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CIRM Drug Accessibility/Governance Bill, Michigan Embryonic Stem Cell Referendum, National Bio-and Agro-Defense Facility, Cleveland-Pittsburgh Biosciences Tech Belt, Glenmont Partners, George Mason Enterprise Center, Town of Leesburg Economic Development


California Assembly, Senate Pass Amended CIRM Drug Accessibility/Governance Bill
California’s Assembly on Aug. 25 advanced to a third reading, then unanimously passed, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act (Senate Bill 1565). Four days later, the state Senate concurred in the Assembly’s vote by approving amendments made to the bill since its introduction last year, by a 37 to 1 vote — clearing the way for the bill to be delivered to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The lone vote against the measure — and the first ‘no’ vote since the bill as introduced — was cast by state Sen. Tom Torlakson, who chairs the chamber’s Appropriations Committee.
The measure requires that in return for accepting funding from the state stem cell agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, drug developers “provide drugs to California state and local government funded programs” at any of three benchmark prices in the California Discount Prescription Drug Program, unless waived from the rule by CIRM’s governing board, the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee.
The bill also commits the state Legislature to request a study of CIRM’s governance and its vulnerability to conflicts of interest by a state-created government watchdog agency, the Milton Marks, or “Little Hoover,” Commission on California State Government Organization and Economy.
The study is an attempt to avoid a recurrence of an incident last year in which John Reed, president of the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, Calif., and, at the time, an ICOC board member, asked a CIRM administrator to reverse a decision rejecting a $638,000 grant request by Burnham. The event touched off an audit of CiRM by state Controller John Chiang [BRN, Dec. 17, 2007] — an audit 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 [BRN, May 19].

Referendum Lifting Michigan’s hESC Research Limits Advances to Nov. 4 Ballot
Backers of the ballot proposal to lift Michigan's restrictions on human embryonic stem-cell research have collected enough signatures for the state Board of State Canvassers to approve placing the question before voters on Nov. 4. State election officials told several local news outlets the stem-cell campaign collected 498,000 signatures, well over the 380,126 needed.
A coalition of life sciences, academic, and political leaders called the Stem Cell Research Ballot Question Committee, or CureMichigan, has argued that the proposed amendment will benefit Michigan’s life-sci industry as much as the lives of patients. But a coalition of amendment opponents, Michigan Citizens Against Unrestricted Science and Experimentation, or MiCAUSE, contends the amendment will lead to unrestricted experimentation on human embryos, end legal hurdles to their destruction, and legalize human cloning, now banned by state law [BRN, July 14].

Person County, NC, Commissioners Quash Anti-NBAF Resolutions
The Person County, NC, Board of Commissioners has passed up two opportunities to declare opposition to the proposed $451 million National Bio-and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF, proposed for the neighboring Granville County community of Butner, NC, according to the Courier-Times of Roxboro, NC.
On Aug. 18 at the outset of a commissioners’ board meeting, Vice Chairman Jimmy Clayton offered a different, three-paragraph resolution of opposition to the biolab and moved for its adoption by his colleagues. Clayton’s proposed resolution said commissioners were “concerned about the safety of its citizens and protecting the public health and environment,” and that the proposed biolab would introduce “the possibility of dangerous or hazardous material from the lab being shipped to the regional landfill located in Person County, that could cause disease, death and the quarantine of the surrounding area.”
However, no commissioner would second the resolution, effectively quashing it. “I believe that the only purpose this resolution would serve would be to make it more difficult for us to get jobs here in Person County, and therefore, I will not second it,” Commissioner Larry Yarborough said.
During a public comment period, Clayton’s resolution proposal was opposed by James (Jim) Stovall, chair of the Roxboro Person County Economic Development Group, who called it premature. But resident Kay Reynolds urged commissioners to side with NBAF opponents: “I am for economic development, but this is disastrous development.”
It marked the second time in two weeks that the board turned down a request to oppose NBAF. On Aug. 4, a representative from the environmental group Person County PRIDE presented a two-page resolution of opposition to NBAF for the board to consider. But commissioners took no action, only committing to take PRIDE’s request under advisement.
North Carolina is one of five states under consideration by the US Department of Homeland Security as the site of its planned 520,000-square-foot biolab. DHS and the US Department of Agriculture have contended they need the biolab because the existing 1950s-built Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York is too small and increasingly too outdated to carry out the volume and quantity of testing needed to protect the nation’s $1 trillion agricultural industry from the potentially catastrophic results of a bioterror attack on livestock.
But NBAF has come under fire from opponents, who in North Carolina argued that the facility holds the potential for a catastrophic escape of pathogens into the surrounding community, as well as into the watershed encompassing the Neuse River basin, Holt Lake, and Falls Lake, which serves Butner and communities stretching into the city of Raleigh.
The public-private North Carolina Consortium for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility last month suspended its advocacy campaign to house the facility within 195 undeveloped acres at the Granville County portion of the 4,035-acre North Carolina Department of Agriculture Umstead Research Farm in Butner.
The consortium acted following opposition to NBAF from the Granville Nonviolent Action Team, or GNAT, and other groups and individuals. They persuaded officials from local governments in and around the project site to either declare opposition to the project, or backtrack on earlier approvals [BRN, Aug. 18].

