Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Wa Po: Biotech Surge Shows Manufacturing Still Key to Economy

In N.C., A Second Industrial Revolution
Biotech Surge Shows Manufacturing Still Key to U.S. Economy

By Peter S. Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 3, 2007; A01

PITTSBORO, N.C. -- Until the late 1950s, the low-slung brick building in the center of this minuscule town was home to the Kayser-Roth hosiery mill. Some 400 workers tended to clattering looms, churning out pantyhose.

"It was the best employer in town," said Nancy May, a former worker.

The hosiery mill is gone now, along with much of the Carolina textile industry -- a casualty of the global reordering that has concentrated production in Asia and Latin America. But the old brick building is still here and still making products -- albeit modern varieties that could scarcely have been imagined a half-century ago: Today, the site is occupied by a biotechnology company, Biolex Therapeutics.

Inside, 90 workers harness expensive laboratory equipment and a plant called duckweed, a bane to local ponds, to develop a drug for a serious liver ailment. Even the lowest-paid lab technician takes home far more than the seamstresses earned. If the start-up succeeds, its product will be substantially more lucrative than pantyhose.

As lawmakers pursue legislation aimed at softening the blow from factory closures, and as the downside of trade emerges as a talking point in the 2008 presidential campaign, it might seem that manufacturing is a dying part of the U.S. economy. But the retooling of this old brick building on Credle Street underscores how, despite its oft-pronounced demise, American manufacturing is in many regards stronger than ever.

The United States makes more manufactured goods today than at any time in history, as measured by the dollar value of production adjusted for inflation -- three times as much as in the mid-1950s, the supposed heyday of American industry. Between 1977 and 2005, the value of American manufacturing swelled from $1.3 trillion to an all-time record $4.5 trillion, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

With less than 5 percent of the world's population, the United States is responsible for almost one-fourth of global manufacturing, a share that has changed little in decades. The United States is the largest manufacturing economy by far. Japan, the only serious rival for that title, has been losing ground. China has been growing but represents only about one-tenth of world manufacturing.

But if the big picture is brighter than many realize, American manufacturing is nevertheless undergoing fundamental change that is exerting enormous pressure on workers.

Imports are rising, now representing a third of all manufactured goods consumed in the country, up from 10 percent in the 1970s.

American exports are rising even faster than imports, but companies face intense price competition, with China, India, Brazil and dozens of other low-wage countries now part of a global marketplace for labor and materials. Manufacturers are redesigning production lines to make them more efficient, substituting machinery for people wherever possible.

So while American manufacturing is not declining, manufacturing employment has been shrinking dramatically. After peaking in 1979 at 19 million workers, the American manufacturing workforce has since dropped to 14 million, the lowest number since 1950.

A stark educational divide has emerged on the factory floor, as skills and training separate winners from losers. In 1973, more than half of all American manufacturing workers failed to complete high school, and only 6 percent attended some college, according to the National Association of Manufacturers. By 2001, nearly half completed high school and one-fourth attended some college.

North Carolina encapsulates the forces remaking American manufacturing. Between 2002 and 2005, the state lost 72,000 manufacturing jobs, about three-fourths in textiles, furniture-making and electronics, according to the North Carolina Commission on Workforce Development. At the same time, the state has become a rising powerhouse in lucrative new manufacturing sectors such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and sophisticated textiles.

As they grapple with change, North Carolina's workers and factory owners are helping answer a pressing question: What does the future hold for manufacturing in the United States?
Adapting to a New Market

"We didn't see it coming," the furniture man grimly declared.

Michael K. Dugan once ran Henredon Furniture Industries, which operated a plant in Spruce Pine, a former mining town in the rugged mountains in the western part of the state. There the company made hand-carved wooden bedroom furniture, once employing more than 1,000 people. Many lacked high school diplomas and some were illiterate, yet the factory provided a way for these workers to support families and to acquire modest homes and cars. It paid roughly $14 an hour, plus health and pension benefits.

Henredon's four-poster beds retailed for about $5,000 in the early 1990s, Dugan recalled. A few years later, similar models started showing up from the Philippines for less than $2,000. Now they can be found for $799, produced by workers in southern China who earn as little as 40 cents an hour.

