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Deals & Doings, Jan 26, 2009


Economy Freezes Expansion Plans for NC's PTRP, Alexandria-Developed Lab Space at George Mason Univ.

The economic upheaval has frozen expansion plans for a pair of projects in neighboring Southeastern states. The Piedmont Triad Research Park in Winston-Salem, NC, has held off on previously announced plans to redevelop 60 acres of the campus now occupied by buildings vacated about a decade ago by Reynolds American predecessor RJ Reynolds Tobacco, PTRP Director Bill Dean told BioRegion News last week.

"Right now, that's still in process and in discussion and in deliberations. Like everything else, with the economy, we will act cautiously," Dean told BRN in an interview focused on his new role as chairman of the North Carolina Research Park Network (See Q&A, this issue).

"The primary thing for us is to provide a development that can bring about improvements in our technologies that are going to improve the economic base of the Triad region and create jobs. That's focus number one for us in the future — influencing the value proposition, if you will, for our community," Dean added.

PTRP and Baltimore developer Struever Bros. Eccles and Rouse have formed a partnership and have discussed redeveloping 2.19 million square feet of space within the tech park's northern district. Both parties have discussed transforming the site into a mix of biomedical, residential, and neighborhood retail uses. [BRN, Feb. 25, 2008; Dec. 3, 2007].

In neighboring Virginia, George Mason University officials told the Washington (DC) Business Journal that Alexandria Real Estate Equities has notified the school it will not start construction as planned on an 80,000-square-foot facility that would have included 50,000 of speculative lab and incubator space for startups, and 30,000 square feet of wet labs for the university. The facility was set to be completed in 2010, but will open at least two years behind schedule.

"We were caught by surprise by the decision," Vikas Chandhoke, dean of GMU's College of Sciences, told the newspaper. "Now we have put everything back on the drawing board."

For GMU, "everything" means reconsidering bids from six other developers that sought to join the university as a co-developer of the project; as well as requesting subsidies for the project from the Virginia and Fairfax County governments — a proposition the Business Journal warned could be risky because both governments are cash-strapped. Virginia is struggling to plug a $2.9 billion budget shortfall; Fairfax County, a $500 million deficit.

GMU has projected its lab space would cost $300 to $400 per square foot to build out, or up to $12 million for its 30,000-square-foot portion. A total project cost has not been made public.

Covance Gears Up for Opening of New Drug Testing Lab Site in Chandler, Ariz.

Covance has started moving equipment into a 280,000-square-foot complex in Chandler, Ariz., after city officials granted final approval for the contract research organization's plans to transform the site into a new drug testing laboratory set to open in a couple of months.

Covance expects to begin operations around the end of March at the $150 million facility, at 2701 E. Ryan Road, spokeswoman Camilla Strongin told the East Valley Tribune of Mesa, Ariz. The company is installing some 7,000 pieces of equipment, a process it said will take several months.

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The lab will provide drug-development services for major pharmaceutical firms, testing the toxicity of new compounds before they are used in humans. Because the work involves animal testing, the project has been opposed by animal-rights activists, who have protested at the construction site and appealed to public officials to keep the project from being built. In addition to arguing that the facility will abuse animals, project opponents have also alleged that the project will worsen area air and water pollution, and increase the risk of public exposure to toxic chemicals and exotic diseases — contentions strongly denied by the Princeton, NJ-based CRO.

The group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine sued Chandler officials in Maricopa County Superior Court in 2007 seeking to stop the project, only to see the suit dismissed in February 2008. Also last year, the Arizona attorney general's office ruled the city did not violate the state's Open Meeting Laws, rejecting a contention by the physicians group.

Covance originally planned to locate the lab at Price and Germann roads in the Price technology corridor but avoided a zoning battle by moving the project instead to a 77-acre parcel at Gilbert and Ryan roads.

The company has about 80 employees working in Chandler, a figure that will rise to between 200 to 300 employees once work begins, the Tribune reported. The first phase covers only 27 acres of the 77-acre site, giving Covance plenty of room to expand. The Chandler facility is intended to serve the company's clients on the West Coast.

