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Massachusetts’ Public Health Council, Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, UMass Boston, UMass Lowell, Massachusetts Economic Assessment and Analysis Project, Accentia Biopharmaceuticals, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

Massachusetts Repeals Romney-Era Embryonic Stem Cell Research Restrictions
Massachusetts’ Public Health Council on Oct. 10 unanimously repealed regulations created during the Romney administration that could have threatened scientists in the state with legal action if they pursued certain areas of stem cell research.
“Today Massachusetts is again sending a strong signal that the state is serious about stem cell research,” Stephen Mulloney, director of policy and public affairs for the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, said in a statement issued soon after the vote.
In 2005, the Massachusetts House and Senate passed legislation that allowed state researchers to conduct embryonic stem cell research without the threat of legal action.
The landmark act, which won by a significant margin, included prohibitions on human cloning and strong informed consent policies, areas supported by the MBC.
Under the administration of Gov. Mitt Romney, the Public Health Council, which opposed the 2005 act, adopted certain rules to interpret the law that were more restrictive than the language in the bill that passed.
In particular, under Romney, the act prohibited the creation of fertilized embryos for the sole intent of donating the embryo for research. The Public Health Council rules used to interpret the law said that embryos could not be created for the sole intent of using them in research.
The 2005 law passed by the Massachusetts legislature already prevented the creation of such embryos in the state for research purposes. However, the law did not prevent researchers from accepting some batches of embryonic stem cells from colleagues in states with less restrictive stem-cell laws.
New York, for example, has less-restrictive regulations. Scientists in that state hunting for treatments for a disease can create embryos using sperm and eggs donated by families stricken with the ailment.
“Under the old interpretation, the regulations might have been seen in such a way that if a scientist in Massachusetts accepts stem cell lines from New York researchers, that this might be against the law and that the Massachusetts researchers could be jailed and fined,” said Mulloney. “It’s also not clear if a Massachusetts researcher could consult with a New York researcher, or researchers in other states that have less restrictive policies.”
The amendments “remove this ambiguity and allow our researchers to move forward without threats of litigation,” he added.

Mass. CEOs Are Bullish on Own Businesses, Survey Says
More than half of CEOs working in companies based in Massachusetts are “somewhat optimistic” about their own companies, but are concerned about the current state and national economies, according to a new statewide poll released last week by the Massachusetts Economic Assessment and Analysis Project, a joint project of UMass Boston and UMass Lowell.
The poll of 500 CEOs found that 54 percent of those surveyed said their own businesses were growing compared to a year ago. While most projected no change in their number of employees over the next 12 months, 34 percent said they planned to hire additional workers, and 4 percent planned to decrease staff over the same period.
Expectations are high about the impact on the state economy of Governor Deval Patrick's $1 billion biotechnology plan, with 74 percent of the CEOs thinking it will be helpful to the state's biotechnology industry [see 10/8/07 BRN]. Another 74 percent said they thought the Patrick plan was likely to increase the state's overall economic growth rate, according to the poll.
The poll also found that while 13 percent of responding CEOs said their companies were involved in some way with biotechnology, pharmaceutical, or medical device or instrumentation industries, 38 percent said they thought the governor's approach would help their companies.
David Terkla, an economics professor at UMass Boston and a member of the MEAAP analytical team, said that the CEOs’ optimism is “encouraging and hopefully will be reflected in a continued strengthening of the state's economy over the next year.”

US Gov’t Says Accentia Unit Can Claim Tax Credits to Plant Shops in ‘Depressed’ Areas
Accentia Biopharmaceuticals this week said that its wholly owned special purpose subsidiary, Biotech CDE, has been named a national community development entity by the US Treasury, and may start asking the agency for New Market Tax Credits to support R&D, manufacturing, and commercialization of biopharmaceuticals in certain depressed areas of the country.
The US Congress sets aside around $3.5 billion each year for the NMTC program in the hopes of “encouraging economic development in economically depressed census tracts” in the US, Accentia said in a statement.
Accentia said it plans to use the credits to help it finance products and to “facilitate financings of new products and companies that Accentia believes offer superior investment opportunities.”

Payette Completes Regional Biocontainment Lab at University of Pittsburgh
A Boston-based architectural firm specializing in buildings for medical and scientific research, academic teaching, and healthcare this week said it has opened a 27,300-square-foot Regional Biocontainment Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
The construction of the facility, which is housed in the Biomedical Sciences Tower III (BST3) complex, was facilitated by a $17.5 million award from the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease that the university won in September 2003, followed by $4.1 million in funding in August 2005. The University of Pittsburgh contributed an additional $7.2 million to the facility’s construction budget.
The lab, designed by the architectural firm Payette, is the second of 13 similar facilities planned in the US as part of Project Bioshield. It was designed to “accommodate new advanced technologies to support vaccine development, including a real-time imaging facility serving an advanced aerobiology program within biocontainment,” according to Payette.

The Scan

Pig Organ Transplants Considered

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Food and Drug Administration may soon allow clinical trials that involve transplanting pig organs into humans.

'Poo-Bank' Proposal

Harvard Medical School researchers suggest people should bank stool samples when they are young to transplant when they later develop age-related diseases.

Spurred to Develop Again

New Scientist reports that researchers may have uncovered why about 60 percent of in vitro fertilization embryos stop developing.

Science Papers Examine Breast Milk Cell Populations, Cerebral Cortex Cellular Diversity, Micronesia Population History

In Science this week: unique cell populations found within breast milk, 100 transcriptionally distinct cell populations uncovered in the cerebral cortex, and more.