Henredon first trimmed its workforce. Three years ago, it shut down the plant, eliminating the last 350 positions and adding to a wave of layoffs in surrounding Mitchell County, which has had roughly one-fifth of its jobs wiped out since 2000, according to the Employment Security Commission of North Carolina.

Many of the storefronts in Spruce Pine's brick downtown are empty. Restaurants and shops have closed, succumbing to a dearth of local spending power.

"The kids are moving out," said Brenda Smith, a youth pastor at a teen center. "They can't find anywhere to work. There's Wal-Mart, and that's about it."

For 26 years, Phillip Wilson worked at Henredon as a master carver. Now, on most days, he wakes before dawn and drives to his new job -- the 5:30 a.m. shift as a prison guard at the medium-security Mountain View correctional facility. His pay is down 15 percent, forcing him into a second job at a used-appliance store to make ends meet.

Throughout the state, and indeed the nation, laid-off factory workers are typically able to find new jobs but mostly for lower pay. A June 2002 study published by the North Carolina Justice and Community Development Center found that workers who lost manufacturing jobs in 1999 and 2000 were earning 72 percent of their previous salaries six months later.

Furniture-making is typical of the manufacturing sectors that are shrinking in the United States. For many, labor represents a relatively high proportion of total costs, making them vulnerable to foreign competition. If factories cannot automate, they die.

The textile industry has been particularly aggressive in replacing people with machines. A half-century ago, a typical North Carolina textile worker operated five machines at once, each capable of running a thread through a loom at 100 times a minute. Now machines run six times as fast, and one worker oversees 100 of them.

With machines increasingly occupying the center of production, manufacturers want highly trained, literate workers at the controls. To meet the demand and help workers secure jobs, North Carolina has beefed up course offerings at its community colleges.

Three years ago, it set up Bionetwork, a training program based in community colleges, to feed workers into the state's growing biotech sector.

"All of the skills are closely tied to the workplace," said Norman Smit, Bionetwork's recruitment director.

Smit seeks students from declining areas of manufacturing. Given intensive training and a willingness to adapt, a textile or furniture worker can become a better-paid biotech technician, he says. As proof, he points to Regina Whitaker.

Ten years ago, straight out of high school, Whitaker went to work at a yarn texturing plant in Yadkinville, in the Piedmont region. Her mother had worked there for 30 years.

From midnight until 8 a.m., Whitaker tended to whirring machinery, alternately wishing for another job and worrying that she would actually have to find one: Her company was opening plants in China and Brazil and laying people off in Yadkinville.

"I couldn't see spending my life there," Whitaker said.

In January 2003, she enrolled in the first associate degree classes offered in biotechnology at Forsyth Technical Community College. Now 28, she graduated in July 2004 and was hired as a lab technician at Targacept, a biotech start-up in Winston-Salem that was spun off from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. Where the tobacco giant had researched the use of nicotine to make people crave cigarettes, Targacept is focusing on the nicotine receptors in the brain to develop drugs for Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia.

Whitaker said her salary is "significantly more" than the $13.40 an hour she made at the yarn factory.

"I'm not struggling now," she said. "Before, it was paycheck to paycheck."
Textile Firm Finds a Niche

Glen Raven Custom Fabrics was another Carolina textile operation whose future seemed in doubt. In the early 1990s, the company was still concentrated on products under siege from foreign competition -- pantyhose, luggage fabric and yarn for apparel. Throughout the Carolinas, other textile companies were vanishing.

Glen Raven managed to endure and prosper by refocusing on specialty industrial fabrics for outdoor furniture, boats and awnings -- expensive goods that require customization, high-end machinery and technical expertise.

Economists suggest this is the future for successful U.S. manufacturers: zeroing in on high-value products that tap America's technological advantages to offset high labor costs. This strategy has fostered a boom in exports of American-made industrial engines and machinery, aerospace gear and pharmaceuticals.

North Carolina has embraced this approach, aggressively pushing biotechnology development. In the past decade, the number of biosciences firms in the state has jumped to 386 from 131, and the number of workers has more than doubled from 20,000 to 47,000, according to the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, a government arm that promotes the industry.

At Research Triangle Park, a sprawling complex outside Raleigh-Durham, Biogen Idec has established one of the larger biomanufacturing facilities in the United States, making sophisticated pharmaceuticals. Entry-level workers with the necessary training earn $27,000 to $35,000 a year. Experienced production workers can make considerably more.

