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New Jersey: Proposed Genentech Acquisition Unlikely to Affect $1.4M State Grant Awarded Roche in ‘07
 
Roche’s announcement last week that it plans to acquire for $43.7 billion the shares in Genentech it does not already own, then locate the combined company’s headquarters in Genentech’s home city of South San Francisco, Calif., will not preclude the company’s Hoffmann-La Roche pharmaceutical unit from receiving economic subsidies awarded last year if it adds jobs as planned.
 
Roche last year won more than $1.4 million from the state of New Jersey under its Business Retention and Relocation Assistance Act Grant program, in return for pledging to retain 948 jobs at the company’s Nutley, NJ, and Clifton, NJ, facilities.
 
“To date, no funds have been disbursed,” Glenn Phillips, a spokesman for the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, which oversees BRRAG, told BioRegion News via e-mail.
 
“In announcing its proposed acquisition of Genentech of California, Roche also announced that it planned to expand its R&D operations in New Jersey. Given this information, we do not expect that Roche's potential future moves will have a negative impact on its BRRAG agreement with New Jersey,” Phillips said.
 
The company's chief executive of North American operations, George Abercrombie, told the Associated Press it was too early to say whether Roche and its Hoffmann-La Roche unit will base more or fewer jobs in New Jersey as a result of the proposed Genentech acquisition. Roche now employs 3,270 staffers in the Garden State.
 
Roche plans to shift its inflammation group from Palo Alto, Calif., to its Nutley site, which would be transformed into the company’s East Coast R&D center. “Nutley will host two global disease biology areas (oncology and inflammation) as well as key functions in metabolism and will remain an important pillar for the US and Roche’s global organization,” the company stated in a press release announcing the proposed Genentech acquisition.
 
But Roche would shift its US pharma commercial operations from Nutley to Genentech’s campus in South San Francisco, and be rebranded as Genentech. The 1,000-employee Palo Alto site would be shut down, and workers split between Nutley and South San Francisco, where the company’s virology R&D activities would be relocated.
 
None of that was known on April 12, 2007, when New Jersey’s Commerce, Economic Growth & Tourism Commission approved the BRRAG grant for Hoffmann-La Roche by a 6-0 vote.
 
“[Commission] Chairman [Gary] Rose indicated that this is a fine company and that he had the opportunity to visit them during the fall. He indicated that the state is very proud of Hoffman La Roche’s presence in New Jersey,” according to the minutes of the commission’s meeting, available here.
 

 
GlaxoSmithKline Confirms Plans to Lay Off 90 Workers in Zebulon, NC
 
GlaxoSmithKline is laying off about 90 workers, accounting for 10 percent of the staff at its drug manufacturing plant in Zebulon, NC, a company official confirmed to the Triangle Business Journal of Raleigh, NC, last week.
 
"These are tough times," Gigi Nelson, director of human resources, told the newspaper.
 
The layoffs will bring the number of people at GSK's plant in Zebulon to between 850 and 900, down from 1,350 just a year ago. The action was the second time GSK cut jobs this year.
Back in February, GSK told 70 people that their jobs were being eliminated.
 
GSK uses its manufacturing operations in Zebulon primarily to make Advair DISKUS, an inhaled form of the company's top-selling asthma drug. Other drugs produced there include the genital herpes treatment Valtrex, and the epilepsy and bipolar disorder treatment Lamictal.
 
London-based GSK has reduced its Triangle staff since October 2007, when it announced an "operational performance program" global cost-cutting effort, intended to save $1.4 billion by 2010.
 
GSK has also trimmed staffing at its Research Triangle Park campus — to an estimated 4,500 employees, from the 5,000 based there a year earlier.
 

 
Pennsylvania Awards $34M for Tech-Based Economic Development Efforts
 
Pennsylvania will spend $34 million on a variety of economic development projects focused on the life sciences and other technologies, following approval of the funding last week by the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority.
 
Among life sciences-related projects funded:
  • Ben Franklin Technology Partners received annual funding of $27.6 million, to be allocated among its four regional centers toward creating and expanding companies deemed to have potential for high growth through seed funding and technical assistance.
  • The Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program, a federal-state-university partnership to help Pennsylvania companies improve competitiveness, received $1.5 million to provide assistance for emerging energy technologies. PennTAP will use this grant to provide one-on-one consultation to help small businesses evaluate and implement appropriate alternative energy solutions, create new technology products and components, and develop new markets for Pennsylvania's alternative energy technologies.
  • Philadelphia University, Drexel University, and the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania received $1.25 million to create the Pennsylvania Advanced Textiles Reach and Innovation Center. The center, also called PATRIC, will provide a location and expertise to test, develop and create materials in a range of biological and technology applications.
  • BioStrategy Partners of Elkins Park, Pa., was allocated $125,000 to overhaul its Life Sciences Leadership Forum; offer eight programs through the Practical Knowledge Series; provide commercialization services to life sciences companies and place interns at companies within state Keystone Innovation Zones. BioSP will also continue to nurture early stage companies.
  • The Pennsylvania Angel Network received $35,000 for support services. PAN develops relationships intended to persuade high net worth individuals to invest in the growth of emerging Pennsylvania companies.

 
Florida’s Pinellas County Approves $2M Incentive Toward Draper Laboratory Relocation
 
The Board of County Commissioners in Florida’s Pinellas County last week approved a $2 million incentive to Draper Laboratory, a Cambridge, Mass., weapons and biotechnology company, toward developing an electronics manufacturing facility in St. Petersburg, Fla., the St. Petersburg Times reported.
 