Cleveland-Pittsburgh ‘Biosciences Tech Belt’ Touts First-Year Successes in Drawing Talent, Capital
The “Biosciences Tech Belt,” a strategic collaboration between the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse and Cleveland-based BioEnterprise, said in a statement it enjoyed “significant success” drawing both life science professionals and capital to the region during 2007.
Among accomplishments cited by the Tech Belt:
  • Attraction of $343 million in healthcare venture investment in 2007 across 45 companies.
  • Eight company exits including those of Renal Solutions (by Fresenius), MemberHealth (Universal American), and USB (Affymetrix) in 2007, and several additional in 2008, including WholeHealth (Walgreen), NDI Medical (Medtronic), and Theken (Integra).
  • Exploration of 18 company collaborations, as well as “numerous” cross-introductions of venture capital firms.
  • The opening of regional offices by several venture firms, including Chrysalis Ventures, Draper Triangle Ventures, and iNetworks.
The “Biosciences Tech Belt” initiative is the first piece of a larger “Tech Belt” initiative designed to link the Pittsburgh and Cleveland region across all industries. 
BioEnterprise is a business formation, recruitment, and acceleration effort designed to support the growth of bioscience companies. Its partners include Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and Summa Health System. Additional technology partners include the NASA Glenn Research Center, Cleveland State University, NorTech, and BioOhio. The Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse provides capital investments and company formation and business growth services to the region’s life sciences enterprises.

New Venture Capital Firm, Glenmont Partners, Launched in Northeastern Pennsylvania
Northeastern Pennsylvania is about to get another venture capital fund. The managing partners of Glenmont Partners — Jeffrey Wetherbee, Laura Mann and Dara Shareef — have spent the past year raising money toward a $50 million fund focused on early-stage life sciences and other technology companies in the region. The firm is based in Albany, Pa., and has recently selected Scranton, Pa., as the site of its newest branch, the Times-Tribune of Scranton reported.

The partners, who recently received a state investment of $1.5 million, have raised $12 million since starting it in January. They plan to invest $6 million in early-stage Pennsylvania technology companies focused on biotechnology and medical devices, as well as advanced materials, nanotechnology, imaging, and telecommunications. The firm told the newspaper it looks to fund startups with detailed business plans and well-tested prototypes that are close to being launched.

“One of the things that really excited us is there are not many venture capital funds investing in early-stage companies, and therefore there’s a lot of opportunity. And because of the lack of demand for that kind of company, the valuations of the companies we invest in are very reasonable,” Wetherbee said in an interview with all three managing partners with the newspaper.


George Mason Enterprise Center Launches Business Incubator Study for Town of Leesburg, Va.
Keith Segerson, director of the George Mason [University] Enterprise Center and assistant dean at the university's School of Public Policy, has recently signed a contract to conduct a feasibility study that will explore the possibility of a business incubator setting up in town, the newspaper Leesburg Today reported.

The up-to-$20,000 study, which is being paid for through the Economic Development Department, is expected to take six to seven months to prepare, and to be completed in early 2009. Segerson told the newspaper the study would focus on the feasibility of locating an incubator or accelerator in the town.

The study will also examine whether industry-specific incubators or accelerators, such as in the fields of biomedical research, biotechnology or retail, would be appropriate for the area.

Ann Arbor SPARK Gears Up for Next Distribution Phase of Michigan Innovation Equipment Depot
Ann Arbor SPARK, a group focused on economic development in and around Ann Arbor, Mich, said it will soon launch the next phase of distributing surplus research and technical equipment donated by Pfizer and other companies to life sciences startups across the state through the Michigan Innovation Equipment Depot. 

MIED's phase four will make available 350 pieces of technical equipment previously donated by Pfizer. To date, MIED has provided more than 900 pieces of equipment to nearly 100 Michigan startups. This latest distribution is part of the $4.5 million in surplus lab equipment donated in January by Pfizer's Ann Arbor site.

