Gov. Patrick Declares Mass. $1B Biotech Bill ‘On Track’ to Approval as Hearings End
BOSTON – A day after committees of the state General Assembly held the last of several planned hearings into Gov. Deval Patrick’s $1 billion, 10-year Life Sciences Initiative, the governor expressed confidence that he and legislative leaders would meet the timetable they announced last November for action on the bill.
“It’s on track,” Patrick said, answering a BioRegion News question at a brief press conference on Feb. 1, minutes after he addressed attendees of the Life Sciences Talent Summit, a daylong workforce development conference held at the University of Massachusetts campus here.
Patrick used his address to defend the bill as one that would help grow the state’s top-tier life sciences cluster, and stem problems identified by business, academic, and government leaders at the summit (see related story, this issue).
The governor’s arguments have been countered by opponents of the legislation, who have argued that the bill would have Massachusetts subsidize perceived economic winners over losers in other industries. Opponents have instead urged the state to lower taxes and improve economic conditions for all industries.
“Adding another billion-dollar project like this just imposes more pressure to keep taxes where they are instead of bringing them down,” said David Tuerck, executive director of the Beacon Hill Institute, a market-oriented think tank based at Suffolk University, in an interview with BioRegion News.
So too, he said, has Patrick’s practice of including revenues in his proposed budget that lawmakers are split on, such as proceeds from proposed casinos and proposed changes to the tax law that would wring more money from corporations, which the governor has positioned as closing tax loopholes.
Tuerck was among speakers during weeks of hearings by the General Assembly’s joint committee on economic development and emerging technologies; the joint committee on revenue; and the joint committee on bonding, capital expenditures, and state assets.
The economic development joint committee, chaired by Rep. Daniel Bosley (D-North Adams), held the final hearing on the bio bill Jan. 31, on the campus of Worcester (Mass.) Polytechnic Institute.
Each panel will draft its own proposed changes to the bill, then send them to leaders of the state House of Representatives and state Senate. Last November, House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi (D-South Boston) and Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) joined Patrick in announcing a timetable for action on the life sciences legislation that had the leaders holding votes on the bill in their respective chambers by mid-February.
Spokespeople for DiMasi and Murray did not return telephone messages from BioRegion News last week.
Pfizer to Lay Off 660 at Indiana Plant that Manufactured Exubera
Pfizer plans to eliminate 660 jobs at a plant near Terre Haute, Ind., that manufactured Exubera, an inhaled insulin that they company recently decided to drop due to disappointing sales.
According to an Associated Press report, the company will begin eliminating the jobs in March and all the positions will be gone by the middle of this year. The workers had been on paid leave since production of Exubera was stopped in October.
A portion of the plant where other medicines are made — primarily antibiotics — will remain open with about 140 employees.
Steve Witt, president of the Terre Haute Economic Development Corp., told the Indianapolis Star that the layoffs are a “tough blow” for the region. "Even though we knew it was probably coming, it still hurts," he said.
The Indianapolis star reported that the layoffs are the latest in a string of similar job cuts in the region. In December the Terre Haute metro area had the second-highest unemployment rate, 5.1 percent, of Indiana's 14 metro areas, the paper reported.
Fla. Gov. Awards $80M to Miami Institute for Human Genomics
Florida Governor Charlie Crist last week awarded an $80 million grant to the Miami Institute for Human Genomics at the University of Miami.
The award is part of the state's Innovation Incentive Fund, which also funded the Max Planck Institute in Palm Beach County last year.
UM and its donors are matching the money by building an 118,000-square-foot research building on its medical campus to house the institute. That building will open in the fourth quarter.
Crist said in a statement that the center is expected to improve healthcare and will “also help our economy.”
The award is based on recommendations from Enterprise Florida to the Office of Tourism, Trade, and Economic Development. Enterprise Florida conducted a study that found that the Innovation Incentive Fund award would help create around 300 new jobs paying a salary of at least $62,000.
MichBio Opposes Gov. Granholm’s Plan to Repeal Tort Reform Laws
MichBio, Michigan’s life sciences industry organization, said last week that it opposes Governor Jennifer Granholm’s plan to repeal current tort laws.
In a letter to Granholm last week, Stephen Rapundalo, MichBio’s executive director, said that a repeal of existing tort laws “would be a detriment to the life sciences industry, would reverse 10 years of steady growth, neuter the economic development impact of the 21st Century Jobs Fund, and without a doubt diminish future investments in this market sector."
He added that reversing current law “would send a strong message that Michigan is not open for business, forcing new and existing biotech companies to look elsewhere to invest.”
Tort reform would pose a risk that companies “will not pursue their R&D plans with the knowledge or potential for litigation waiting for them at the end of their commercialization pathway.”
He added that a repeal of the law “will result in a loss of current Michigan jobs and discourage any future biotech business investments and job creation in Michigan."
Kansas Bioscience Organization, Other Trade Groups Kick Off Initiative to Lure Back High-Tech Workers
The Kansas Bioscience Organization and other statewide trade groups last week launched a new initiative targeted at attracting scientists and high-tech workers who left the state.
The effort, called Come Home to Kansas, is based on a website of the same name (www.comehometokansas.com), which automatically consolidates job ads from some of the state’s high-tech companies.
Angela Kreps, president of the Kansas Bioscience Organization, said that the site includes information about what it is like to run a business and live in Kansas, and is intended to help to help prospective recruits see “a critical mass of opportunities” in the state.
The effort is organized by the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp., the Kansas Bioscience Authority, the Kansas Bioscience Organization, KTEC Pipeline, and the Kansas Department of Commerce.
Penn. Approves $2.3M for Tech Innovation
Pennsylvania’s Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority has approved $2.3 million in new investments that are expected to foster technical innovation, stimulate economic development, and boost job creation.
Projects approved under the program include a $1.3 million award for the Center for Optical Technology at Lehigh University. The funds will be used to cover operational and implementation expenses associated with the development of optical technology, particularly in the fields of biophotonics, optoelectronics, and all-optical materials and functionality.
In addition, three existing Keystone Innovation Zones received funding: the Beaver County KIZ, which received $125,000 for developments in the life sciences, information technology’ and advanced manufacturing industries; the Bucks County Biotechnology KIZ, which received $187,500 in second-year operating funds to support businesses in life sciences and information technology; and the York KIZ, which received $187,500 for its second year of operations to support work on advanced materials, life sciences, information sciences, and food sciences.
Since it was created in 2003, the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority has invested more than $242 million for projects across the state.
Charlotte, NC, Biotech Workers Form Networking Group
Biotechnology workers in the Charlotte, NC, region have formed a networking group focused on the life sciences called BioConnect of Greater Charlotte.
The group will hold its inaugural meeting this Thursday and expects more than 50 doctors, researchers, and executives who specialize in biotechnology, pharmaceutical research, medical devices, patent protection, and venture capital to attend.
The group plans to meet four times a year.
Report: DuBiotech’s Nucleotide Complex to Open in September
The Dubai Biotechnology and Research Park, known as DuBiotech, will open its AED 289 million (US$78.7 million) laboratory facility in September, The Gulf News reported last week.
The facility, called the Nucleotide Complex, was designed by CUH2A and has four wings — A, C, T, and G — representing the four nucleic acids that comprise DNA.
The complex will house the region's first pre-clinical vivarium, among other facilities.