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UMass Explores Expanding West, With Collaboration in Mind
 
BOSTON — University of Massachusetts has begun discussing with state officials plans to expand into western portions of the state whose economies could use a boost by tapping into the Boston-Cambridge biotech cluster.
 
At a conference held by the Association of University Research Parks, UMass President Jack Wilson said talks have begun with Daniel O’Connell, secretary of the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.
 
“You’re going to be seeing some strategy falling out which is similar to those strategies – how do we connect the supercluster to these places where in fact they are losing population, their economies are in trouble. It takes partnerships and strategies,” Wilson said in an interview minutes after addressing a panel talk at the Association of University Research Park’s May 5 conference “Bioregions: Impacting Global Discovery and Innovation,” held at Boston’s Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel.
 
Wilson said his school hopes to help distressed cities much as its incubators have generated new business activity for New Bedford, Fall River, and Lowell.
 
In an interview, Wilson said a key goal of the talks is to boost a fledgling two-year-old partnership UMass has developed with Bay State Medical Center in Springfield, Mass. The two year-old partnership now generates about $20 million a year in joint research.
 
 “By university standards our partnership is quite young, but it’s quite successful and we’d like to see that geared up quite a bit. We expect to see that grow rather dramatically,” Wilson told BioRegion News. Bay State Medical “will be a very important, major, maybe predominant component of what happens in western Massachusetts. But it will take much more than that. We need other partnerships.”
 
One area of particular interest, Wilson said, is boosting research in cell degeneration or apoptosis. Another is developing activity in Springfield or Amherst that would spin off an RNAi therapeutics center that UMass plans to open in Worcester, Mass., to address diabetes, hepatitis, ALS, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases.
 
While expanding the Bay State Medical partnership should effectively promote economic activity in Springfield and the surrounding area, Wilson said that “we’re going to need additional strategies in the Berkshires and the western Mass region.
 
In industrial cities like Pittsfield, Mass., he added, UMass and partners could train workers for manufacturing jobs in the life sciences.
 
Wilson was one of three top college administrators who spoke at the panel discussion, “Focus on Boston’s Biomedical Research Necklace.” Joining him were Boston University President Robert Brown and Deborah Kocheval, Dean of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Panel moderator was Kenneth R. Luchten, Dean of BU’s College of Engineering.
 
Panelists agreed that Boston-area colleges are more receptive than ever to encouraging faculty members to commercialize their inventions. The practice, they agreed, benefits students and colleges and universities as much as the biotech industry.
 
“One of our best ways [to advance research] is to give our students the tools to be problem solvers,” Kocheval said. “Our role is to have them take that and be able to bring that to an industry like life sciences, to be able to accomplish something that is tangible and supports their industry as well as the development of a particular product.”
 
Brown said universities like his can benefit as biotech pros, like engineers, feel a societal obligation to share their science with society: “If you look at the university as a connective part of the integrative fabric of the community and the nation, you want to have that societal impact. The enormous energy that is created on a university campus by that innovation, by that creativity, is infectious to the entire community.”
 

 
Oakland Mulls Chamber’s Proposal for Biotech Industry Liaison
 
The chief of staff to Oakland, Calif., Mayor Ron Dellums said the city would review recommendations for growing the city’s biotechnology industry contained in a report released April 30 by the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce – including a suggestion that the city hire a liaison to the biotech industry.
 
Dan Boggan Jr. said the city government will consider the liaison idea as part of a broader review of reorganizing the city’s Community and Economic Development Agency.
 
“We’re looking at our CEDA agency as being the lead agency in terms of any economic development strategy. It will rest on the existing staff – maybe reorganized in some fashion – to deal with this issue specifically,” Boggan said, answering a BioRegion News question at a May 1 conference call with reporters. “We really haven’t discussed the need to have a biotech liaison. But we are going to be looking at CEDA in a comprehensive way.”
 
The call followed release by the Oakland chamber of “Taking Stock of Oakland’s Economy.” The 106-page report concluded the city must address several weaknesses if it is to gain a share of the biotech business that has flocked to nearby Alameda, Hayward, and Fremont, as well as South San Francisco and, in recent years, the city and county of San Francisco itself.
 
Among those weaknesses: An unresponsive city government; limited lab space and venture funding relative to the region; a need for more biotech education in high schools and colleges; and a reputation for high crime. Between January and June of last year the number of murders nearly doubled over the 2005 period, from 37 to 66, according to the FBI’s Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report released last December.
 