For Glen Raven, the focus on high-technology production has turned its factory floors into lonely expanses. In Norlina, N.C., a red-brick factory just down Route 1 from the town's lone traffic light, 225 people once made pantyhose, pushing baskets of nylon across the floor by hand. Now, 156 workers man computers that control acres of robotic arms and bobbins producing yarn.

The refashioning has positioned Glen Raven to profit from what many portray as the mortal threat to the Carolina textile industry: China now buys growing volumes of the company's products. Last year, North Carolina exported $52 million of textiles and fabrics to China, a fivefold increase from 2003.

Chinese factories increasingly use Glen Raven's fabrics to make sun umbrellas and upholstery for lounge chairs, sending many of these finished goods back across the Pacific to the United States.

The workers at these Chinese factories typically make less in a month than the price of a sun umbrella at an American retailer. Glen Raven's success allows the company to pay its American workers $10.50 to $22 an hour, plus benefits. Even at those wages, labor represents only 5 percent of the overall cost of turning fiber into fabric.

Put another way, the efficiency of the machines that have eliminated jobs at its plants has allowed Glen Raven to pay the remaining workers enough to afford cars, health care and homes. Some of those homes boast patios and lawns now shaded by sun umbrellas made in China using fabric woven just down the road.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A sense of urgency - Speedy and reliable diagnosis for cancer patients grows Bostwick Laboratories

Monday, Sep 10, 2007 - 12:03 AM


From the moment the courier arrives at Bostwick Laboratories, around 6 a.m. most days, the clock is ticking.

Around the United States, and around the world, people are waiting on a diagnosis -- do they have cancer or not?

The answer lies in the packages that are delivered to Bostwick's laboratories and offices in the Innsbrook Corporate Center each morning.

Thousands of tissue samples come to the medical laboratory company every day -- many of them prostate biopsies sent by the company's client physicians. Bostwick Laboratories' job is to analyze those samples and provide a diagnosis.

In a first-floor laboratory in one of the company's two Innsbrook buildings, a team of histotechnologists trained to prepare slices of body tissue for examination by pathologists goes to work preparing the tissue samples. The samples, so tiny they are barely visible, are put through a highly technical, multistep process, including dyeing them and placing them on slides, before going to the company's 25 pathologists -- medical doctors specializing in diagnosing diseases -- for examination.

The aim is to provide a diagnosis to the physicians, and thus to patients, within 24 hours.

"From a patient's standpoint, you want to know as a soon as possible," said Leroy Mell, the company's chief laboratory officer. "You don't want to be sitting around for a week or two waiting for results. The patient comes first."
And when it comes to diagnosing cancer, speed can't mean sacrificing precision. "Our goal is 100 percent accuracy," Mell said.

With those kind of demands, the company's operations are suffused with what Dr. David Bostwick calls "a sense of urgency."

"That's a phrase we use a lot," said Bostwick, an internationally acknowledged expert on prostate cancer who founded the company that bears his name in 1999.

The same phrase could be used to describe the growth of Bostwick Labs. In only eight years, it has expanded from just a handful of employees to a company with 560 employees. In addition to its main offices and laboratories in Henrico County, the company has opened labs and offices in Florida, Arizona, New York and London.

"We receive specimens from as far as Russia, South Africa, Japan, Thailand, and of course, the United States," Bostwick said.

Bostwick came to Richmond to work for a urology practice while he got his business off the ground. The company has stayed here, he said, because of the Richmond area's central location on the East Coast, its low cost of doing business, and the skilled work force.

In March, the company announced a three-year expansion plan that includes investing $4.6 million to expand its laboratories and offices. The company also announced it was hiring about 600 people (about 150 of whom it has hired this year). The expansion plan would bring total employment to around 950.

"We're probably the biggest company in Richmond that you have never heard of," said Gary S. Levine, the company's chief financial officer.

He is only half joking -- most people who get biopsies probably don't think much about what happens to their samples, or who is involved in the diagnosis.

While hospitals -- including the major hospitals that serve the Richmond area -- have their own pathology departments, many physicians at urology centers or other practices rely on outside laboratories for diagnostics.

