company on this facility."

Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn said Covance's expansion into the city marks a "key partnership with the life-sciences industry," adding that its presence will "no doubt lead to others locating in Chandler."

But the company's facility has been opposed by groups opposed to the testing of new drugs on animals, who unsuccessfully sought to block the testing site by filing suit in state court. When protesters threatened to block a rezoning request for its first choice on the Price Road corridor, the company swapped the land with another, larger parcel by the airpark that already was zoned for industrial use. According to the Republic, that was a reason why Covance didn’t publicize the invitation-only opening of its facility in advance.

Covance has hired 60 workers so far and plans to hire up to 2,000 workers when two additional phases are fully built out, possibly in 10 years, Herring told the newspaper. How soon the additional phases get built will depend on client demand for the company's testing services.

Covance, which is headquartered in Princeton, NJ, considered 60 locations for its Southwestern facility before settling on Chandler. The company has two West Coast clients that plan to move their contracts from other Covance facilities to the Chandler site. In addition, Covance also plans in Chandler to expand its work into human clinical trails by testing blood samples and other biomarkers from doctors who work directly with patients.


Anderson Packaging Completes Refrigerated Storage Expansion / Contract Pharmaceutical Packaging Facility

Anderson Packaging of Rockford, Ill., last week announced it had completed expanding the on-site refrigerated storage facility within its recently enlarged contract pharmaceutical packaging facility, which has grown to 410,000 square feet. The recent renovation adds 672 pallet spaces of refrigerated storage for pharmaceutical and biotechnology applications, according to the company.

“We are seeing significant growth in the market for contract packaging of biologics as well as new oral dose solids that have heightened sensitivity to temperature," Shawn Reilley, president of Anderson Packaging, said in a statement. “This refrigerated storage expansion will accommodate future growth in these areas. Having the new facility with ample refrigerated storage allows us to meet current requirements and positions us to stay well ahead of future needs.”

In addition to primary packaging of blisters, bottles, and pouches for oral dose solids, Anderson offers secondary packaging solutions and specialized labeling services for vials and syringes. Anderson also features technologies for kit packaging and assembly of drug delivery devices.

Anderson Packaging is a business unit of AmerisourceBergen Packaging Group, a subsidiary of the AmerisourceBergen Corp.


Merck Sharp & Dohme Biologics to Spend €20M More on Human Vaccine Plant in Carlow, Ireland

Industrial Development Agency Ireland last week announced plans by Merck Sharp & Dohme Biologics (Ireland) Ltd. to spend an additional €20 million ($27 million) toward the first phase of construction of a human vaccines and biologics plant in Carlow, Ireland, already in progress, raising the cost of the facility to €220 million. The plant will specialize in making and filling vaccines designed to treat a number of human health conditions.

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The project will create some 160 new construction jobs, and bring total construction employment at the vaccine and biologics facility to 460 people. Construction began last October. A further 170 people will be hired once the facility is up and running in 2011.

"In making this investment, we are demonstrating Merck Sharp & Dohme’s commitment to pioneering enhancements in biologics, vaccines, and other products and in doing so, placing Ireland and Carlow at the forefront of our plans," Michael Thien, vice president with Merck Manufacturing Division, said in the IDA Ireland statement.

Merck Sharp & Dohme, a subsidiary of Merck & Co., has additional operations in Ireland, including a plant that employs 360 people in Clonmel, County Tipperary, and a headquarters that employs more than 100 workers in Leopardstown, County Dublin.


Montgomery County (Md.) Council OKs $3.2M for Sci-Tech Park Infrastructure

Maryland's Montgomery County Council on Tuesday (March 31) is expected to approve adding $3.2 million to the budget of county-funded Montgomery College to partially fund infrastructure design and construction at its planned Science and Technology Park, a public-private venture intended to create 1 million square feet of office space on 40 acres adjacent to the campus.

The additional funding was made possible when the county received three grants toward the project — $1.4 million from the US Department of Energy, $282,000 from the US Small Business Administration and $1.5 million from the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. Of the state grant, $500,000 will go to Montgomery County's Department of Economic Development for its Germantown Innovation Center, a business incubator in the college's Science and Technology Park.

The remainder of the grants will be used for infrastructure for the business park's road system and underground utilities such as sewer and electric and telephone lines, Elizabeth Homan, a Montgomery College spokeswoman, told Maryland Community Newspapers, adding that a final cost estimate for the business park's infrastructure is expected in the fall.