The report recommended that Oakland:
  • Name a biotechnology liaison/manager“who would recruit biotechnology companies and essentially help them accelerate through the Oakland bureaucracy.”
  • Identify for potential biotech-development sites “that would require little conversion time, little investment, and would be low risk.
  • Focus on attracting a single, key biotech tenant capable of attracting others.
  • Consider a small incubator to house between six and 10 businesses, each occupying from 2,500 to 3,000 square feet.
“The intent was to begin to get some momentum in biotech as an important growing business,” said Mendonca, a director in the San Francisco office of McKinsey & Company, which offered pro bono assistance in research and analysis for the report. That effort, he added, would not preclude attracting smaller biotechs to Oakland.
 
Mendonca, who also chairs McKinsey’s economic research arm McKinsey Global Institute, is a key player in the region’s civic and business circles. According to McKinsey’s Web site, he is chairman of the board of directors of the Bay Area Economic Forum, secretary and executive committee member of the public-policy advocacy group Bay Area Council, on the board of directors of the Bay Area Science and Innovation Consortium, on the board of EdVoice, and a member of the business advisory council for the San Francisco Unified School District.
 
Boggan said the city has held initial discussions with the University of California about “ways to incubate biotech and to provide support for the development of a viable biotech industry, and to see that we can over time develop a more comprehensive strategy around the development of biotech as a major part of the growth of Oakland’s economy.”
 
“Taking Stock of Oakland’s Economy” also identified what it considered Oakland’s strengths in biotech – proximity to the vibrant biotech cluster in the rest of the Bay area; proximity to UC Berkeley; the potential of stronger ties to Berkeley and other universities; and potential for cheaper rents than elsewhere in the Bay area.
 
“We need to attract new industries. Biotechnology is one that has knocked on the door around Oakland, and yet needs to be brought to Oakland. I think there is space to do it, and I think there’s the will to make it happen,” said Joseph Haraburda, the Oakland chamber’s president and CEO.
 

 
Abbott Opens $450M Manufacturing Plant in Puerto Rico
 
Abbott Biotechnology Limited has officially opened a $450 million, 330,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico. The new plant will serve as the main production facility for Humira, Abbott’s pharmaceutical drug designed to treat rheumatoid arthritis, and allow large-scale production of future products.
 
Some 250 people are expected to be employed there.
 
The new plant cements Abbott’s presence in Puerto Rico, where it employs 2,400 people and has invested over $1 billion since launching operations on the island in 1968. Abbott is one of five biotech or pharmaceutical giants to invest in Puerto Rico, along with Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, and Merck.
 
“The presence of Abbott and other global life sciences leaders shows Puerto Rico’s dedication to creating a climate that meets the needs of the biotechnology industry,” Puerto Rico Gov. Anibal Acevedo-Vila said in a statement announcing the new facility.
 
As a US commonwealth, Puerto Rico boasts of offering biotechs offshore tax benefits as well as US regulatory standards and protections.
 

 
Authority Plans $18M Renovation for Boston’s Hynes Convention Center
 
The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority says the $18 million renovation it plans for the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center in Boston holds the best hope of reaching its goal of breaking even in five years.
 
The authority’s renovation calls in part for 30,000 square feet of new stores and restaurants – three buildings of about 10,000 square feet. Two of the new retail spaces would be along Boylston Street, one at the east corner of the building adjacent to the Prudential Plaza, the other at the west corner at Boylston and Dalton streets. The third retail space would be on the second level of the convention center, along the main corridor in space now used as a cafeteria.
 
The retail space is projected to generate up to $1.5 million a year in rent.
 
Also included in the renovation are a new plasma screen video system to display event and building information, and perhaps someday advertising; expanded wireless and cell phone coverage to the entire building, rather than the present spotty coverage; new carpeting and paint for the first time since 1988; and new fire alarm, security, and communications systems.
 
According to the authority’s report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2006, the hotel lost $1.788 million on a $9.876 million budget, following a year in which it fell less than a million dollars shy of breaking even. James Rooney, the authority’s executive director, said in an interview that the Hynes landed fewer meetings due to talk in the industry that it might shut down. That talk followed calls for a shutdown from some officials due to the losses.
 
“If we look forward over the next five years, it’s coming back and we expect to average 120 events and 300,000 hotel room nights,” Rooney said. Hynes generated 311,286 room nights in fiscal year 2006.
 
One strength for Hynes is smaller biotech and medical meetings, 19 of which are planned this year. While BIO 2007 is taking place at the authority’s grander Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, the Hynes center’s event list this year includes a world stem cell summit this fall.
 
The authority has begun pursuing required approvals from Gov. Deval Patrick and the state legislature – and is now seeking an interior designer for the aesthetic portions of the renovation. Construction is set to take two years and would be carried out so no shows are interrupted.
 
Opened in 1965 as an auditorium, the Hynes Center morphed into a convention center in 1988.
 

