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Around the Regions: Dec 1, 2008

Steering Committee Starts Work on AgBiotech Strategy for North Carolina
A 34-member steering committee representing a variety of agriculture-related backgrounds and disciplines convened on Dec. 1 to begin work on a policy strategy for growing agricultural biotechnology in North Carolina, drawing on the state’s established life-sci industry and agricultural legacy
The committee is co-chaired by former governor Jim Hunt and Steven Burke, senior vice president of corporate affairs with the state-funded North Carolina Biotechnology Center, which will administer the project. The committee will meet regularly until April.
By then or soon after, the steering committee and work groups have been charged with producing a consensus report submitted to the General Assembly, agricultural and public groups, and other state leaders. The report will outline a long-term strategy designed to answer three questions:
  • What is the future of agriculture in North Carolina – in particular for today’s farmers as well as for necessary new farmers?
  • How do we ensure that biotechnology both strengthens and enriches North Carolina’s agricultural heritage, history and economy?
  • What combination of vision, policies and resources is required for North Carolina’s long-term leadership and gain in agricultural biotechnology?
The committee’s work will be augmented by that of more than 100 other citizens from across the state, organized into strategic work groups focused on crops, trees and biomass; farming and rural advantage; animals; aquaculture and marine biotech; niche, specialty and value added crops; and issues, policies and implications.
“You are combining two of North Carolina’s leading economic platforms – agriculture and biotechnology – and creating a brand new platform for economic growth,” North Carolina Governor-elect Bev Purdue told the panel.

NC Biotech Businesses Seek State Subsidies from Governor-Elect Bev Perdue
North Carolina's life sciences leaders have asked Governor-Elect Bev Perdue to set aside millions of dollars in state funding to support early-stage companies that would otherwise go bankrupt — but she wasn’t ready to commit to the idea during a roundtable discussion with industry executives, the Associated Press reported.
Perdue, a Democrat elected last month to succeed the term-limited Mike Easley, lauded life-sci as valuable to the state’s economy but noted that a looming state budget shortfall already has her scrambling for areas to make cuts. Projections range from $800 million to $1.6 billion, a deficit which she and other officials have blamed on the economic upheaval of recent weeks.
John Russell, a partner at the law firm K&L Gates who focuses on aiding biotech companies, has suggested the state join them in creating a public-private entity that would provide perhaps $200 million for companies to tap. He said that while the state could fund only 10 percent of the total investment, it could draw other companies and their cash by providing tax credits.
The biotech representatives said the fund could entice companies considering relocating to or expanding within North Carolina: "If we get in there with smart programs, we can move companies to North Carolina,” John Campbell, the CEO of biotech consulting firm Campbell Alliance Group, told the wire service.

Report: Biotech Demand Will Continue to Propel San Diego Area Lab Market
Despite the weakened economy, landlords in San Diego County and the southwestern section of nearby Riverside County will benefit in the coming year from a steady demand from biotech tenants, according to a 2009 regional forecast by the commercial real estate firm Grubb & Ellis/BRE Commercial.

"San Diego has established itself as a biotechnology hub with more than 500 life science companies occupying over 12 million square feet and the demand for biotech space is expected to remain steady from local biotech companies as well as global pharmaceutical tenants," the report stated.


Arizona Biotechs Won’t Escape Pain in Economic Upheaval, Communications Consultant Says
The economic upheaval will hurt the prospects of Arizona life sciences companies seeking capital for growth, a marketing and communications consultant to life-sci and other tech companies has told the Arizona Daily Star.
“I wish I could say otherwise, but the current economic situation is going to hurt biotechnology and all emerging tech sectors — and now even green/clean tech will probably take a hit, too. Everybody is holding onto their cash,” Sandra Kay Helsel, founder and managing director of SK Helsel & Associates, told the newspaper.
“The emerging technology sectors such as biotechnology are the very businesses that will eventually bring us out of this collapse. Innovation and emerging tech are the drivers of the future,” added Helsel, whose firm has offices in Tucson, Ariz., and San Diego. “The downward spiral of the economy may slow things down a bit, but the strengths of Tucson and the greater Arizona biotech cluster are evident.”
Tucson’s strengths, Helsel said, include research activity at the University of Arizona, cohesion among life-sci and civic leaders, and the region’s quality of life. But the region lacks a regional focus on how to compete against aggressive biotech clusters elsewhere, she added.

