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Merck-Rosetta Inpharmatics, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, San Diego City Council, PacificGMP, University of California-Irvine Sue and Bill Gross Hall, Gilead Sciences, National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center, Alexandria Real Estat

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Merck to Shutter Rosetta Research Center in Seattle, Two Overseas Sites
 
Merck disclosed plans last week to shut down three basic research sites worldwide by the end of 2009 — labs in Seattle; Pomezia, Italy; and Tsukuba, Japan — as part of a consolidation of research operations into four locations.
 
The consolidation is among a series of cost-cutting moves through which the pharma giant plans to eliminate about 7,200 jobs — 6,800 active employees and 400 vacancies — at a projected cumulative pretax savings of $3.8 billion to $4.2 billion through 2013. Merck, which is headquartered in Whitehouse Station, NJ, will account for between $250 million and $450 million in restructuring costs in the fourth quarter.
 
In Seattle, Merck will shut down the Rosetta Inpharmatics research site in the city’s South Lake Union community, eliminating 300 jobs. Founded in 1996, Rosetta was acquired by Merck in 2001 for more than $620 million. The following year, Merck relocated the company from Kirkland, Wash., to South Lake Union, where it occupies 133,000 square feet under a long-term lease.
 
“It’s certainly disappointing, we’ll miss Merck. They’ve been a great community partner,” Ada Healey, vice president of real estate for South Lake Union developer Vulcan Real Estate, told Xconomy Seattle. “But the fact is that we have a long-term financial commitment from them, and several other users looking for space. This may be an opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons.”
 
Vulcan has had discussions with “several prospective tenants” who are seeking about as much space as Merck will vacate, Healey told the online tech news outlet. In addition, she added, Vulcan is pursuing the master planning of the third phase of the University of Washington’s expansion in South Lake Union, which would have room for 365,000 to 400,000 square feet of research space — about double the university’s research capacity in the neighborhood.
 
Merck opted to close the Seattle facility because it lacked the full sweep of chemistry, animal testing, and clinical research capabilities that the company already has at a cancer research center in Boston, Douglas Bassett, Merck’s executive director of molecular profiling, and the head of the Merck Seattle site, told Xconomy Seattle.
 
As part of its cutbacks, Merck said it will also reduce its total number of senior and mid-level executives by approximately 25 percent, in addition to the 10,400 positions eliminated in a 2005 restructuring completed last month. As of Sept. 30, Merck has approximately 56,700 employees.
 

 
$250M Expansion Plan for Salk Institute Approved by San Diego City Council
 
The San Diego City Council last week unanimously approved a $250 million expansion plan for the Salk Institute for Biological Studies that will add a “Torrey East” laboratory building, community center, greenhouses and underground parking garages to the 26.3-acre site overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
The Salk Institute, within Torrey Pines Mesa, will expand to 476,000 square feet, up from 289,800 square feet. Construction would be phased over several years, but no start date has been set, pending fundraising.
 
“Salk is very committed to being here in San Diego, but we have to grow,” Marsha Chandler, Salk's executive vice president, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. She said Salk employs about 1,000 people; has an annual budget of about $100 million, much of it in federal research grants; and has helped launch 22 startup companies and generate 250 patents.
 
Joe Panetta, president and CEO of BIOCOM, the San Diego-based life sciences industry group, told the newspaper: “It's going to help San Diego compete for more and more precious research dollars each year.”
 
The expansion plan was revised to address objections from neighbors and preservation advocates. In one change, Torrey East will preserve a longtime view through an open courtyard with a linear artificial stream by creating a glass atrium through which the iconic courtyard will be visible from North Torrey Pines Road. In another change, Salk Institute will preserve 7.1 acres of the South Mesa as open space, rather than expand there as originally planned.
 

 
PacificGMP Drops Plans for 200,000-Sq. Ft. Lab Facility in China
Contract manufacturer Pacific­GMP, based in San Diego’s Sorrento Mesa, told the San Diego Business Journal last week it has dropped earlier plans to create an offshoot in China, citing concern about the plan’s effect on its domestic business.
 
“We just felt if we have to dedicate so much of our efforts to this China facility we were going to have to split the baby, and we were just not going to be able to do it,” Gary Pierce, chief business officer of PacificGMP, told the newspaper.
 
PacificGMP employs 17 full-time staff in its 8,000-square-foot facility, at 8810 Rehco Road. The company would have expanded into a 200,000-square-foot facility in Taizhou, China, under a collaboration that also involved the Chinese government and the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences — a joint effort of University of California’s Berkeley, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco campuses also known as QB3.
 