 
UI, NGI Break Ground on $22M Laboratory-Incubator Facility
 
National Genecular Institute, a Newport Beach, Calif., subsidiary of Dermacia, and the University of Iowahave broken ground on a 90,000-square-foot customized medicine research laboratory and business incubator facility on the UI Oakdale Research Campus in Coralville, Iowa.
 
NGI and UI will be tenants in the new facility at 2500 Crosspark Road, to be owned by Ryan CompaniesUS and designed by OPNArchitects of Cedar Rapids. Projected cost is $22 million, with completion planned for May.
 
NGI expects to occupy about 55,000 square feet of the facility, where it will carry out research in genetics, pharmacogenomics, molecular cell biology, laser optics, nanobiology, and federally approved stem cell research. NGI projects it will create 178 new jobs during a three-year period.
 
"NGI's mission of 'Extending Life One Cell at A Time' will benefit greatly from this partnering and our research efforts will usher in the next generation of cosmeceuticals and skin care,” said Matt Nicosia, Dermacia's chief executive officer and co-founder, in a written statement announcing the groundbreaking.
 
Headquartered in Santa Ana, Calif., Dermacia is a manufacturer and innovator of skin care products, anti-aging cosmeceuticals, and topical pharmaceuticals. Its R&D subsidiary NGI specializes in pharmaceuticals and skin care for the anti-aging markets.
 
The UI will occupy 35,000 square feet of the facility for its new BioVentures Center, which will sublease space to biotechnology start-up companies, and will retain ownership of the land at the Oakdale Research Campus.
 
Oakdale is part of the IOWA Centers for Enterprise, which promote economic development and technology transfer, provides assistance to Iowa startups and existing Iowa businesses and communities, and help the state of Iowa develop a creative, entrepreneurial workforce.
 
In addition to the facility, NGI announced plans to purchase 3.86 acres in Iowa City, where it plans to build a repository for genetic and cellular materials. The company said its planned biobank will be one of the largest and most sophisticated in the world.
 

 
Preservation Media Manufacturer Bolts Upstate NY for Seattle Suburb
 
BioLife Solutions, a developer and manufacturer of proprietary liquid preservation media for cells, tissues, and organs, announced April 30 it completed the relocation of its corporate office and operations, except production, from Oswego, NY, to a biotech campus in the Seattle suburb of Bothell, Wash.
 
Oswego will remain the home base for BioLife’s production of its patented preservation media products, though the company said it is also evaluating several contract manufacturers to augment production capacity to meet future demand for its products.
 
“This move allows us to better serve all of our customers and enhance collaborations with leading research centers, including the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center,” BioLife CEO Mike Rice said in a written statement announcing the move.
 
BioLife also announced an expanded sales and marketing strategy, under which the company will exhibit at four events: BIO 2007 this week in Boston, the American Society of Gene Therapy annual meeting May 30-June 3 in Seattle; the International Society for Stem Cell Research annual meeting June 17-21 in Cairns, Australia; and the International Society for Cellular Therapy annual meeting June 24-27 in Sydney.
 
Publicly traded BioLife reported $208,000 in sales during preliminary first-quarter results announced April 5 – up 18 percent from the fourth quarter of 2006 and up 41 percent from the first quarter of 2006.
 

 
Amylin Expanding Its Ohio Manufacturing Plant
 
Amylin Ohio, a subsidiary of San Diego-based Amylin Pharmaceuticals, announced it is expanding its manufacturing facility in West Chester, Ohio.
 
The plant, at 8814 Trade Port Drive near the Union Center Boulevard district, is now being equipped to manufacture Amylin's long-acting release formulation of exenatide, a compound in development for once-weekly injection to treat type 2 diabetes. Up to 500 jobs are projected to be created over the next three years at the plant.
 
    “This is a very important high technology investment for us,” said Greg Jolivette, President of the Butler County Board of Commissioners, which announced the expansion on May 2. “It validates Butler County as a site for biotechnology manufacturing and the quality of our workforce.”
 
The expansion raises Amylin Ohio’s investment in the site to about $400 million. Amylin Ohio is one of 775 bioscience entities in Ohio. According to the state’s Department of Development, the bioscience industry employs 586,288 people statewide, with a total payroll of $22 billion and $52 billion in economic activity.
 
Byetta is the trade name for Amylin's formulation of exenatide that has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for twice-daily use by people with type 2 diabetes. Exenatide LAR has not yet been approved by the FDA for marketing in the US.
 
    The exenatide LAR development program is a collaboration between Amylin; Alkermes of Cambridge, Mass., which also has a facility in Wilmington, Ohio; and Eli Lilly.
 

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