The laboratory-services industry is anywhere from a $45 billion to $60 billion business in the United States. Two big, publicly traded companies, LabCorp. and Quest, dominate the industry, but there are also about 3,500 smaller players around the country, Levine said.

"It's a highly fragmented industry," he said. "But there is a growth boom. That's driven by two things. Number one, payers are willing to pay more for diagnostics," Also, as baby boomers age, they need more medical tests. "That is what has driven a lot of our growth," Levine said.

Bostwick said the privately held company is on track to reach or exceed $100 million in revenue this year. The company has focused on a niche market within the laboratory services: anatomical pathology, specifically urologic pathology. Most of its business still comes from analyzing prostate biopsies, although the company is expanding into other areas including kidney, gastrointestinal and gynecological diagnostics. The company also has a division that works with major pharmaceutical companies on clinical trials.

Unlike much larger labs, "we don't try to do all things for all people," Bostwick said. "What we have tried to do is narrow our focus into those areas where we have core competencies."
While hospital pathologists often analyze biopsies from about 24 organs in the body, "we focus mainly on urologic pathology," Bostwick said. "With that focus, we are able to maintain a very high level of productivity, accuracy and a quick turnaround time."

That emphasis on focused markets and efficiency enables the company to generate higher profit margins. As a privately held company, it puts its money back into its operations. Also driving its growth is the company's introduction of new types of diagnostic tests that are faster and more accurate than conventional methods.

The company's expansion around the United States and in other countries also has come through an ambitious sales effort driven by Jed D. Fulk, vice president for sales and marketing.
Fulk, a West Point graduate and former U.S. Army officer who joined the company in 2003, is leading the company's charge into new regions and new specialties. He keeps maps in his office marking the areas where the company is introducing sales reps and finding new clients. A self-described workaholic who is usually sending out his first e-mails by 4 a.m., Fulk has a desk full of résumés.

"I'm hiring sales reps," he said. "We have doubled the number of sales reps to over 70 in the country, and by the end of September, we will have over 100."
A lot of the company's growth, Fulk said, can be attributed to physicians' admiration for the man at the top, David Bostwick. Some local physicians confirm that.

"He is trading on his name, which is a well-respected name," said Dr. Sam Graham, co-founder of Urology Specialists of Richmond, who has used Bostwick Labs for diagnostics. "If you ask most urologists around the country, 'Do you know who David Bostwick is?' They will say yes."
Before founding the company, Bostwick was a professor of pathology and urology at the Mayo Clinic from 1991 to 1999. He has written 16 books -- including the best-selling textbook on urologic pathology -- and more than 400 papers.

Bostwick had the idea of starting a laboratory with a 24-hour turnaround in 1985 when he was a doctor at University of Chicago Hospitals. His colleagues there, however, thought the idea was impractical. But Bostwick, who later moved on to the University of Maryland, didn't let go of the idea.

While earning an MBA in the early 1990s, Bostwick wrote his thesis on setting up a laboratory with same-day results reporting.
"We have had the technology for 25 years," but it was never utilized that way, he said.
Graham and Dr. David Wilkinson, chairman of the pathology department at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the company has thrived on providing specialized lab services to physicians who often don't have access to that kind of service in their own communities.
"I think the demand for highly specialized knowledge is growing, and that is where Bostwick Labs has found its niche," Wilkinson said.

In the Richmond area, Wilkinson said, the biggest impact the company is having is driving job demand for workers such as histotechnologists and medical technicians. Those kinds of workers are already hard to find.

"The good news is that should help the salaries of those people, who are very highly trained, very skilled people and probably have been underpaid in many ways," he said.
Although many patients may not recognize the name, Bostwick Labs has earned recognition in the business community. In 2005, the company was named by the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce as the fastest-growing privately held business in the Richmond area.

"We grew 95 percent last year, and are on target to grow 100 percent this year," Bostwick said.
"We expect to grow at doubleor triple-digit rates in the near future."

With that kind of growth, the company is sure to attract investor interest. Executives say the company is considering a public stock offering.

Growing players in the industry also tend to attract buyout offers. While acquisitions might be on the table, Bostwick said a buyout is not.