Chandler officials have said Covance could eventually conduct human clinical trials at the site and employ thousands — as well as serve as an anchor that could lure additional life sciences employers to a city that already has 15 biotech companies with a combined 650 employees, Christine Mackey, Chandler's economic development director, told the newspaper.

URI Opens $59M Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences, with Top Floor Unfinished

Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri and administrators from the University of Rhode Island teamed up to cut a ceremonial ribbon marking the end of construction for the $59 million, 140,000-square-foot Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences at URI's Kingston campus — though not the completion of the five-level facility, which opened for classes last week.

The center's top floor will remain unfinished until URI can raise the $5 million needed to complete the administrative offices and research space planned there, Jeff Seeman, dean of URI's College of the Environment and Life Sciences, told the Providence Journal. A classroom has been finished on the top floor and is being used.

The $5 million comprises most of an approximately $9 million cost overrun at the facility, for which state voters approved the state issuing $50 million in bonds in 2004. URI has, however, raised $3 million through federal grants, and $1 million through a donation from biotech giant Amgen.

"We continue to aggressively look for money," Seeman told the Journal. "But this is a bad time to look for money from private and company sources."

The center — the largest building project in URI history — includes facilities to support genomics, proteomics, and DNA sequencing [GenomeWeb Daily News, April 9, 2007].

And while the URI Foundation, an independent fundraising arm of the university, has raised $84 million toward its $100-million capital campaign set to be finished next December, most of that money is earmarked for purposes other than the biotech center, including undergraduate scholarships, endowed faculty chairs and athletics, Glen Kerkian, the foundation president, told the newspaper.

URI has asked state lawmakers to release $5.1 million in capital projects funds to finish the building — a request Carcieri included in his supplementary budget proposal.

State Rep. Eileen S. Naughton (D-Warwick), a member of the state House Finance Committee, told the Journal she would prefer to see incubator space for start-up companies included on the top floor instead of administrative offices: "Incubator space and the promise of job creation was part of the initial vision that sold the voters on this project."

While original plans for the center included incubator space, URI has since opted for additional classrooms and research labs, while saying that space for startups will be built in the research and technology park envisioned for development on campus over the next several years — but not under active development.

South San Francisco, Calif., Warehouse/Distribution Plan Could Help Grow City Biotech Sector

The new owner of the 26-acre SFO Logistics Center in South San Francisco, Calif., has filed applications with the city to give the 572,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution facility, on San Mateo Avenue near San Francisco International Airport, a $23 million upgrade and modernization, the San Francisco Business Times reported.

Centrum Properties is seeking approvals renovate the entire building with 32 new loading docks, tenant upgrades, and five new smaller buildings averaging about 10,000 square feet. The project is expected to free up additional acres for redevelopment on the biotech-heavy east side of US Highway 101, Marty Van Duyn, director of South San Francisco's Economic and Community Development Department, told the newspaper.

Centrum and an equity partner, Angelo, Gordon & Co., purchased the property for $36.5 million from the US General Services Agency in August 2008. The property was formerly a half-empty warehouse for the US Postal Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

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QED to Double Workforce, add Manufacturing Space on Cleveland's East Side

Quality Electrodynamics, a medical imaging startup on Cleveland's East Side, announced plans on Jan. 22 to double its workforce from about 40 to 80 employees, and add to its manufacturing space in the coming year, the Plain Dealer reported.

QED, which opened in Mayfield, Ohio, three years ago, now occupies 7,200 square feet of office and manufacturing space, a figure that will expand to 27,000 square feet.

QED hires a new employee weekly, Hiroyuki Fujita, president and CEO, told the newspaper. QED released five new products last year and plans to release two more products — improved versions of coils used in MRI machines and other medical equipment — in the next few months, he added.

The company is on track to earn more than $10 million this year, Fujita said. QED coils have attracted customers that include Toshiba, Siemens, and General Electric.

The region has nearly 50 imaging companies with nearly 3,000 employees, according to BioEnterprise, a Cleveland-based nonprofit business development company. Toshiba and GE have operations within the region, as do Philips Medical Systems and Hitachi Medical Systems.

With $2M Grant from Indiana, PDS Biotechnology Moving Cincinnati Operations

PDS Biotechnology has received a $2 million grant from Indiana's 21st Century Research and Technology Fund toward a planned relocation of its Cincinnati headquarters and laboratory to Indianapolis.

