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NYSTAR, Council for Entrepreneurial Development, ThirdBiotech Research Group, Oxfordshire Bioscience Network, North Carolina Biotechnology Center, Maryland Biotechnology Investment Tax Credit, Missouri Technology Corp., Ernst and Young 2008 Prairies Entre

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NYSTAR Cuts Size of Faculty Development Grants to $500K in State Budget-Cutting Move
 
The New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation, or NYSTAR, has cut the maximum amount it will give in Faculty Development grants to be awarded this fiscal year, from $750,000 to $500,000 — a reduction reflecting Gov. David Paterson’s order that all state agencies cut spending by 10 percent for the fiscal year that began April 1.
 
“We probably will be giving more awards in the future at the lower amount. We’re going to try our hardest not to go below five,” as in $500,000, Jannette Rondo, a NYSTAR spokeswoman, told BRN last week.
 
The $500,000 limit would be higher than what NYSTAR projected in the 2008-09 Spending Plan it furnished to state officials, available here.
 
“Programmatically, savings will be achieved through a combination of fewer awards and decreasing the dollar value to more succinctly target investments. As an example, individual awards for the Faculty Development program may have a ceiling of $100,000 or $200,000 as opposed to the current upper limit of $750,000,” the Spending Plan stated. “A similar approach is expected for NYSTAR’s Technology Transfer Program. Where five or seven award competitions have occurred annually, this may decrease to three to four.”
 
NYSTAR’s ability to deliver more in awards than initially planned reflects the fact that its spending plan called for saving $2.2 million in the current fiscal year, which began April 1, even though the agency is only required to save $729,000. For the fiscal year starting April 1, 2009, NYSTAR has projected it will save another $746,000.
 
To achieve savings, NYSTAR said, it will cut travel, contractual services, and office purchases “wherever possible,” as well as pursue shared services and subscription options with unspecified other agencies, which the agency said was under discussion.
 
“Operational reductions identified will decrease the state’s investment in commercialization efforts at universities. It may also reduce NYSTAR’s ability to actively support collaboration through opportunities across the state,” NYSTAR warned in its seven-page spending plan.
 
Rondo emphasized the spending cuts will not stop NYSTAR from funding what it deems key programs toward promoting science and tech development statewide.
 
At the same time, according to NYSTAR’s spending plan, the agency will pursue funding from other agencies. NYSTAR cited the effort to create a single network uniting the hundreds of high-performance computers scattered among businesses and academic and nonprofit institutions to enable faster and easier research in the life sciences and other fields.
 
“In the area of High Performance Computing (HPC), interest has been expressed by the Federal Department of Energy and NYSERDA to support and accelerate HPC energy research and commercialization efforts in relevant areas at New York’s universities,” the spending plan stated.
 
Also considered key, Rondo said, is the Faculty Development grant program. On June 30, NYSTAR announced a total $3.4 million in grants in two sequences. One sequence funded the following institutions and purposes:
  • Columbia University, toward retaining Brett Stockwell, assistant professor of biology and chemistry, to develop anti-tumor drugs for cancer.
  • Cornell University, toward retaining Geoffrey Coates, assistant chair of chemistry, to develop sustainable methods for the synthesis of biodegradable plastics.
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, toward retaining Ravi Kane, professor of chemical and biological engineering,to design nanoscale therapeutics that target tumor endothelial cells for cancer therapy, as well as influenza viruses.
  • Stony Brook University, toward retaining Yi-Xian Qin, director of the orthopaedic bioengineering research laboratory, to establish research platforms for noninvasive diagnosis and therapeutics in osteoporosis and tissue regeneration.
The second sequence consisted of another three Faculty Development grants:
  • CUNY College of Staten Island, toward recruiting recruit a scientist to fabricate polymers. They will be used to create an environment in which important chemical reactions can occur within a single droplet of liquid.
  • Rochester Institute of Technology, toward recruiting a scientist to establish the Rochester Laboratory for Reconfigurable Nanosystems. The lab will develop nano-scale photonic systems for application in a wide range of arenas.
  • University of Rochester, toward recruiting a scientist to develop optical instrumentation techniques for 3D visualization involving head-worn displays.