"I have told the employees we are not for sale," he said. Contact John Reid Blackwell at (804) 775-8123 or

Virginia looking for Israeli bioscience companies

Sep. 10 - The Virginia Israel BioSciences Commercialization Center (VIBSCC) is planning to select five Israeli companies to assist in entering the US market. A delegation will be in Israel in early October to select the companies that will be invited to participate in a special two day Gateway America program held at the VIBSCC in Richmond in December. "This is a fantastic opportunity for Israeli businesses in the bioscience field," said Ralph Robbins, executive director of the Virginia Israel Advisory Board. "The purpose of the VIBSCC is to benefit Israeli bioscience companies through a combination of services that ultimately give them the upper hand when entering the US market.? The VIBSCC comprises part of one of the fastest growing Biotech parks in the U.S. and features a medical center with an award-winning Center of Excellence in the BioTechnology Research Park and the Virginia BioSciences Development Center. Companies that wish to request an interview with the VIBSCC council can receive additional information by visiting

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Virginia Business Magazine on Biotech

Article in the latest Virginia Business on Biotech...

No magic pill

Virginia’s got research centers, startups and even a biotech billionaire. But does the state have enough traction to become a biotech leader?

by Robert Burke
for Virginia Business
September 2007

For boosters of Virginia’s biotechnology industry, the story of Intrexon Corp. reads like a fairy tale. In 2000 it began as a tiny startup in Cincinnati. Three years later Robert Beech took over as CEO, and his search for capital to grow the business led him to Blacksburg. He moved his company there to be near investors. Carilion Health System, the Virginia Tech Foundation and a few others saw potential and gave the company a $925,000 cash infusion.

Fast forward to May. The privately held company received another major boost: a $25 million cash investment from New River Management, a private investment fund managed by Radford-based Third Security LLC. The firm is led by Randal J. Kirk, who earlier this year sold New River Pharmaceuticals to a British company in a $2.6 billion deal that made him a billionaire.

Now Intrexon is in the midst of a hiring spree. It’s filling lab space at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center with researchers bent on developing gene-based therapeutics against tough diseases such as advanced melanoma. Since spring, the staff has swelled from seven employees to 67, and there are plans to double that number by year’s end. Beech says the company wants to begin clinical trials by late this year or early next year. “We’ve got the right partners, the right investors lined up, that I think over time we’re going to have a great company.”
Click to learn more...

Of course, the real test for Intrexon is whether it can truly develop new and effective treatments. “We’ve got a lot of heavy lifting in front of us,” says Beech. Yet as a creator of jobs and investment, Intrexon is already a success. In fact, some say it’s the model for the future if Virginia wants to compete as a biotech state. Early-stage investment and support from a research university are key in moving technology from the lab into the marketplace.

The ability to pull that off may determine whether Virginia becomes a serious player. The state has about 175 biotech, pharmaceutical, medical-device and equipment businesses, according to the Virginia Biotechnology Association.
In 2002, the state began a major initiative to develop its biotech industry. It started offering more economic incentives, grants and business assistance for biotechs, and that appears to be paying off. Several major new R&D centers have opened — and others are planned — that have the potential to put Virginia solidly on the map with other biotech leaders, such as Massachusetts, Florida and North Carolina.

Burgeoning biotech clusters continue to grow in Northern Virginia, Richmond, Charlottesville, Roanoke/Blacksburg and Hampton Roads. If these centers can spin off companies from discoveries made there and at research at Virginia’s universities, then this emerging sector will not only boost the state’s R&D profile, but also lift local economies. Among the new centers:

• The $500 million Janelia Farm Research Campus of the Maryland-based Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The biomedical research campus in Loudoun County opened last year. It has 760,000 square feet of laboratory space and will have 300 scientists working there when it is fully operational next year.

• SRI International, a nonprofit based in Menlo Park, Calif., announced plans in December to build a Center for Advanced Drug Research in Rockingham County. It will collaborate with James Madison University and other Virginia schools. The center is expected to create 140 jobs and more than 100 new R&D positions by 2012.

• The University of Virginia broke ground last October on the 200,000-square-foot Carter-Harrison Medical Research Building, an $84 million project expected to open late next year. It will eventually house about 265 scientists and staff, who will focus on cancer research, infectious diseases and immunology.