PDS, a developer of disease-destroying nanotechnology, will move into a yet-to-be announced site in Indianapolis. There, it plans to develop its Versamune platform technology, which allows for delivery of targeted nanoparticles to the body's immune system, stimulating it to destroy infections and cancers, starting with incurable cancers associated with the human papillomavirus. PDS is completing preclinical development of its technology in collaboration with the US National Cancer Institute's Nanotechnology Characterization Lab, and plans to begin clinical trials in the next 18 months.

PDS Biotech is one of 63 businesses to receive more than a total $82 million from the 21st Century Fund since January 2006.

HHS Awards $487M Contract to Novartis for First US Cell-Based Influenza Vaccine Manufacturing Facility

The US Department of Health and Human Services has awarded a $487 million multi-year contract with Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics to build the first US facility to manufacture a cell-based vaccine for seasonal and pandemic flu. The new facility is expected to increase the US capacity to make pandemic influenza vaccine by at least 25 percent.

Robin Robinson of the HHS' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority told In-PharmaTechnologist,com that the plant will allow the US to produce sufficient quantities of vaccine within six months, faster than the timeframe of traditional egg-based manufacturing methods.

Under the contract, announced earlier this month by HHS, the agency and Novartis will split the cost of building the new cell-based influenza vaccine manufacturing facility in Holly Springs, NC. Novartis will cover 60 percent of the plant construction cost; HHS, the remaining 40 percent.

Novartis will also provide two new flu vaccines for seasonal flu or for pre-pandemic use. The new contract also will fund clinical bridging studies to compare existing Novartis vaccines to new ones, including those developed in the new facility. If licensed by the FDA, the new cell-based vaccines made in the US could be purchased for by the federal government for vaccine stockpiles.

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New Jersey-Based Biotechnology Start-Up Nexomics Signs Licensing Agreement with Rutgers

Nexomics Bioscience, a Highland Park, NJ-based biotechnology company, has signed a comprehensive license agreement with Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. The accord provides Nexomics rights to a portfolio of intellectual property, including a suite of bioinformatics software and an early stage antibiotic screening methodology.

The agreement also gives Nexomics rights to use and further develop a novel ribosomal RNA methyltransferase assay that has applications in control of bacterial gene expression, control of bacterial growth, antibacterial chemistry, and antibacterial therapy.

An additional agreement has been announced with the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine, a research and teaching center that provides Nexomics access to laboratory space and equipment. Under the service agreement, Nexomics will have access to a number of scientific facilities supporting molecular biology, fermentation, protein purification, and nuclear magnetic resonance.

Kowa Deal Brings BioMed Realty's Center for Life Science | Boston to 91 Percent Leased

Japanese-owned Kowa Company, a conglomerate with a pharmaceutical division that focuses on fighting diseases such as arteriosclerosis, kidney disorder and diabetes, has agreed to lease the approximately 24,400-square-foot 17th floor at the Center for Life Science | Boston, the 700,000-square-foot research building now under construction in Boston's Longwood Medical Area.

The Kowa deal, plus an earlier agreement in which Children's Hospital Boston agreed to expand its space, bring the center to about 91 percent leased, Biomed said in a press release.

Makoto Life Sciences Bolts Cambridge, Mass., for New Expanded HQ in Bedford, Mass.

Makoto Life Sciences, a Cambridge, Mass., drug developer specializing in small molecule target identification, has relocated its headquarters offices and laboratories to Bedford, Mass., from Cambridge, Mass. — a move that continues the trend of Boston/Cambridge biotech companies migrating west, north and even south in search of cheaper rents and lower operating costs.

Makoto has agreed to a long-term sublease of its new space, within the entire 20,000-square-foot 15 DeAngelo Dr., from sub-landlord Applied Biosystems, a business unit of Life Technologies. Located between Route 3 and Interstate 95, the building is owned by Alexandria Real Estate Equities. Makoto moved to the Bedford building from about 7,000 square feet at 124 Mt. Auburn St. in Cambridge

"The decision to move to Bedford was based on accessibility of the building to employees; homes, future growth opportunities and economics," Terry Russell, CEO of Makoto Life Sciences, said in a statement.