 
CED Cuts Five Jobs, Citing Economic Slump and New President’s Rethinking of Mission
 
North Carolina’s Council for Entrepreneurial Development laid off “about” five workers on July 2 due to the slumping economy and a re-evaluation of the organization’s mission sparked by a new president, CED’s incoming board chair Steve Wiehe told the Triangle Business Journal last week.
 
The layoffs, plus some recent job attrition, will leave CED with 11 staff members going forward – about half the organization’s workforce of a year ago. Wiehe, who is also CEO of technology company SciQuest, said the move was less a response to financial problems than a desire by CED to be "a little more fiscally responsible with our members' and our donors' money," as well as more responsive to community needs.
 
The latter goal will underpin an expected series of changes to CED offerings by new president Joan Siefert Rose, who officially begins her new post on Aug. 11.
 
"The local tech community has undergone a little bit of a constriction. You don't see as many startups and stuff. The business model was really developed for a rapidly growing marketplace, and that's not us any more,” Wiehe told the newspaper.
 
He referred questions on additional specifics of CED’s restructuring to Rose, who declined to discuss the topic since she hasn’t officially begun her new post, and because talks on CED’s future “are still evolving.”
 
Rose was named CED’s new president in May, succeeding Monica Doss, who has retired. 
 
CED serves more than 5,000 members in the life sciences and other tech sectors.
 

 
Arizona Institute’s ‘Virtual Incubator’ Aims To Nurture Biotech Alliances, Start-Ups
 
Arizona non-profit ThirdBiotech Research Group last week launched a drug-discovery research institute and “virtual incubator” to encourage academia and industry to collaborate, and to help create new biotechnology companies in the state.
 
The group, which was incorporated last year, is attempting to bring together Arizona-based research institutes, universities, and companies to provide wet lab space, business services and mentoring, and technology-commercialization assistance to life sciences entrepreneurs and fledgling companies, with the goal of benefiting the greater biosciences economy in Arizona, ThirdBiotech’s founder said last week.
 
“I founded ThirdBiotech on the idea that bringing together the life sciences community is going to be beneficial for a lot of reasons — sort of a ‘high tide raises all boats’ philosophy,” founder Jeff Morhet told BRN sister publication Biotech Transfer Week. “It helps to foster and grow new jobs. If you really wanted to build an economy, you’ve got to do it based on new companies.”
 
ThirdBiotech has been flying under the radar for the past year or so but decided to publicize its efforts last week, Morhet said. To this point the organization has mostly hosted meetings to encourage discussion and networking among the Arizona biosciences community, but in recent weeks it has stepped up its efforts to foster the development of new biotech companies based primarily on research conducted at Arizona’s universities and non-profit research institutes.
 
The group will primarily focus on nurturing technologies and companies in the areas of proteins and antibody engineering, since most of the group involved with the research institute has experience in that particular area, according to Morhet, although he declined to name other founding or board members. Other potential areas include medical devices, industrial and environmental biotech, bioinformatics, and forest, agricultural, and marine biotechnology.
 
ThirdBiotech said that its overarching goal is to “identify and assist three formal projects per year;” to “facilitate the creation of one biotechnology firm per year;” and to “have a greater than fifty percent survival rate at the third year mark for companies it has created.”
 
So far, the group has not taken on a formal project, but Morhet said that there are a “few in the queue,” and that further announcements will likely be made this year.
 
A key aspect of ThirdBiotech’s effort, Morhet said, is a “virtual incubator” that will attempt to find lab space for entrepreneurial researchers or nascent biotechs at companies and institutions around the state on an as-needed basis.
This approach differs from traditional incubator models, which Morhet claims have generally been a failure in Arizona, and in the US in general.
 
“It’s virtual from the standpoint that we haven’t dedicated specific resources or brought up a structure, because almost every other incubator we’ve known has failed because they often spend their money on the incubator first,” Morhet said. “An incubator is a tough nut to get through because you have to have a business plan to support it; otherwise it’s going to fail.”
 
To that end, ThirdBiotech is working with regional companies, universities, and research institutes to seek out lab space on a case-by-case basis for researchers with promising biotechnologies that are ready to have a company built around them.
 