Mass. Life Sciences Center Posts Draft Certification and Tax Incentive Application
The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center has released a draft application for state-based companies seeking the benefits of Gov. Deval Patrick’s $1 billion, 10-year Life Sciences Act by receiving certification and being declared eligible to participate in the Life Sciences Tax Incentive Program.
Under the law, signed into law by Patrick last June [BRN, June 16], the MLSC is authorized to offer a combination of nine different tax incentives totaling $250 million over ten years — up to $25 million each year — to certified life sciences companies. The incentives are intended to encourage growth in companies at all stages of development.
The Life Sciences Tax Incentive Program becomes effective on Jan. 1, 2009, and the center plans to accept online applications starting the following day. The center has posted the draft application, and instructions for completing the application, available here, in order to maximize opportunities for public understanding of the application process and criteria for becoming certified.
The draft application contains both the application for certification (Part I) as well as the application for participation in the Tax Incentive Program (Parts II and III). Under the Life Sciences Act, companies must become certified in order to seek grants, investment or tax incentives through the center.
In addition, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue has posted its final Technical Information Release on the Life Sciences Tax Incentive Program, available here.

Mass. Alliance for Economic Development Honors Five Life-Sci Employers; Unveils New Nickname, Positioner
The Massachusetts Alliance for Economic Development has included five life-sci employers among its 15 winners of Team Massachusetts Economic Impact awards, bestowed for companies adding the largest numbers of jobs statewide, during a recent ceremony at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel:
  • Sepracor took silver honors, and Lonza Hopkinton, bronze, among Central Massachusetts winners.
  • Shire Pharmaceuticals took gold, and Brigham & Women’s Hospital, silver, among winners in the Greater Boston region.
  • Organogenesis captured the silver award in Southeastern Massachusetts.
Also at the event, the MAED sported a new nickname, MassEcon, and a new logo and positioning statement, Location is Everything, created by Foster Design Group.

Cellzome Reels in $5M German Tech Development Grant
Cellzome will use a €3.85 million ($5 million) grant it has won from the German government as part of a high-tech funding program to expand its KinoBeads technology application.
The company plans to use the funds specifically to develop the KinoBeads platform for use in epigenetic target classes and to optimize it for diagnostic and translational medicine studies that would allow doctors to monitor target-drug interactions directly in patient material.
Cellzome is working on expanding its proteomics platform so that it may be applied more broadly in drug discovery and development programs for inflammatory diseases and translational medicine.
The five-year grant was awarded by Germany’s HighTech initiative, which is funding technology companies in five regions. Cellzome, which has its German base in Heidelberg, is located in the Rhine-Neckar Region, which received a total of €40 million in grants for biotechnology research in its BioRN cluster. Participants in the BioRN cluster include pharmaceutical companies such as Merck, Serono, and Roche, research institutions, and other biotechnology firms. The company noted that the other four regions landed grants for technologies outside of the life sciences.
In September, Cellzome formed a strategic research alliance with GlaxoSmithKline to discover, develop, and market novel kinase-targeted therapeutics for inflammatory disease. It also is working with Johnson & Johnson to discover novel Alzheimer’s disease treatments.

The Scan

Lung Cancer Response to Checkpoint Inhibitors Reflected in Circulating Tumor DNA

In non-small cell lung cancer patients, researchers find in JCO Precision Oncology that survival benefits after immune checkpoint blockade coincide with a dip in ctDNA levels.

Study Reviews Family, Provider Responses to Rapid Whole-Genome Sequencing Follow-up

Investigators identified in the European Journal of Human Genetics variable follow-up practices after rapid whole-genome sequencing.

BMI-Related Variants Show Age-Related Stability in UK Biobank Participants

Researchers followed body mass index variant stability with genomic structural equation modeling and genome-wide association studies of 40- to 72-year olds in PLOS Genetics.

Genome Sequences Reveal Range Mutations in Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells

Researchers in Nature Genetics detect somatic mutation variation across iPSCs generated from blood or skin fibroblast cell sources, along with selection for BCOR gene mutations.