Jonathan Varholak, Chris McCauley, and Eric Smith of Richards Barry Joyce & Partners represented Makoto; while Cushman & Wakefield represented Applied Biosystems.

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Wisconsin Commerce Dept. Awards $100K Loan to Eso-Technologies, Inc. in Waukesha County

Eso-Technologies of Hartland, Wis., a medical device maker focused on monitoring cardiovascular function, has been approved for a $100,000 Technology Venture Fund loan from the state Department of Commerce. The department has also certified the company as a Qualified New Business Venture eligible for early stage and angel investment under the state's Act 255, Gov. Jim Doyle announced last week.

Founded in 2007, Eso-Technologies has developed an esophageal monitoring device designed to be less expensive, less invasive, and more effective than today's pulmonary catheters. The device is also designed for expansion to provide additional monitoring and therapeutic capabilities.

Eso-Technologies will use the state loan for prototype development, clinical trials, and related activities. Total project cost is $3 million.

University of Iowa Opens $8.5M Facility in Coralville with State's Largest Wet Lab Incubator

The University of Iowa has opened the $8.5 million, 35,000-square-foot BioVentures Center in the UI Research Park, a facility that administrators say includes the largest wet-lab business incubator in the state.

The center, at 2500 Crosspark Road in Coralville, Iowa, has 20 wet labs and 16 offices. The facility also features a board room, shared equipment room, break room, conference rooms, and a multi-purpose room that supports meetings of up to 60 people. More than 50 percent of the available space, eight labs and nine offices, is leased or committed.

The project began in November 2007, and was funded through Grow Iowa Values Funds and tax increment financing from the city of Coralville.

ASL Analytical, Cellular Engineering Technologies, Exemplar Genetics, KemPharm, Terpenoid Therapeutics, and Vertex Pharmaceuticals are the first companies set to occupy the facilities, the university said.

Batavia (NY) Med Tech Park's First Occupant May Be Community College's Nursing Program

The new Med Tech Park now in planning stages in Batavia, NY, may welcome as its first tenant the nursing program of Genesee Community College, the school has disclosed in a news release.

The program would occupy the second floor in the first building of the planned tech park, set to rise on roughly 30 acres on Assemblyman R. Stephen Hawley Drive. The second floor would consist of four classrooms, three nursing labs, a large group instruction room, and seminar space, the news release said.

The Genesee County Economic Development Center, which controls the tech park, envisioned it as housing biotechnology companies, medical equipment businesses, and other healthcare-related tenants. GCC's nursing program envisions occupying the new space in the 2009-10 academic year, Vice President for Finance and Operations Kevin Hamilton told the Batavia village Board of Trustees during its Jan. 12 meeting, according to the Daily News of Batavia.

Mass.-Based Proteomics Technologies Firm Protein Forest Opens UK Office

Lexington, Mass.-based proteomics technologies firm Protein Forest said this week that it has opened a European division headquartered in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.

Protein Forest said that the new European base will include office space and lab facilities to support sales, product demonstrations, applications development, and collaborative efforts with European partners. Protein Forest's primary products include its ProteomeChip sample prep technology for mass spectrometry-based proteomics and bioinformatics products for mass spec experiments.

The new UK office is led by European Business Director Robert Marchmont, who joined Protein Forest from GE Healthcare. Russell Garlick, president and CEO of Protein Forest, said in a statement that Marchmont would be responsible for setting up dedicated sales and customer support teams and distribution networks within Europe.

The Scan

New Study Highlights Role of Genetics in ADHD

Researchers report in Nature Genetics on differences in genetic architecture between ADHD affecting children versus ADHD that persists into adulthood or is diagnosed in adults.

Study Highlights Pitfall of Large Gene Panels in Clinical Genomic Analysis

An analysis in Genetics in Medicine finds that as gene panels get larger, there is an increased chance of uncovering benign candidate variants.

Single-Cell Atlas of Drosophila Embryogenesis

A new paper in Science presents a single-cell atlas of fruit fly embryonic development over time.

Phage Cocktail Holds Promise for IBD

Researchers uncovered a combination phage therapy that targets Klebsiella pneumonia strains among individuals experiencing inflammatory bowel disease flare ups, as they report in Cell.