Foulger-Pratt of Rockville will develop the business park, which has not yet gone through review by the county Planning Board. Foulger-Pratt will pay for construction of the business park and a portion of the infrastructure, Homan told the newspaper group, and work on the park will begin after tenants are secured.

The grants aren't the only funding received by the college recently toward its biotech program. On March 25, Montgomery College honored Virginia philanthropist Paul Peck for agreeing to donate $1 million to create the Paul Peck Center for Applied Science and Technology at the school's Germantown campus.

Among the Peck center’s primary initiatives will be the expansion of the college’s current biotechnology program and the addition of a two-semester biotechnology certificate program, intended to position students to fill entry-level biotechnology manufacturing jobs and work toward an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree. Peck's donation will also support scholarships for students within the biotechnology program and the purchase of biotechnology equipment.

Peck has donated $3.75 million to the school since 1998, including his most recent gift.


Seeking to Draw Biotech User, Corvallis, Ore., Mayor Pursues Tax-Exempt Zone for Ex-HP Campus

The Corvallis, Ore., City Council is reviewing Mayor Charles Tomlinson's request to extend the city's tax-exempt Enterprise zone to include a former Hewlett-Packard campus which the mayor hopes to transform into a biotechnology site.

“What I’m looking for are ways that the traded sector in biotech can thrive here,” Tomlinson told the Democrat-Herald of Albany, Ore. “It would be a statement that the community supports what historians call adaptive reuse of buildings."

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Tomlinson told the Democrat-Herald that 235,413 square feet of industrial space is available for lease in the company’s Building 10, including wet labs. He had no comment when asked by the newspaper whether he’d been in contact with HP about future plans.

The council is one of two boards that would have to approve the Enterprise zone; the other is the Benton County Board of Commissioners. Tomlinson said formal application to expand the zone, if it is approved by the council and county board, wouldn’t be submitted to the state until late this summer.

Enterprise zones provide tax exemptions on buildings and equipment for up to five years — but where existing buildings and property are concerned, only new equipment and construction can receive tax-exempt status, Tomlinson said. Corvallis restricts the use of its enterprise zones to selected industries, including biotech, solar-energy manufacturing, and suppliers or environmentally-friendly "green" building materials.

The city council informally agreed to investigate extending the zone in March. The zone was created last year in south Corvallis to include the 192-acre Corvallis Airport Industrial Park, and its 42 acres of ready-to-develop or “shovel-ready” land.


Paris Life-Sci Park Biocitech Cites Performance Numbers for 2008: More Tenants, Patents, Presentations; Less Capital Raised

Biocitech, the Paris life science technology park, has released figures showing improvement in 2008 over 2007 in several indicators of scientific success.

The life-sci park housed 23 tenant or "resident" employers at the end of 2008, three more than the previous year — Chem-X-Infinity, Pherecydes Pharma and Spectralys Innovation. Tenants applied for 34 patents in 2008, up more than 13 percent from 2007. Nationally, patent applications grew only 1.6 percent, to 12,308 in 2008 compared with 12,113 in 2007, according to the Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle, also known as INPI.

Biocitech said its tenant companies published 18 scientific articles, nearly double the 2007 total. Those companies made 57 presentations at international conferences, compared to 17 in 2007. However, tenants raised just €41 million ($53.9 million) in 2008, down from €100 million the previous year. The €41 million included €28.7 million in private equity and €12.5 million in grants or other aid from public sector sources. Total funds raised by park residents since 2003 have now reached €341 million.

Biocitech also cited, without comparable 2007 figures, some other milestones during 2008:

• Six successful proofs of concept completed.
• Seven pre-clinical trials.
• Two entries into Phase II.
• 18 major scientific advances.
• 27 inter-company partnerships with partners based outside Biocitech.
• 17 new partnerships between resident companies.


The Scan

Dropped Charges

The US Justice Department has dropped visa fraud charges against five Chinese researchers, according to the Wall Street Journal.

More Kids

The Associated Press says Moderna is expanding its SARS-CoV-2 vaccine study to included additional children and may include even younger children.

PNAS Papers on Rat Clues to Human Migration, Thyroid Cancer, PolyG-DS

In PNAS this week: ancient rat genome analysis gives hints to human migrations, WDR77 gene mutations in thyroid cancer, and more.

Purnell Choppin Dies

Purnell Choppin, a virologist who led the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has died at 91, according to the Washington Post.