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Deals & Doings: Jan 12, 2009


GlaxoSmithKline Sets April Target for Packaging at Marietta, Pa., Plant; Seeks FDA OK for Manufacturing Vaccines

GlaxoSmithKline said last week it expects to begin vaccine packaging at its newly-renovated $300 million Marietta, Pa., facility this spring pending approval by the US Food and Drug Administration, according to the Central Penn Business Journal of Harrisburg, Pa.

GSK said the 656,000-square-foot plant, which it bought from Wyeth in 2005, will be where the company plans to start packaging its Energix Hepatitis B vaccine starting in April. The pharma giant also wants to use the plant for manufacturing vaccines, but must first obtain FDA approval — a process it anticipates will take at least a year.

Virtually all of the vaccines sold by GSK in the US will be through the Lancaster County plant. GSK produces 30 vaccines, including those for seasonal and pandemic flu as well as for measles, mumps and rubella. The antigens used in the vaccines will be produced elsewhere, then shipped to Marietta, where they will be combined with other agents to form vaccines, measured into doses and then freeze dried and/or packaged for shipment.

Located some 70 miles west of Philadelphia, the facility will expand through 2013, adding about 90 more employees, to bring the total workforce to 270, GSK told the Business Journal.

Merck Outsources Atlanta, Reno, Nev., Distribution Center Operations to UPS

Merck & Co. has outsourced to United Parcel Service the operation of two distribution centers totaling some 200,000 square feet — one in Atlanta, the other in Reno, Nev. — in a cost-cutting move by the pharma giant. The value of the deal was not disclosed.

Under the deal, UPS will handle a "significant" proportion of Merck's pharmaceutical and vaccine distribution needs in the US, as well as providing package transportation services, the shipping giant said in a statement. UPS will provide Merck with temperature-sensitive storage, packaging and transportation services; and would use any spare capacity to provide similar services to other customers.

Most of Merck's pharmaceuticals and vaccines pass through the two distribution centers.

The deal raises UPS' total global healthcare capacity to over 3.5 million square feet.

Vision-Sciences Cancels 35K Sq. Ft. Lease for Expansion in Orangeburg, NY

Vision-Sciences, a medical device maker in Orangeburg, NY, disclosed last week that it has canceled a nearly 35,000-square-foot lease at 1 Ramland Road, just down the street from its current headquarters, ending plans for an expansion that would have created 71 new jobs.

Yoav Cohen, the company's corporate secretary, told the Journal Newsof White Plains, NY, that the lease was canceled after a bank seized the building in a foreclosure, and that Vision-Sciences did not want to be a tenant in a building owned by the bank. The 232,000-square-foot building had been owned by Ramland Realty Associates, an affiliate of Mack-Cali Realty, a publicly-traded real estate investment trust.

Vision-Sciences disclosed the cancellation in a Jan. 6 filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. The filing came two months after Vision-Sciences disclosed in another filing that it had come to a disagreement with its landlord over the cost of renovations, resulting in a delay in the work from the original completion month of December.

The company had planned to use 1 Ramland Road, formerly occupied by WMC Mortgage, as a consolidated facility that would incorporate not only headquarters operations now at 40 Ramland Road, but a facility in Natick, Mass. Vision-Sciences ultimately remained in Natick but cut its staff there by 50 percent, the newspaper reported, without saying how many people worked in Natick before or after the job cuts.

Vision-Sciences received approval for a lower-tax "Empire Zone" status tied to the promise of future jobs for the 1 Ramland Road site from the state Empire State Development Corp., New York's economic development agency.

The company will now add 3,500 square feet to the 16,500 square feet it now occupies at 40 Ramland Road, where 92 employees are now based, Cohen told the Journal News.

Brain Sciences Institute Takes 25K Sq. Ft. at Science+Technology Park at Johns Hopkins

The Brain Sciences Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine will move into 25,000 square feet on the second floor at 855 North Wolfe St., also called the John G. Rangos Sr. Building, within the Science + Technology Park at Johns Hopkins in East Baltimore. BSI will co-locate with new lab space used by the Johns Hopkins Neurology Department.

Founded in March 2007, BSI was established to help stimulate advances in fundamental neuroscience, and translate new discoveries into novel treatments for major neurological diseases.

Colliers Pinkard represented the Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership, which has developed a campus slated to grow into a 1.1 million-square-foot science park as part of a planned multi-billion-dollar, mixed-use redevelopment of East Baltimore. The partnership is a venture of Forest City Science+Technology Group and Presidential Partners, a minority-business consortium of Baltimore-based developers.