The $2 million is part of a total $30 million incentive package being crafted by state and local officials. A key piece of that package emerged earlier this month, when Hillsborough County’s board of commissioners approved $10 million for Draper if it opens as well a$20 million nanotechnology and BioMEMS research lab at the University of South Florida campus in Tampa, Fla. [BRN, July 21, 2008].
 
St. Petersburg, Hillsborough County, and the University of South Florida also are contributing to the incentive package. The biggest chunk, $15 million, comes from the state. The $2 million from Pinellas is conditioned on Draper signing a five-year lease in the county, obtaining the state funding, investing $5 million in equipment, and starting its lease by July 1, 2009.
 
Pinellas County commissioners have defended their award at a time when the county faces budget problems that have prompted Pinellas officials to consider cutting 400 jobs, only half of them vacant.
 
"To go to one extreme would be to say do no economic development. And I think that would, in the short term, prevent some pain, but in the long term it would be detrimental,” Commissioner Ken Welch told the St. Petersburg Times.
 
The Pinellas County project would create a total 165 high-wage jobs, plus bring $50 million in research grants to USF. The laboratory plans to partner with SRI International, which is creating a 200-person marine research and technology facility in St. Petersburg.
 

 
Former Pipex Pharmaceuticals President Establishes a Life Sciences VC Fund
 
Charles Bisgaier, the former president of Ann Arbor biotech firm Pipex Pharmaceuticals, is establishing a venture capital fund focused on investments in Michigan life sciences companies.
 
"The Michigan talent pool has a lot of entrepreneurial potential. There's a (substantial) pharmaceutical workforce in Michigan," Bisgaier told the Ann Arbor Business Review. "I plan to build an experienced team — science, business and entrepreneurs — to mentor startups in Michigan to develop early-stage technologies."
 
Bisgaier resigned from Pipex earlier this month, after the US Food and Drug Administration blocked the company's top drug candidate from hitting the market. Bisgaier told the newspaper he would take a few months off before launching the fund. He would not say how much money he planned to raise for the fund, but added that he expected founders of the VC fund would invest some of their own money.
 

 
Massachusetts Life Sciences Center Awards $7M in Research Matching Grants
 
The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center board last week approved the recipients of two 2008 Research Matching Grants programs totaling nearly $7 million.
The restructured board [See BioRegion Newsmakers, this issue] approved five New Faculty Startup grants totaling about $3.5 million, with the goal of attracting and retaining nationally prominent faculty at Massachusetts colleges and universities with the following specialties:
  • Boston University — Systems biology and infectious diseases.
  • Brandeis University — In vivo imaging of brain function.
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst — Systems biology.
  • UMass Boston — Biomedical sciences.
  • UMass Lowell — Biomanufacturing science and engineering.
The board also approved 11 New Investigator grants totaling more than $3.1 million. The grants are intended “to spur innovative new research and advance the careers of new investigators who are working on cutting-edge life sciences research at Massachusetts colleges, universities, and affiliated research institutions,” according to the center. Grant winners:
  • Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center — Wenyi Wei: Dissection of the signaling pathways controlling the destruction of the Mdm2 oncoprotein.
  • Boston University — Hatice Altug: Development of multiplexed, ultra-sensitive, label-free and rapid biosensing technologies for proteomics and virus detection applications.
  • Broad Institute — Alexander Meissner: Characterizing the pluripotent state through integrative genomic analysis.
  • Harvard Medical School — Thomas Bernhardt: New strategies for identifying antibiotic targets.
  • Massachusetts General Hospital — Jorge Mora: Teaching lymphocytes where to go: Implications for intestinal immunity and inflammation.
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology — Laurie Boyer: Teaching lymphocytes where to go: Implications for intestinal immunity and inflammation; Jeroen Saeij: Molecular characterization of toxoplasma kinases involved virulence.
  • Tufts Veterinary School — Christopher Schonhoff: Role of S-nitrosylation in hepatic bile acid transport.
  • UMass Amherst — Jesse Mager: Functional assessment of epigenetic regulatory genes in vivo.
  • UMass Lowell — Xingwei Wang: Miniature label-free biosensing probes for rapid detection of virus, bacteria, and cells.
  • Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research — Iain Cheeseman: A molecular toolkit for analysis of the human kinetochore.

 
BioOhio Unveils Redesigned Web Site, With Business Assistance and News in Mind
 
BioOhio, the Buckeye State’s life sciences industry association, has redesigned its web site. In addition to promoting the state’s bioscience cluster, the redesigned web site links users to BioOhio resources for assisting company launches, capital formation, business recruitment, workforce development and deployment, and community building.
 
The new design also highlights the site’s news and events sections, including a newsticker that continuously scrolls headlines related to Ohio bioscience businesses and research.
 
BioOhio members can access through the site exclusive content and web tools, including a desktop networking forum and an area for sharing recent press releases. The site will host podcasts, blogs, and video later this year, according to BioOhio.
 
BioOhio hopes to add to the 3,000 to 4,000 unique visitors per month attracted by the old web site. “We expect the new functionality and user-friendly interface will increase traffic by 50 percent within a few months of launch,” the organization said in an announcement.

The Scan

US Booster Eligibility Decision

The US CDC director recommends that people at high risk of developing COVID-19 due to their jobs also be eligible for COVID-19 boosters, in addition to those 65 years old and older or with underlying medical conditions.

Arizona Bill Before Judge

The Arizona Daily Star reports that a judge weighing whether a new Arizona law restricting abortion due to genetic conditions is a ban or a restriction.

Additional Genes

Wales is rolling out new genetic testing service for cancer patients, according to BBC News.

Science Papers Examine State of Human Genomic Research, Single-Cell Protein Quantification

In Science this week: a number of editorials and policy reports discuss advances in human genomic research, and more.