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California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Iogen, Bingham Economic Development Corp., GlaxoSmithKline, Massachusetts State Senate, Oregon Economic Development Commission, York Stem Cell Research Initiative, New Jersey Economic Development Authority


California Stem Cell Agency Awards $271M in Facility Grants to 12 Institutions
The governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state’s stem cell agency, last week awarded a total $271 million to 12 institutions planning to build stem cell research facilities throughout the state. The funding comes from proposition 71, the $3 billion stem cell funding initiative approved by voters in 2004 and upheld in a pair of upper-court decisions last year.
In return for the grants from CIRM, the 12 institutions committed to raising another $560 million from charitable donations and their internal reserves, not counting commitments for faculty recruitment packages and other related capital costs. When all those are figured in, CIRM projects its grants will have leveraged a total $1.1 billion toward construction of the facilities.
Stanford University received the highest award of about $43.6 million, followed by the $43 million won by the San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine. The consortium consists of the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies; the Scripps Research Institute; and the University of California, San Diego.
“This will go a long way toward medical research that could save lives and improve them for people with chronic diseases. But also, this kind of public-private investment in a growing jobs sector is exactly the kind of good news our economy needs right now,” California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement.
In announcing the grant winners, CIRM said the projects would be funded through the sale of 30-year stem cell research bonds, not as part of the state’s budget. That is intended to defuse possible opposition at a time Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers are scrambling to plug a budget shortfall that the governor last week projected was as high as $20 billion.
The funding announced last week came from CIRM’s Major Facilities Grant program, a two-part application process launched last August. The agency’s Scientific and Medical Research Grants Working Group evaluated the scientific merit of 17 proposals submitted in response to the request for application last fall.
Over the winter, CIRM’s governing board, the Independent Citizens Oversight Commission, approved Part 1 of the applications, inviting 12 institutions to advance to the second part, focusing on technical aspects of proposals, how those proposals aligned with CIRM’s objectives, and how the proposals represents value for California taxpayers.
The review was conducted by the 10-member Scientific and Medical Research Facilities Working Group, consisting of real estate pros, patient advocates and ICOC chairman Robert Klein.

Canadian Biotech Chooses Saskatchewan Over Idaho As Site for Ethanol Plant
The Canadian biotech company Iogen has chosen its native country over Idaho as the site of a planned new cellulosic ethanol plant, the Canadian Press reported last week.
Iogen chose Saskatchewan over a site near Shelley, Idaho, for the project, projected to cost $350 million in 2006. Iogen had been leaning to the Idaho site, given its proximity to farmers already under contract to provide the wheat and barley straw, corn stover, and switch grass the plant would use to produce ethanol.
But last week, the company said it suspended its Idaho operations despite the promise of a grant and loan guarantees for the project totaling $80 million by the US Department of Energy.
Iogen’s decision came nearly two months after Canada announced it had allocated $500 million for projects to build next-generation biofuels plants in Canada. Another possible factor in Iogen’s decision: The company has had a pilot plant near Ottawa since 2004.
Corey McDaniel, a legislative assistant to US Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), told the CP Iogen had cited the Energy Department's failure to offer larger loan guarantees as the reason for its decision in favor of Saskatchewan. Without greater loan guarantees, Iogen and backers Royal Dutch Shell and Goldman Sachs weren't comfortable building in Idaho, McDaniel said.
Brandon Bird, executive director of the Bingham Economic Development Corp., told the news agency Iogen’s decision will not stop the development of a cellulosic ethanol industry in eastern Idaho: “We've got what it takes, and we're working on recruiting and marketing our straw supplies.”

GSK Executive Blasts Massachusetts On Proposed Gift Ban; Hints Cutback of Operations
The head of GlaxoSmithKline’s US operations drew criticism from two state legislators last week after denouncing a bill introduced by Massachusetts state Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) that would ban gifts to doctors by pharmaceutical and biotech companies, the Boston Herald reported.
In a sharply worded letter to Murray, as well as Gov. Deval Patrick and state House of Representatives Speaker Salvatore DiMasi (D-South Boston), Christopher Viehbacher, GSK’s president of US pharmaceuticals, complained of “a strong anti-biopharmaceutical streak that seems to run through the Massachusetts political establishment . . . Some Massachusetts political leaders, meanwhile, seem to go out of their way to attack and demonize an industry that other parts of the country are desperate to have.”
Viehbacher also raised the possibility of pulling GSK operations out of the state when he added: “While we continue to value those assets that make Massachusetts a hub of scientific discovery and innovation, we must also look with caution at those political developments that work to devalue those assets — and proceed accordingly.”
Those assets include Praecis Pharmaceuticals in Waltham, Mass., which GSK purchased last year. And just last month, the pharma giant announced it was acquiring Cambridge, Mass.-based Sirtris Pharmaceuticals. The firms employ a combined 115 people in Massachusetts.
A GSK spokeswoman wouldn’t tell the Herald how the company would respond if the bill passed or other developments in Massachusetts didn’t proceed as the company wishes. The legislation — which has already passed the Senate and is now before the House — would fine pharma companies up to $5,000 per violation of a ban on gifts to physicians.
Sen. Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge), a key supporter of the bill, denounced the GSK letter as “over the top and counterproductive” in comments to the newspaper, while Sen. Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford), another backer of the gift ban, dismissed the GSK letter as “baloney” and accused the industry of “price gouging” of consumers and taxpayers.
Viehbacher said Massachusetts would become “the most hostile state in the nation when it comes to biopharmaceutical sales” if it passed the ban on gifts, which proponents contend would reduce conflicts of interest by doctors.