Mohret’s own company, Canadian biotech InNexus, of which he is chairman and CEO, maintains laboratory operations on the Mayo Clinic’s campus in Scottsdale, Ariz., and will allow local bio-entrepreneurs to use between 250 and 400 square feet of wet-lab space until they can break out on their own. He declined to identify other entities that might donate lab space.
 
ThirdBiotech will rely solely on contributions and sponsorships. So far, in addition to InNexus, the group has secured undisclosed sponsorships from GE Healthcare, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, the Canada-Arizona Business Council; BIO5 Institute; and ArizonaCure. Phoenix-based law firm Osborne Maledon is also listed as a sponsor of recent networking events on the ThirdBiotech website.
 
— By Ben Butkus, editor of BRN sister publication Biotech Transfer Week
 

 
Oxfordshire Bioscience Network Spins Out of Oxford Brookes University
 
Oxfordshire Bioscience Network — a not-for-profit association enabling life sciences industry executives to share knowledge, as well as save money on R&D — last week announced it had spun out from Oxford Brookes University’s School of Life Sciences “to tap the accelerated growth potential of its high quality biotech business networking services and its purchasing scheme.”
 
Established in 1999, OBN carries out activities that include organizing the annual BioTrinity regional conferences, as well as “BioTuesdays” networking meetings; arranging discounts on lab supplies for member companies that the group projects will reach at least £1 million ($2 million) in the first two years; and promoting the Oxford BioCluster, which has welcomed 30 new member companies since 2005.
 

 
July 15 Deadline Set for Companies Seeking Funds from NC Biotech Center’s New Industrial Fellowship Program
 
The state-funded North Carolina Biotechnology Center has set a July 15 deadline for applications from biotech companies interested in sponsoring postdoctoral scientists looking to transition from the state’s research universities into industry R&D careers.
 
The biotech center will fund five sponsors under its new NCBC Industrial Fellowship Program, designed to match scientists who need industry experience with companies that need scientific expertise. The program’s goal is to help North Carolina retain home-grown research talent by providing work experience in the state’s life-science companies.
 
Click here to complete a sponsor application or learn more about the program.
 
According to the biotech center, North Carolina’s universities conferred 280 PhD degrees in the life sciences in 2006, and presently employ about 3,000 postdoctoral fellows. Yet only 25 to 50 percent of them will ultimately be hired for tenure-track, academic faculty positions — and rarely at the university where they received postdoctoral training.
 
Under the new Industrial Fellowship Program, the biotech center will provide two years of salary and benefits for five North Carolina biotechnology companies that are engaged in discovery or contract research. Those sponsoring companies must provide a senior scientist to serve as mentor to their fellows, namely PhD scientists who are hired by the sponsor company as full-time employees. Fellows will have access to programs in business, intellectual property, regulatory affairs and other areas to complement their training.
 
The biotech center will also collect scientists’ applications and forward them to the companies chosen for fellowships. An application will be available at a later date, the center said on its web site.
 

 
Maryland’s Biotechnology Investment Tax Credits Draw Applications From 14 Companies
 
Investors in 14 Maryland biotechnology companies are seeking a total $6 million in tax credits under the state’s Biotechnology Investment Tax Credit program, after waiting in line for hours to apply for the benefits as soon as the state began accepting applications on July 1, the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development announced last week.
 
The DBED-run program is designed to encourage investors to provide seed and early-stage funding to qualified, privately held Maryland biotechnology companies. The tax credit program has already leveraged more than $24 million in private investment since its inception in 2006.
 
The tax credit program provides tax credits equal to 50 percent of an eligible investment, and investors make an equal match. To qualify for the credit, companies must be less than 12 years old, be headquartered in Maryland, employ fewer than 50 people, and have a valid certification from the Department of Business and Economic Development. Investors are required to submit applications prior to making an investment.
 
DBED said it will review the applications and issues initial credit certifications within 30 calendar days.
 

 
Gates Foundation Awards $3M to ICGEB Toward African Biosafety, Regulatory Project
 
The International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology will receive a $3 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation intended to help support the development of effective safety and regulatory systems for biotechnology in Africa.
 
