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Empire State Development Corp., Fishers Economic and Community Development Commission, Hillsborough County Commission, ICON Central Laboratories, New Jersey Stem Cell Research Assistance Program, Kansas Bioscience Authority


New York ESDC Chairman Starts Work on Restructuring Economic Development Agency
The new chairman of New York state’s Empire State Development Corp. told reporters last week he has begun work on a restructuring that is intended to end more than a year of fractiousness among top officials of the state’s economic development agency.
“I’d like to get it resolved yesterday. More important than that is to get the right people in the right jobs,” said Robert Wilmers, who is also the chairman and CEO of Buffalo, NY-based M&T Bank. “We’re going to have a CEO, and we’re going to have somebody in charge of upstate, and somebody in charge of downstate. And the four of us will work very closely together.”
Wilmers said a national search firm is to be hired soon, pending word from “the state bureaucracy. That isn’t stopping us from looking.” He has ruled out taking the CEO job, and serves as chairman without pay.
The CEO would serve as the agency’s top day-to-day officer, the role now held by president and chief operating officer Avi Schick, who will leave the agency in September. The CEO is also expected to balance the upstate and downstate fiefs — and avoid the mistake made by Gov. David Paterson’s predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, when he positioned the upstate and downstate heads as co-chairmen of ESDC in 2007. That structure has been blamed for the turf battles and slower decision-making that has plagued the agency for more than a year.
Under Spitzer’s predecessor George Pataki, ESDC had a full-time chairman, Charles Gargano, the onetime US ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago under president George H.W. Bush. In June, he was named the $2,000-a-week senior vice president of governmental affairs by publicly traded PERF Go-Green Holdings of New York City, according to a company filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
Wilmers said the agency’s biggest challenges are those of the state: “If the economy continues to not do well, it’s going to hurt the ESDC just like it will hurt every aspect of the state’s operation. That, I think, is the [agency’s] greatest challenge. My greatest challenge is to put a team together.”
Answering a BioRegion News question, Wilmers said ESDC would not await the outcome of the reorganization to act on economic development policy issues and projects.
“There are a lot of very talented people who have been working at the Empire State Development Corp. for a long time. And just because I showed up as chairman, we can’t put everything on hold,” Wilmers said. “The organization has had a life before I showed up, and it will have a life after I go away. Hopefully, I can help improve the process.”
Wilmers addressed reporters during his fourth day on the job, minutes after ESDC’s board “adopted” the general project plan for Columbia University’s planned $6.3 billion mixed-use project for Manhattan’s West Harlem. The project is set to include nearly 2.6 million square feet of new research lab space [See report, this issue].

Fishers, Ind., Long Performance Advisors Plan $12M Biotech Incubator
The Fishers (Ind.) Economic and Community Development Commission has joined with Mark Long of Long Performance Advisors to establish the Fishers Research and Technology Campus, a cluster of tech facilities to start with a $12 million building set to open within the next 18 months.
The building will be between 40,000 and 50,000 square feet, and be designed for startup biotechnology companies from Indiana universities and research institutes. According to the commission, the building will offer wet laboratories, flexible tenant spaces suitable for research and development, and production facilities.
In addition, the facility will provide shared conference space and a network of professional consultants, such as attorneys and accountants, who can mentor early-stage entrepreneurs.

The commission has hired Long, who served as president of Indiana University’s Research & Technology Corp. from 2002 until early this year, to head development of the Research and Technology Campus. Long — who also built the IU Emerging Technologies Center, the university’s flagship business incubator — will continue to teach entrepreneurship and life sciences courses at IU’s Kelley School of Business. 

The commission is a partnership between the town of Fishers and the Fishers Chamber of Commerce.


Hillsborough Commission Approves $6M to Lure Draper Laboratories to USF
The Hillsborough County (Fla.) Commission has approved a $6 million incentive intended to help persuade Draper Laboratories, a Cambridge, Mass., weapons and biotechnology company, to open a $20 million nanotechnology and BioMEMS research lab at the University of South Florida campus in Tampa, Fla.
In addition to using county money, USF would receive $10 million from the state of Florida, while the university’s research foundation would chip in another $4 million. The funds would help Draper build labs and purchase equipment — and does not include the costs USF has already paid for construction of the 20,000 square foot building Draper is considering.
In return for the county and state cash, Draper would create at least 100 jobs, with the promise of up to 271 more jobs in five years. “Our economic impact modeling projects that 111 to 171 additional or indirect jobs will be generated as a result of this project. Estimated overall cumulative economic impact ranges from $204 million to $337 million within five years of ramp up,” Gene Gray, director of Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Department, told commission members, according to a report by Tampa radio station WMNF.
Gray said Draper is also expected to generate a $150 million to $300 million dollar increase in research grants by leveraging USF’s research capacities in nanotechnology.
Amy Schwenker, a Draper spokeswoman, told WMNF: “Right now Draper is looking at several locations in a number of states as possible sites for us to expand.”
USF is one of two Florida sites being eyed by Draper. The company is also considering developing a $14 million electronics manufacturing facility in St. Petersburg.
Draper is the successor to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s old Instrumentation Laboratory of MIT. MIT divested itself of the company in 1970, bowing to Vietnam War protestors, and the company moved off campus three years later.