Oregon OKs Extension of Enterprise Zone Program to Hillsboro Site Eyed for Biotech
The Oregon Economic Development Commission has approved a request by Hillsboro officials to add about 1,000 acres of city land comprising three new zones to the state Enterprise Zone program, the Oregonian reported.
The expansion, which doubles the amount of state enterprise zone land, is on the city's northern edge near a Genentech plant under construction, where the city hopes to attract biotechnology as well as solar energy companies. One new enterprise zone is north of US 26, east of Northwest Helvetia Road. The other two are just south of US 26, with one parcel north of Northwest Evergreen Road, and the other east of Northwest Shute Road.
Under the enterprise zone program, eligible companies are exempt from property taxes on new assets or construction for up to five years, in return for fulfilling job creation and business investment promises.

May 28 Deadline for Intent to Seek $109M in Stem Cell Funding from NY Program

New York state’s Stem Cell Research Initiative has set a May 28 deadline for letters of intent to respond to any of four Requests for Applications issued last week. The RFAs are intended to solicit applications by research institutions seeking a share of the $109 million in grants available during the second year of the 11-year, $600 million initiative.

Grants supported by the $109 million are projected to be awarded in October 2008. The new RFAs seek proposals to broadly stimulate stem cell research through:
  • Consortia Planning Grants intended to encourage collaborations among new and established stem cell investigators within, and between, New York State institutions, and in partnership with non-New York State investigators and corporations.
  • Facilities and Equipment Grants intended to support the establishment and operation of multi-institutional core facilities and specialized equipment to maximize the expertise, efficiency, and quality of stem cell research.
  • Investigator-Initiated Research Projects and Innovative, Developmental or Exploratory Activities, or IDEAs in Stem Cell Research intended to support investigations of stem cell biology that will increase understanding of the unique properties of stem cells and allow their use to treat disease. Awards will be given for basic, translational or pre-clinical research deemed to be well-developed, or for preliminary testing of novel or high-risk hypotheses.
  • Targeted Investigation of Pluripotent Stem Cells – to support the development of improved methods for deriving pluripotent stem cell lines; defining the reprogramming mechanisms, and comparing the utility of induced pluripotent stem cells with embryonic and other pluripotent stem cells for use in disease models and potential therapeutic applications.
Letters of intent for all the RFAs are due May 28, 2008, with applications due June 30, 2008.

June 30 Applications Deadline for $60M in R&D Tax Credits, Tax Losses from NJEDA
New Jersey’s Economic Development Authority has set a June 30 deadline for applications from life sciences and other technology companies seeking to sell New Jersey tax losses or R&D tax credits using $60 million set aside through the Technology Business Tax Certificate Transfer Program.
The program allows money-losing technology and biotechnology companies to sell their New Jersey net operating losses and/or research and development tax credits to profitable New Jersey corporate entities. Proceeds from the sales must be reinvested in the seller’s business and can be used for business expenses like purchasing equipment or expanding facilities, or for working capital for operational expenses.
To qualify for the program, companies must have fewer than 225 US employees — of which at least 75 percent must be New Jersey residents — and must have protected intellectual property. Applications will be reviewed by the state, with approved sellers set to be announced in the early fall.
Established in 1999, the Technology Business Tax Certificate Transfer Program has awarded $445 million to more than 300 technology and biotechnology companies. Last year, more than 90 companies each received allocations averaging about $650,000 to support their growth.

The Scan

Study Finds Sorghum Genetic Loci Influencing Composition, Function of Human Gut Microbes

Focusing on microbes found in the human gut microbiome, researchers in Nature Communications identified 10 sorghum loci that appear to influence the microbial taxa or microbial metabolite features.

Treatment Costs May Not Coincide With R&D Investment, Study Suggests

Researchers in JAMA Network Open did not find an association between ultimate treatment costs and investments in a drug when they analyzed available data on 60 approved drugs.

Sleep-Related Variants Show Low Penetrance in Large Population Analysis

A limited number of variants had documented sleep effects in an investigation in PLOS Genetics of 10 genes with reported sleep ties in nearly 192,000 participants in four population studies.

Researchers Develop Polygenic Risk Scores for Dozens of Disease-Related Exposures

With genetic data from two large population cohorts and summary statistics from prior genome-wide association studies, researchers came up with 27 exposure polygenic risk scores in the American Journal of Human Genetics.