The project will focus on improving training, information and other support to regionally based specialists so African countries have the opportunity to safely access scientific advances. The project will assist African governments and scientists by supporting implementation of internationally recognized regulatory systems designed to protect consumers and the environment.
 
Working primarily out of its new Cape Town, South Africa, facility, the ICGEB will create regional focal points on biosafety from where expert personnel will organize practical workshops responding to the needs of scientists and representatives of national authorities in the region.
 
The project will also offer fellowships for a one-year residential Masters of Science course in biosafety, and provide funds to encourage the participation of African biosafety experts in regional and international conferences in order to support their development and foster links with the international scientific community.
 

 
India’s First National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute Set for Mohali
 
India will establish its firstNational Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute within the Knowledge City biotech park being developed in Mohali, Chandigarh — a Rs 380 crore ($8.8 million) facility set to rise on 35 acres to be developed through a public-private partnership.
 
According to Indian Express Newspapers, the institute will focus on agriculture and agro-processing, using biotechnological innovations. The institute is designed to increase the competitiveness of India’s agri-food industrial sector through innovation, resource and development support. The institute will also train professionals in food science and technology, as well as nutritional science.
 
The center is expected set to start operation in about two years, following construction that will begin later this year. Ernst & Young serves as project consultant.
 
MK Bhan, secretary of India’s Department of Biotechnology, told the newspaper group the bio-processing unit will satisfy a national need for facilities between those for laboratory-level testing and for large-scale manufacturing. The unit has been designed to serve as an incubator and provider of services for start-up companies.
 
The biotech park within Knowledge City will comprise a business center, utilities, facilities and a service center to promote biotech industry in the state. The Punjab Biotechnology Incubator, which now operates Mohali, will be shifted to the biotech park.
 
Bhan told Indian Express Newspapers the institute will employ nearly 300 scientists, and will provide support to new companies that are involved in agri-residue innovation so that they can create more jobs.
 

 
Missouri Technology Corp. Names San Diego VC Firm to Manage its Seed Capital Fund
 
The Missouri Technology Corp. has selected San Diego venture capital firm Finistere Ventures to serve as fund manager for the Missouri Venture Partners Project, an early-stage seed capital venture fund.
 
Finistere will raise $12 million toward the fund, while the technology corporation will set aside $3 million. Finistere is headed by Jerry Caulder, a Missouri native and owner operator of a family farm in the state. Caulder is also a member of Gov. Matt Blunt’s Governor’s Council on Plant Biotechnology.
 

 
Owners of Three Canadian Companies Nominated for Ernst & Young’s Prairies Region Entrepreneur of the Year Competition

Two life sciences companies and a distributor of pharmaceuticals were among finalists announced last week by Ernst & Young for its Prairies Entrepreneur of the Year. Winners for the regional awards competition will be announced at an Oct. 21 banquet, with the overall winner advancing to Canada’s national competition as the Prairies region representative a month later.

The 2008 Prairies region finalists for Entrepreneur of the Year are:

  • Clifford Giese and Kevin Giese of BioMS Medical in Edmonton, Alberta, developer of a multiple sclerosis drug now in late-stage clinical trials.
  • Chris Lumb of Micralyne in Edmonton, a developer and maker of microelectromechanical systems, or MEMS-based products for the life sciences, as well as the communications, energy, and transportation sectors.
  • Sine Chadi of Imperial Equities in Edmonton, an industrial landlord focused on acquisition, development and/or redevelopment of real estate, as well as the distribution of pharmaceuticals through a wholly owned subsidiary.

The Scan

Interfering With Invasive Mussels

The Chicago Tribune reports that researchers are studying whether RNA interference- or CRISPR-based approaches can combat invasive freshwater mussels.

Participation Analysis

A new study finds that women tend to participate less at scientific meetings but that some changes can lead to increased involvement, the Guardian reports.

Right Whales' Decline

A research study plans to use genetic analysis to gain insight into population decline among North American right whales, according to CBC.

Science Papers Tie Rare Mutations to Short Stature, Immunodeficiency; Present Single-Cell Transcriptomics Map

In Science this week: pair of mutations in one gene uncovered in brothers with short stature and immunodeficiency, and more.