ICON Approved for Second Half of 2005 Incentive Toward Consolidation
New York state’s economic development agency, the Empire State Development Corp., has approved $112,500 for ICON Central Laboratories, a provider of clinical research and development services to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.
The award was the second half of a $225,000 Economic Development Fund grant approved in 2005.  The grant is intended to help the company consolidate its Farmingdale, NY, operations from three leased facilities into a nearby refurbished facility, as well as acquire new machinery and equipment. 
ICON has promised to retain 225 full-time jobs in New York state through this year.

New Jersey Assemblyman Introduces $500M, Five-Year Stem Cell Venture Capital Bill
New Jersey Assemblyman Neil Cohen (D-Union) has introduced a bill that would allow investors to contribute up to $500 million over five years to fund stem cell research efforts in New Jersey. The proposed New Jersey Stem Cell Research Assistance Program is intended to stimulate the state’s stem cell research effort by encouraging venture capitalists to invest in research funding.
The bill (A-3131) has been referred to the Assembly Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee for consideration. The measure would direct the New Jersey Economic Development Authority to establish the program through a specially created venture capital fund. Investors could deposit up to $500 million into the fund, in five annual $100 million installments.
EDA would review individual research grant applications, in conjunction with the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology, and distribute money from the fund case-by-case.
The fund would be capped at $100 million in research loans annually, part of which would be required to fund non-profit and academic research projects. Individual research loans would be capped at $50 million per project, per year. Any unused loan revenue from year to year would be able to be rolled over into the next year.
To encourage participation by venture capitalists, the measure also would grant investors tax credits equal to their contribution in the fund. These credits — which could not exceed $100 million per year — would only be issued if a funded research project failed to repay the loan or otherwise collapsed. Tax credits would be non-transferable, and would not be able to be exercised for five years after the initial investment of venture capital.
“Investing in stem cell research is one of the single most important activities New Jersey can be engaged in,” Cohen said in a press release. “It offers the chance to generate life-changing treatments and cures for those suffering from incurable or untreatable diseases. And it lays the groundwork for billions of dollars in economic investment in the state at a time when the national economy is in a recession.”
Cohen said in the release he first formulated the idea to use venture capital as a means of stem cell research funding after reading about investment firms funding economic development in other states. Cohen says he plans to meet with Wall Street investment banks to discuss his legislation in the coming weeks.
At least one investment firm has publicly endorsed Cohen’s bill — NW Financial Group, which has offices in Jersey City and Trenton, as well as New York City.

Kansas Bioscience Authority Awards Nearly $4.9M to Four Life Sciences Companies
The Kansas Bioscience Authority last week approved a total $4.85 million in investments to four early-stage life sciences companies:
  • Ventria Bioscience of Junction City has received a $3.75 million convertible note as part of a $7.5 million financing plan to expand operations in Kansas, including adding jobs and production capacity. The financing is intended to help the company prepare for the commercial launch of its pediatric health product designed to shorten the duration of acute childhood diarrhea — an application of Ventria’s ExpressTec proprietary protein/peptide production system.
  • MGP Ingredients, Atchison, Kan., will receive $500,000 to develop and further commercialize biobased, biodegradable resins to economically replace plastic. The biobased resin can be used for products such as disposable cutlery, DVD cases, and bottle caps — and is biodegradable. The project is expected to create 54 jobs, with $9.9 million in capital investment to build production capacity in Onaga, Kan.
  • KC BioMediX of Shawnee will receive an equity investment of $400,000 to commercialize technologies developed at the University of Kansas for the care of infants born prematurely. The company’s FDA-approved device, the NTrainer System, treats preemies who have difficulty feeding orally so they can quickly gain strength and grow. This award follows a $150,000 KBA investment last fall and is part of a $4 million round of company financing.
  • VasoGenix Pharmaceuticals of Lenexa will receive $200,000 for the development of its patented controlled release drug treatment for heart failure. The company is completing pre-clinical studies of its treatment that uses a molecule with a history of safe use in humans and which aims to improve human health while reducing re-hospitalization costs by $6 billion per year. The company has promised to match KBA funding with private investment.

The Scan

Germline-Targeting HIV Vaccine Shows Promise in Phase I Trial

A National Institutes of Health-led team reports in Science that a broadly neutralizing antibody HIV vaccine induced bnAb precursors in 97 percent of those given the vaccine.

Study Uncovers Genetic Mutation in Childhood Glaucoma

A study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation ties a heterozygous missense variant in thrombospondin 1 to childhood glaucoma.

Gene Co-Expression Database for Humans, Model Organisms Gets Update

GeneFriends has been updated to include gene and transcript co-expression networks based on RNA-seq data from 46,475 human and 34,322 mouse samples, a new paper in Nucleic Acids Research says.

New Study Investigates Genomics of Fanconi Anemia Repair Pathway in Cancer

A Rockefeller University team reports in Nature that FA repair deficiency leads to structural variants that can contribute to genomic instability.