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Colorado Debuts 5-Year, $26.5M Program To Help Bioscience Tech Transfer Flourish

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Colorado has established a Bioscience Research Grant Program that will pump $26.5 million over the next five years into initiatives designed to speed the commercialization of bioscience research at Colorado’s universities and research institutions, the Colorado Bioscience Association said last week.
 
Specifically, the money will be used to help university tech-transfer offices accelerate the development of bioscience discoveries; to support early-stage bioscience companies spun out from university biosciences research; and to build additional infrastructure necessary within the state to support its bioscience commercialization goals, CBA said.
 
Last week, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter signed House bill 1001, which was sponsored by Representative Jim Riesberg (D-Greeley) and Senator Bob Bacon (D-Fort Collins).
 
Under the new program, which will be managed by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, $5.5 million has already been allocated from the state’s general fund to support bioscience commercialization in the current 2007-2008 fiscal year, which ends June 30.
 
Next fiscal year, the program will authorize the use of another $4.5 million from state gaming funds; and then another $5.5 million from gaming funds in each of the following three years.
 
The research grant program will support three specific areas. The first area, proof-of-concept grants, will receive no less than 30 percent of the total available funds, and will be given to tech-transfer offices at universities and research institutions to accelerate basic science discoveries toward commercialized products in the areas of agriculture, human and animal health, the environment, and biofuels.
 
Under this part of the program, no more than $150,000 will be granted to individual research projects with commercial potential, and must be matched equally by a dedicated source of funds from either the research institution or an outside entity.
 
Christine Shapard, deputy director of CBA, told BTW this week that the grants are meant to “go toward researchers who they want to do a little more POC analysis. It could go toward the market research to find out what other companies are in the same space … or to get a better sense if it’s really a viable commercial product.”
 
Shapard said that the money will likely be pre-allocated so that the research institutions receiving the most federal research funding — led by the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Colorado State University in Fort Collins — would also receive the most commercialization assistance. She also said that the POC grants would in most cases supplement similar programs that each institution already has in place internally.
 

“We were able to show them the proof that with just a little bit of money, you’ll see new companies started that have been vetted a little bit more. This gives them a little bit more oomph when it comes to getting private-sector funding.”

“They all have POC grants within their institutions, although they don’t necessarily call them POC grants,” she said. “They will make the decisions on which technologies they think are the best ones, and they submit those for approval from the governor’s office.”
 
The second component of the new program, which will also receive no less than 30 percent of the HB 1001 funds, will support in-state early-stage bioscience companies. Companies receiving these grants must be headquartered in the state, must “produce or develop therapeutic or diagnostic products, devices, or instruments to improve human or animal health, improve agriculture or biofuels, have received less than $5 million in grants and third-party investors, and employ fewer than 20 persons,” according to bill language provided by CBA.
 
According to the bill, no more than $250,000 will be granted over the lifetime of the company and must also be matched equally by a dedicated source of funds consisting entirely of other grants or contributions from third party investors.
 
The legislature included the early-stage company grants primarily because “the technologies within our institutions are state assets, and they felt that this was a way to provide the benefits back to the state,” Shapard said.
 
The third initiative of the new bill will support bioscience industry infrastructure development, and will receive no more than 40 percent of the total HB 1001 funds.
 
According to the bill, this program will support partnership efforts between the bioscience industry and research institutions that support the commercialization of therapeutics, diagnostic products, devices, and biofuels.
 
Shapard said that this part of the bill “was kept very general on purpose, because we wanted to develop a really good list of things it might be available for.” Some of the ideas that have already been discussed include supporting a new drug-development center to be located at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center at Fitzsimmons, in Aurora; incubators associated with infectious disease and cancer ‘superclusters’ being developed at CSU (see BTW, 4/2/2008); and a new biotechnology research center to house the Colorado Initiative in Molecular Biotechnology, established in 2003 at CU-Boulder to foster research, teaching, and technology development at the interface of life sciences, physical sciences, mathematics, computational sciences, and engineering.
 
“It could be equipment, or entrepreneurial services — any type of infrastructure that is going to help build the industry,” Shapard said. “But it has to have that research institution partnership aspect.”
 
A board within the Colorado OEDIT comprising local venture capitalists, industry specialists, government officials, and CBA will review individual grant applications and make final award decisions, Shapard said.
 
The first two aspects of HB 1001 — the POC grants and early-stage bioscience company grants — are a continuation of HB 1360 passed in 2006 and HB 1060 passed in 2007, respectively. The HB 1060 bill was itself an extension of HB 1360, which provided $2 million in bioscience research grants to Colorado universities and research institutions. Last year’s HB 1060 bill provided $2.5 million to match federal grants available to small businesses at a rate of 50 cents for every federal dollar, up to a maximum of $50,000 per business.
 
Shapard said that early success stories from these bills prompted the state legislature to authorize the new five-year plan.
 

“From the original bill in 2006, they funded 27 technologies, [from which] we’ve seen eight companies spin out from the universities,” Shapard said. “So we were able to show them the proof that with just a little bit of money, you’ll see new companies started that have been vetted a little bit more. This gives them a little bit more oomph when it comes to getting private-sector funding.”

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