Sponsor Softens Wording in California Stem-Cell Agency Governance Bill
The sponsor of a bill pending in California’s assembly has backed down from trying to order a study of how the state’s stem-cell research agency is governed, and what is its vulnerability to conflicts of interest.
State Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) said last week she agreed to tone down her bill so it no longer requires a state-created government watchdog agency to review the governance of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, or CIRM, and its oversight body, the Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee.
Instead, Kuehl has revised Senate Bill 1565 to say the Legislature “hereby requests” such a study from the Milton Marks, or “Little Hoover,” Commission on California State Government Organization and Economy. The amended bill can be read here.
Kuehl told BioRegion News last week that the change in wording came after the Little Hoover commission told the Legislature that it alone has exclusive authority over the subject and timing of its research, since by law it is independent of the Legislature.
“There was some question as to whether in a bill we could tell them to do it. And rather than have to go through all the questions of testing our ability to do it, we decided that since they were already interested in doing it, we would just ask them to,” Kuehl said in an interview.
Asked whether Little Hoover indicated it would carry out the study, Kuehl replied: “They have not been asked yet, and there are bigger fish to fry.”
She alluded to efforts to cut funding for several California commissions given the state’s budget shortfall, projected at $20 billion. Those commissions do not, at the moment, include Little Hoover, which was listed on the state’s budget web site as slated for $1.045 million in funding in the budget year that begins July 1, up 2.7 percent from $1.018 million in 2007-08.
Little Hoover’s executive director, Stuart Drown, would not discuss his commission’s interest in examining CIRM’s governance when contacted by BRN.
Drown did say, however, that lawmakers have asked Little Hoover to look into CIRM.
“They’ve written us a letter making a formal request, and that’s now in the process of being presented to the commission. It hasn’t been presented to the commission yet,” he said.
The commission has not decided when to take up the issue at a formal meeting, Drown added.
The issue of CIRM’s governance sparked an audit by Controller John Chiang that largely gave the agency a clean bill of health by concluding that CIRM followed all but one of its own policies intended to minimize conflicts of board members between their duties as overseers of the agency, and their duties to their employer institutions.
Chiang found fault with CIRM over a single issue: the institute’s failure to require specialists used by the agency’s Grants Working Group to sign statements after their meetings declaring they would not disclose financial and other confidential information of grant applicants, and that their dealings with applicants did not result in conflicts of interest. CIRM required the specialists to sign similar statements before their calls.
The audit and the bill came to life after John Reed, president of the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, Calif., and at the time also an ICOC board member, in August 2007 asked a CIRM administrator to reverse a decision rejecting a $638,000 grant request by Burnham — an apparent conflict of interest [BRN, Dec. 17, 2007].
Kuehl and George Runner (R-Antelope Valley) — the state Senate’s second-most powerful Republican — introduced SB 1565 in February. The measure also directed CIRM to require that its licensees and grant-funding recipients develop plans giving uninsured residents access to “any drug that is, in whole or in part, the result of research funded by” the agency — a provision preserved in the amended bill, which includes two additional co-authors, Sen. Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) and Assembly member Dave Jones (D-Sacramento), who chairs the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
SB 1565 was referred by the Assembly to its judiciary and health committees on May 22, seven days after the Senate approved the bill 40-0.
Report Predicts ‘Cleantech’ Cluster Could Add $1B to New England Economy by 2012
According to a new report by the New England Clean Energy Council and Topline Strategy, the creation of a clean technology, or “cleantech," cluster could bring an additional $1 billion in new investment to New England by 2012.
The report notes that New England is currently the nation's number-two cleantech region and that it has an opportunity to draw from an established base of entrepreneurial leaders in high tech, life sciences, and other sectors who may want to move into cleantech.
"The cleantech cluster in New England is still in its nascent stage," said Nick d'Arbeloff, executive director of the Clean Energy Council, in a statement. "As the cluster grows, seasoned entrepreneurs will be a critical ingredient. Without them, a new venture's ability to raise capital, package products for market, and successfully navigate obstacles in its path will be severely constrained."
According to the report, cleantech companies will attract between $1.8 billion and $2.8 billion in venture investment during the next five years, but a cluster of such companies could attract an additional $1 billion in investment.
RTP Braces for GSK Layoffs
North Carolina’s Triangle Business Journal reported last week that GlaxoSmithKline will likely lay off some workers at its Research Triangle Park, NC, operations as part of a broad plan to cut its global research and development headcount by 2 percent, or around 350 workers.