With the BSI deal, the Rangos building has leased 52 percent of its available 278,000 square feet, Scott Levitan, Forest City's senior vice president and development director, told the Baltimore Examiner.

Levitan also told the newspaper he expects the property will be completely leased by the end of 2009 or early 2010, following leases with many of the prospective tenants now in talks with the partnership.

PPD buys 130K-Sq. Ft. Merck Vaccine Testing Facility in Wayne, Pa.

Contract research organization Pharmaceutical Product Development has purchased for an undisclosed price a 130,000 square-foot vaccine testing and assay development laboratory in Wayne, Pa., from Merck & Co., a deal PPD said in a statement "significantly expands [our] overall global central laboratory business, adding world-class vaccine and biologic testing, assay development, and sample storage capabilities to its current suite of laboratory services."

The deal, whose terms have not been disclosed, also requires PPD to provide central laboratory and sample storage services to Merck for its clinical development activities over five years. The transaction closed on Dec. 31, 2008.

The company also said it plans to invest in the lab by developing new technologies and assays to expand its immunochemistry and oncology vaccine testing services, as well as biologics lab services for other biopharmaceutical clients.

Bayer CropScience Subsidiary Nunhems Moves US Research Facilities to Davis, Calif.

Dutch-owned Nunhems, a subsidiary of Bayer CropScience focused on vegetable seed breeding, has moved its US research laboratory activities from Brooks, Ore., to Davis, Calif. The relocation involved the transfer of molecular and cell biology laboratories as well as the company's produce quality analysis facilities. Brooks will continue to serve as a major breeding station.

Johan Peleman, Nunhems managing director for R&D, said in a statement the move will allow Nunhems to carry out research around the corner from the University of California at Davis, enabling the company to set up collaborations with select laboratories.

Two Biotech Companies Explore Massachusetts Sites for New Plants

Two unidentified life sciences companies are considering developing large biotechnology manufacturing plants in Massachusetts, the Boston Globe reported, citing as its source the Massachusetts Alliance for Economic Development, a private nonprofit group that promotes job attraction efforts statewide.

One company is searching for a 100,000-square-foot building with an existing 20,000-liter fermentation facility, a type of plant typically used to manufacture biotech drugs or ingredients. The other company is searching for 25 to 35 acres of flat land close to Worcester to build a 650,000-square-foot biotech manufacturing plant, which would be used to develop new drugs, according to the report.

An MAED official cautioned that both companies, working through site selection consultants, appear to be in the early stages of scouting locations: "I don't think we have that good a feeling for how much of a chance we have," Douglas Kehlhem, director of corporate site location for the alliance, told the Globe.

JCVI Cuts Staff, Consolidates Sequencing Operations

The J. Craig Venter Institute last month consolidated its Rockville, Md., sequencing operations into its main campus, and as a result, eliminated 29 sequencing staff positions. The not-for-profit genomic research institute shut down its large DNA sequencing facility in Rockville in October, it said in a statement, and moved its sequencing team to its main Rockville campus.

"The reduction in staff announced today is a direct result of a technology shift and is not a reflection of the tough economic times that we are all facing in the United States today," J. Craig Venter, founder and president of JCVI, said in the statement. "JCVI has been awarded in excess of $13 million in competitive grants and contracts in 2008 alone and does not anticipate any additional staff reductions."

He noted that JCVI, like other sequencing centers, has been replacing its older Sanger sequencing technologies with the latest-generation of DNA sequencing machines. "While technological advances bring breakthroughs to many aspects of science, unfortunately they also come at a cost, which is that fewer people are needed to run the large facilities and many machines that were once needed," said Venter.

A JCVI spokesperson said that the institute has no plans to open any new large-scale sequencing centers.

The Scan

Genome Sequences Reveal Range Mutations in Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells

Researchers in Nature Genetics detect somatic mutation variation across iPSCs generated from blood or skin fibroblast cell sources, along with selection for BCOR gene mutations.

Researchers Reprogram Plant Roots With Synthetic Genetic Circuit Strategy

Root gene expression was altered with the help of genetic circuits built around a series of synthetic transcriptional regulators in the Nicotiana benthamiana plant in a Science paper.

Infectious Disease Tracking Study Compares Genome Sequencing Approaches

Researchers in BMC Genomics see advantages for capture-based Illumina sequencing and amplicon-based sequencing on the Nanopore instrument, depending on the situation or samples available.

LINE-1 Linked to Premature Aging Conditions

Researchers report in Science Translational Medicine that the accumulation of LINE-1 RNA contributes to premature aging conditions and that symptoms can be improved by targeting them.