 
UC Irvine Breaks Ground on $66.6M Stem Cell Building, to House Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center

The University of California, Irvine, broke ground last week on a $66.6 million, 100,636-square-foot stem cell research building that will house the UCI Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, dozens of laboratory-based and clinical researchers, a stem cell techniques course, a master’s program in biotechnology with an emphasis on stem cell research, and programs for patients that include public education. The building is set for completion in July 2010.
 
The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state’s stem cell research agency, awarded a $27.2 million grant toward construction of the building, to be named Sue and Bill Gross Hall: A CIRM Institute. The billionaire investor and his wife donated $10 million in July 2006 to support stem cell research at UCI.
 
“We’ll do the best from our end, and you do the best from yours,” Bill Gross told the audience at the ceremony, according to the Daily Pilot of Costa Mesa, Calif.

UCI has raised additional money through donations, equipment grants and external funding for Gross Hall, to be located within the heart of UCI’s Biomedical Research Center in the Health Sciences Complex. The university has also committed about $17.5 million over the next 10 years toward recruiting new faculty members to expand its stem cell research and regenerative medicine programs.
 
Gross Hall will include the core stem cell laboratory and equipment for human embryonic stem cell line derivation, cell culture, differentiation and purification, and cell and tissue imaging. It also will include clinical space with resources for patient care. The fourth floor and basement will be constructed as shell space, to be built out as additional funding becomes available.
 

 
Gilead Buys Foster City, Calif., Building, Land for $137.5M from Digital Printing Concern
 
Gilead Sciences has entered into an agreement to buy the 163,000-square-foot 301 Velocity Way in Foster City, Calif., as well as some 30 adjacent acres designed to accommodate up to an additional 542,000 square feet of office space, for $137.5 million.
 
The biopharmaceutical company said in a press release that it expects to close on the transaction with seller Electronics For Imaging, a digital printing company, in January 2009. Gilead has until Dec. 12 to complete a “due diligence” review of the property. The building and adjacent land border Gilead’s Foster City campus, where the company has based its headquarters since 1988.
 
“We believe this is an efficient means for expanding our Foster City campus to create flexibility and to accommodate planned long-term growth, as we seek to develop and deliver to patients more novel therapies that address significant unmet medical needs,” John Milligan, Gilead’s president and chief operating officer, said in the release. “We remain committed to maintaining our presence in Foster City.”
 
Under the agreement, EFI will lease a portion of 301 Velocity Way from Gilead to assist with the transition and relocation of its employees and labs, from the date of closing through April 15, 2009. EFI will also retain ownership of an approximately 295,000-square-foot building it currently occupies along with surrounding land.
 
EFI said it expects to use “a substantial portion” of the after-tax proceeds from the sale to fund a share repurchase program.
 

 
DHS Dedicates $160M National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center at Maryland’s Fort Detrick
 
The Department of Homeland Security has dedicated the $143 million, 160,000-square-foot National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center, a biodefense laboratory at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., with the facility set to formally open in March.

The new lab will employ about 150 scientists focused on protecting against bioterrorist attacks, as well as quickly tracing the sources of biological agents such as viruses and bacteria. Till now, many of those scientists have been working in leased space at Fort Detrick.
 
Construction began in June 2006 on the facility. The building is designed in the shape of a ship, and will include a forensic testing center designed to identify the culprits in biological attacks; and the Biothreat Characterization Center, which seeks to predict the extent of such attacks as well as help develop countermeasures.
 
The new center is also designed to provide the FBI with forensic capabilities it lacked after the 2001 anthrax mailings, which killed five people. In August, the FBI revealed its conclusion that the anthrax episode was the sole work of a mentally ill Army biodefense researcher working at Fort Detrick, Bruce Ivins, who died of an apparent suicide in July.
 
The 2001 attacks helped stoke fears by some nearby residents that the facility would become a target for terrorists. Internal-security measures for the new facility are still being developed, Patrick Fitch, laboratory director and president of Battelle National Biodefense Institute, told the Associated Press. BNBI, a unit of Columbus, Ohio-based Battelle Memorial Institute, has a $250 million, five-year contract to run the lab.
 

 
Gilead, Novo Nordisk Subsidiary Sign Lease Deals Within Seattle’s South Lake Union
 
Gilead Sciences has signed a long-term lease for 106,000 square feet of a 115,000-square-foot office and laboratory building under construction at 199 E. Blaine St., in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood, building owner Alexandria Real Estate Equities announced last week.
 
The space — to be occupied by Gilead’s research and development division — represents nearly all of the building’s 110,000 square feet of life-sci space. Gilead has “a commitment” to that remaining space, Alexandria said; the remaining 5,000 square feet consists of retail space.
 