MIED is supported by $550,000 in funding from Michigan's 21st Century Jobs Fund.

Life science companies throughout the state can apply for equipment currently available through phase four of MIED, including high-value items like micro and mass spectrometers, UV Vis detectors, and GC systems.  All equipment dispersed through MIED is available to qualifying companies for licensed use for one percent of its value, which ranges from $5,000 to $25,000.

A current list of equipment available through MIED, and an application for equipment through the program, is available here.


Two Massachusetts Life Sciences Leaders Highlight Business Forum Series
The Beverly, Mass., law firm Colucci Norman has announced a speaker line-up for its 2008/2009 business forum series that includes two Massachusetts life sciences leaders.
Robert Coughlin, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, will speak at the Sept. 23 kickoff forum. He will introduce the audience to the council, discuss the state’s growing life sciences cluster, and assess the impact of the Small Business Innovation Research grant program on the state’s life science industry.
On Jan. 15, 2009, Susan Windham-Bannister, CEO and president of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, will headline a forum. The center is the quasi-public state agency created in 2006 to promote the state’s life sciences industry. The center oversees the $1 billion, 10-year Massachusetts Life Sciences Initiative signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick on June 16.
There is no charge to attend the Colucci Norman LLP 2008/2009 Business Forums, which take place at 100 Cummings Center, Conference Room Suite 221-E, in Beverly. Events starts at 7:30 a.m. with registration and breakfast. The program runs from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Registrations for the forums are taken here.

UPMC Plans Opening of 25 Cancer Centers in Mideast, Europe
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center wants to open 25 cancer centers in Europe and the Middle East in the next 10 years. The centers would be operated similarly to UPMC facilities in Ireland, Chuck Bogosta, executive vice president of UPMC and president of its international and commercial services division, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Like UPMC’s facilities in Dublin and Waterford, Ireland, which provide mostly radiation therapy and have opened in the past two years, the 25 facilities planned by UPMC would operate under a special agreement with a host government that would pay for a “large” portion of costs, Bogosta told the newspaper. The goal, he said, was to open about two centers every year: "Our primary target is the Middle East and Europe."
Overseas, UPMC also operates an organ transplant center and specialized hospital in Palermo, Sicily, that opened in 2004. A biomedical research and biotechnology center is expected to open in Sicily in 2010, a result of a long-standing UPMC relationship with the Italian government. Most recently, the health giant has been in talks with the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where UPMC would provide high-end health care services.
UPMC will seek sites overseas through a market analysis to be overseen by a newly-hired executive who previously worked for General Electric, Katie Taylor. She will be based in Paris — allowing UPMC to save a projected $500,000 in travel costs, Bogosta told the Tribune-Review.
UPMC has administrative offices in Rome and Dublin, and earlier this year relocated its headquarters to the US Steel Building in downtown Pittsburgh.

Life Sciences Consultant Among Finalists for Team Massachusetts Economic Impact Awards
Court Square Group of Springfield, Mass., a consultant for biotechnology and other life sciences companies, is among five businesses that have been named finalists for 2008 Team Massachusetts Economic Impact Awards from the Massachusetts Alliance for Economic Development.
Winners will be announced in November.  The other four nominees are Liberty Mutual; Performance Food Group; and two plastics manufacturers, Solutia and Hardigg Industries. All are based in Springfield, except for Hardigg, which is in South Deerfield, Mass.

Johnson County, Kans., Voters to Decide Sales Tax Hike for New ‘Research Triangle’
Johnson County, Kans., voters will decide through a Nov. 4 Election Day referendum whether to increase the current county sales tax by one-eighth of a cent — 12.5 cents extra on each $100 retail purchase — with officials promising the money will be used for funding a set of bioscience and education projects.
The planned Johnson County Education Research Triangle would be created through a partnership of the University of Kansas and Kansas State University, with the goal of creating more degree programs and research in Johnson.
The triangle is named for its three anchor projects, to be built in Johnson County with the extra sales tax money: The Business, Engineering, Science and Technology Center at the University of Kansas Edwards Campus in Overland Park; the National Food Safety and Animal Health Institute at Kansas State University’s Innovation Campus in Olathe; and the University of Kansas Cancer Clinical Research Center in Fairway.
Fred Logan, a Prairie Village, Kans., lawyer and the chairman of the committee working for approval of the tax, told the Greater Kansas City Community Newspaper Group the triangle would be as important for education and economic development over the next generation as the county’s library system, community college, and unified K-12 school system have been. the triangle would be as important for education and economic development over the next generation as the county’s library system, community college, and unified K-12 school system have been.
Logan and other proponents say the research triangle would bring an estimated $1.4 billion in economic development to the county in the next two decades. KU and KSU have also promised to provide $50,000 in scholarships to Johnson County residents to use Triangle programs and research in return for a “yes” vote. Other arguments for the research triangle appear on the initiative’s web site.
But at least one opposition voice has surfaced. Tracy Thomas, a former president of the Shawnee, Kans., City Council, has launched BermudaTriangleNO, a blog that contends the research triangle is an unwise use of the $15 million that the latest proposed tax hike is projected to generate.
“Any profits from intellectual property will never come out of this Bermuda Triangle to the taxpayers,” Thomas told the Kansas City Star.
The referendum would mark the second time this year that county voters have been asked to raise the sales tax in Johnson. On Aug. 5, a 53-percent majority voted to raise the sales tax by one-quarter cent, in order to fund an expansion and future operations of the Adult Detention Center at the New Century AirCenter near Gardner, Kans.; convert the downtown Olathe, Kans., jail into a booking facility; and build a new juvenile services complex and a crime laboratory.