GSK employs around 5,000 people in RTP and around 1,000 at a manufacturing facility in Zebulon, NC, according to the paper.
GSK has not provided details of its layoff plans by location, “but RTP, along with Philadelphia, Italy, and GSK's London headquarters, will lose workers,” the paper reported.
GSK announced a $1.4 billion cost-cutting program in last October that resulted in the layoff of an unspecified number of RTP jobs in November and the layoff of 70 employees in Zebulon earlier this year.
NCCU Opens Biotech Job Training Center
North Carolina Central University last week opened the Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise, known as BRITE, a job-training facility designed to prepare students for work in drug manufacturing.
BRITE was created with a $20.1 million grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation, which distributes tobacco settlement money to economic growth initiatives.
North Carolina’s state legislature has approved $6 million in recurring funding to operate the building.
Phoenix Awards $5.6M to Bioscience High School Programs
The city of Phoenix, Ariz., has awarded two grants worth a total of $5.6 million to support high school bioscience programs in the region, the Phoenix Business Journal reported last week.
The city awarded Paradise Valley High School a $3.2 million grant to build a 14,960-square-foot bioscience high school and awarded $2.4 million to the Phoenix Union High School District to renovate a building on the campus of the district's Bioscience High School in downtown Phoenix.
Phoenix has invested a total of $195 million in bioscience projects since it began developing the Phoenix Biomedical Campus downtown in 2002, Jason Harris, deputy director of the city's Downtown Development Office, told the paper. Of that amount, $130 million has gone toward bioscience education.
Florida Community College Wins NSF Grant to Train Biotech Workers
Florida’s Indian River Community College has won a $327,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to help create a pipeline of biotechnology workers for the Port St. Lucie region, the Palm Beach Post reported last week.
Scripps Florida, which is building a campus in Jupiter, and the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies, which plans to move into a new building in Port St. Lucie late this year, are collaborating with IRCC on the program. Oregon-based Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute has also has committed to moving to the city, and plans to create at least 200 jobs in 10 years.
"Now that the workforce is starting to develop, we want to provide a larger pool of workers," Casey Lunceford, assistant dean of arts and sciences at Indian River Community College, told the paper.
The three-year grant will be used to develop a program called the Florida Biotechnology Regional Access Initiative, or Biotrain.
The college plans to develop curricula that will be integrated into a new two-year biotechnology degree program in Fort Pierce. It also will train high school teachers and offer certificate programs to workers already in the field.
ACT Moves HQ Back to Mass. After Calif. Lease Expires
Advanced Cell Technology has moved its headquarters back to Worcester, Mass., after relocating to California in early 2006 to take advantage of the state’s stem cell research funding, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported last week.
The company reported in its most recent annual filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that its headquarters is in Worcester, with office space in Los Angeles, the paper reported.
ACT moved its corporate headquarters to Alameda, Calif., in 2006, but it maintained a laboratory in Worcester. Its lease on a 15,250-square-foot facility in Alameda was due to expire May 31.
The SEC filing included no information on the status of the Alameda operation.
University at Buffalo Launches ’YourBusiness’ Website to Encourage Regional Partnerships
The State University of New York at Buffalo last week unveiled “YourBusiness,” a website designed to encourage businesses and other organizations to partner with the university.
UB launched the site as part of its annual UB Business Partners Day, in which it showcased ways that businesses and other community organizations in the Buffalo region have capitalized on the university’s technical resources and talent.
“At a time when increasing economic pressures are a nationwide issue and the Buffalo Niagara community faces new challenges, it is more critical than ever that UB not only bolsters its existing partnerships with business, government and the community, but that it actively reaches out to establish new ones with emerging companies and organizations,” Marsha Henderson, vice president for external affairs at UB, said in a statement.
The university has also launched the “UB 2020” plan, which involves growing the university by 40 percent by the year 2020. This would increase UB’s economic impact from $1.5 billion annually to $2.6 billion, according to a report by the UB Regional Institute.
According to the university, UB researchers have disclosed 385 new technologies and received 61 patents in the past five years and UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences has helped create more than 5,000 jobs in the region.
In addition, the UB Technology Incubator has helped create more than 1,000 new jobs over the past 20 years through partnerships with 63 companies that graduated from the incubator with annual revenues of $60 million.
UB said that it is currently responsible for generating 11,700 jobs in Buffalo Niagara. By 2020 it plans to be responsible for generating nearly 20,000 jobs.