The building, across Fairview Avenue East from Lake Union, is scheduled to be completed in 2010. Alexandria is a publicly-traded real estate investment trust headquartered in Pasadena, Calif.
 
In a separate South Lake Union deal, a wholly owned subsidiary of Novo Nordisk has signed a lease for 36,900 square feet at 530 Fairview Ave. in Seattle, a recently-constructed five-story, 94,000-square-foot building at Fairview Avenue North and Mercer Street. The building is owned by BioMed Realty Trust, a REIT based in San Diego.
 
“The South Lake Union market is a tremendous location that enables us to recruit key scientists to help us pursue our goals,” Don Foster, corporate vice president of Novo Nordisk, said in a press release.
 

 
Sanofi-Aventis Expanding China Presence With Enlarged R&D Facility, New Biometrics Center, SIBS Accord
 
Sanofi-Aventis said last week it will strengthen its presence in China by expanding an R&D facility in Shanghai, completing a Biometrics Center in Beijing, and signing a partnership agreement with the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences to develop drugs for cancer, diabetes, and neurological diseases.
 
Sanofi has expanded its China Clinical Research Unit, which opened in June 2005 in Shanghai with the goal of carrying out clinical trials; and is completing a Biometrics Center to support global and local trials in both pharmaceuticals and vaccines development. The center, set be fully operational by year’s end, will be devoted to the study design, data management and statistical analysis of global and local phase I-IV clinical trials.
 
Sanofi’s partnership with SIBS, a subsidiary of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is part of the company’s China Discovery platform designed to establish long-term relationships with top Chinese academic institutions. "A comprehensive development program for vaccines is already ongoing in China and we are looking forward to its expansion in the near future," Michel DeWilde, a senior vice president with Sanofi Pasteur R&D, the vaccines division of Sanofi-Aventis, said in a statement.
 

 
Neurotech Opens GMP Manufacturing Facility in Cumberland, RI
 
Neurotech Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company focused on developing therapeutics for chronic retinal diseases, has opened a new 27,000-square-foot GMP manufacturing facility in Cumberland, RI, in a ceremony headed by Gov. Donald Carcieri and company officials.
 
The company now employs 27, but that number will “significantly increase” when the company receives approvals and ramps up for production, Neurotech CEO Ted Danse told the Providence Journal.
 
Neurotech has been approved for $4 million financing to help pay for equipping the facility from the Rhode Island Industrial Facilities Corporation and Rhode Island Industrial-Recreational Building Authority, the financing programs of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corp.
 
Until now, Neurotech has operated from a pilot facility in Lincoln, RI, as it undergoes Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials of its NT-501 protein capsule for the treatment of retinitis pigmentosa and the dry form of age-related macular degeneration.
 
The new facility includes 8,000 square feet of clean rooms.
 

 
Bioscience Center Planned for MinnWest Campus in Willmar, Minn., Wins $1.3M State Grant
 
Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development has awarded a $1.25 million Bioscience Business Development Public Infrastructure grant toward half the planned $2.5 million cost of converting an existing building on the 100-acre MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar, Minn., to life sciences use.
 
MinnWest will provide another $1.25 million to purchase equipment for the building, which will be renamed Mid-Central Biosciences Center. The research laboratory and business development center is a collaboration between the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, the city of Willmar —the technical recipient of the grant and owner of the building — and MinnWest, a private venture that provides facilities for new and expanding businesses in biosciences.
 
The U of M will operate the laboratory and provide faculty and graduate students that will oversee the research. St. Cloud State University will take the lead for MnSCU. Research and development conducted at the lab will be paid for by biotechnology businesses.
 
“We see this as a perfect match-up,” Steve Salzer, general manager at MinnWest, told the West Central Tribune of Willmar. “We feel this is a perfect situation to have that collaboration.”
 
Renovation of the three-story building will begin this fall and will be operational by the fall of 2009 or the spring of 2010, Salzer told the newspaper. MinnWest opened about three years ago on the site of the former Willmar Regional Treatment Center.

The Scan

Booster for At-Risk

The New York Times reports that the US Food and Drug Administration has authorized a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech SARS-CoV-2 vaccine for people 65 and older or at increased risk.

Preprints OK to Mention Again

Nature News reports the Australian Research Council has changed its new policy and now allows preprints to be cited in grant applications.

Hundreds of Millions More to Share

The US plans to purchase and donate 500 million additional SARS-CoV-2 vaccine doses, according to the Washington Post.

Nature Papers Examine Molecular Program Differences Influencing Neural Cells, Population History of Polynesia

In Nature this week: changes in molecular program during embryonic development leads to different neural cell types, and more.