University of Memphis Seeks Medical Device Companies for ‘Customer-Driven’ MBA Program
The University of Memphis said it is seeking to team up with medical-device companies to provide newly recruited employees with a full-tuition-paid global MBA degree. The program is aimed at educating and training managers from mid-level and above in globalized general business and specific medical industry subjects.

The two-year, full-time, “Customer-Driven MBA” of UM’s Fogelman College of Business & Economics will combine learning in core business subjects, with knowledge of the med device industry and corporate management skills through internships. The program is designed to train students in fundamental governance and ethics, emotional intelligence, teamwork and leadership, and critical thinking, creativity, innovation and problem-solving.

A key component of the two-year program will be internships with sponsoring medical device companies stretching 10 hours a week during the academic year, and full-time during the summer. Students who complete the program will be guaranteed employment with their sponsoring companies at “competitive” salaries, the university said in a statement.

Courses in the MBA program include health care economics, buyer behavior, global supply chain management in the biomedical field, and new product development.

Students will each receive tuition payment, plus a $36,000 stipend, for the duration of their enrollment. The program will start in the fall of 2009. An initial enrollment of about 30 students is expected, with that number expected to increase as the program grows. Additional information is available here.

India’s Union Cabinet Approves Creation of National Agri-Food Biotech Institute in Knowledge City
India’s Union Cabinet has formally approved creation of a National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute in Sector 81 of the planned Knowledge City in Mohali, Punjab. Cabinet ministers approved a budget of Rs 380 crore ($86.8 million) to be spent during the next five years on the NABI, which will be an autonomous institution under the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology.
Officials expect NABI to play a key role in carrying out Indian biotechnology programs and drawing researchers to the nation in agriculture biotechnology, food science and technology, and nutritional science and technology.
The cabinet also gave its approval for establishment of a bioprocessing unit at Knowledge City.
The Greater Mohali Area Development Authority had acquired 381 acres of land in Sector 81, to set up an integrated Knowledge City, last year. The work on this land was kick-started on Sept. 26, 2006, with the laying of the foundation stone by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
NABI would be the fourth premier institute at Knowledge City after the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research, the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, and the Indian Institute of Nanotechnology. NIPER, the nation’s first institute to be set up in Mohali, is functioning from its campus in Sector 67. The IISER is functioning from its transit campus at the Mahatma Gandhi State Institute of Public Administration in Sector 26, Chandigarh, since August 2007. The IIN, meanwhile, is all set to start functioning during the next academic session.

The Scan

Myotonic Dystrophy Repeat Detected in Family Genome Sequencing Analysis

While sequencing individuals from a multi-generation family, researchers identified a myotonic dystrophy type 2-related short tandem repeat in the European Journal of Human Genetics.

TB Resistance Insights Gleaned From Genome Sequence, Antimicrobial Response Assays

Researchers in PLOS Biology explore M. tuberculosis resistance with a combination of sequencing and assays looking at the minimum inhibitory concentrations of 13 drugs.

Mendelian Disease Genes Prioritized Using Tissue-Specific Expression Clues

Mendelian gene candidates could be flagged for further functional analyses based on tissue-specific transcriptome and proteome profiles, a new Journal of Human Genetics paper says.

Single-Cell Sequencing Points to Embryo Mosaicism

Mosaicism may affect preimplantation genetic tests for aneuploidy, a single-cell sequencing-based analysis of almost three dozen embryos in PLOS Genetics finds.