• Philip Morris USA is putting finishing touches on its $300 million Research and Technology Center in downtown Richmond’s Virginia BioTechnology Research Park. The 450,000-square-foot facility will eventually house more than 500 scientists, engineers and support staff. The 34-acre park is home to more than 50 national and international bioscience companies, with many of them affiliated with nearby VCU Medical Center.

Robert Skunda, president and CEO of the park, says the Philip Morris facility has accelerated the park’s growth. “We see more folks kind of beating a path to our door,” he says. Sounds good, but how does that generate new, freestanding companies? Skunda acknowledges that a lot of the park’s space is occupied by nonprofits, government laboratories and small companies still working on big breakthroughs. He believes, though, that with so many scientists working in the same space, collaboration and innovation are likely to happen. “We want to encourage and create the situation where scientists can meet,” he says.

Skunda’s vision reflects in part the different dynamic that drives the life-sciences industry. When it comes to business success, oftentimes the driving force is a scientific breakthrough — the kind that depends on collaborations. “People don’t realize it takes a lot of time to build a biotech,” says Keith Oing, project manager for life sciences for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. It takes money, years of research and plenty of brainpower. “Most of those states that have grown the biotech industry, it hasn’t been [through] relocations, it’s been home-grown biotech companies that became successful,” he says.

Economic developers love biotech, because it’s a clean industry with good-paying jobs. That’s why places like Janelia Farm or the Richmond biotech park spawn such hope. And yet the ground here isn’t quite as fertile as it could be for home-grown companies, says Mark Herzog, executive director of Virginia Biotechnology Association. Earlier this year, two George Mason University researchers started a company, Theranostics Health LLC, based on technology they had developed at GMU. They decided to locate the firm in Rockville, Md., not Virginia.

Herzog blames that on a lack of buildings in Virginia with wet lab space. Such facilities, where chemicals, drugs or other biological materials are tested and analyzed, require special ventilation and utilities. They are costly to build and for now, at least, Virginia’s supply is behind the demand.

What’s more, Virginia could use more venture funds willing to invest in life sciences. Most of the firms that do are based in Boston or California, notes Herzog, and investors like to be close to the companies they back. “It’s a recurring story,” he says. “Either the facilities or the money. We have great ideas. We have no problem sparking innovations. But when it comes to commercializing the company, that’s where we suddenly have difficulty.”

If anyone has perfected a model of how to invest in biotech and succeed, it’s Randal Kirk. And yet he contradicts most of what others say about how biotech can thrive. “I always laugh,” he says. Every time, he picks up a trade magazine, Kirk notices advertisements from states trying to recruit biotech firms by touting buildings, biotech parks and quality of life.

Most of that doesn’t matter, he says. “Even a casual perusal of a biotech company … will quickly demonstrate that the things these industrial development folks offer amount to something less than 1 percent” of what these companies require. What matters “is the value of the intellectual property.” If you’ve got a good technology — and he thinks Intrexon does, obviously — then you can plant that company almost anywhere. “People who are active in their scientific field will basically go to where something truly exciting is occurring.”

The availability of wet lab space, for example, is helpful, but its absence is not a major obstacle, he says. Virginia has important assets in its universities and biotech parks — Virginia Tech and its biotech park have been very helpful for New River and Intrexon, he says — and the university is producing graduates who can staff junior-level slots in a biotech company. But in large part, there’s a fair amount of luck and serendipity involved.

For example, Kirk’s Third Security fund last year invested $5 million in a Roanoke startup called Synchrony. Its CEO and president, Victor Iannello, who holds a doctorate in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, founded the company in 1993 in his home in Roanoke County. Kirk thinks the company is in “the world’s leading position in the field of magnetic bearings … the work they’re doing is absolutely cutting edge.” The company is in Roanoke, Kirk points out, because Iannello already lived there.

One thing that could be done at the state level, Kirk says, is to change the state’s tax rules to shelter profits investors might get from sinking money into biotech firms. “In an indirect way, it’s about importing capital. You simply have to make the environment more attractive” for investors looking to maximize their return, he says.

What’s also true about the life sciences is that it’s not all about the money. This isn’t like making furniture or auto parts — researchers are striving for breakthrough medical therapies as well as new developments in agriculture and biodefense. Intrexon’s Beech is cautious not to overstate the potential human impact such breakthroughs could have, but he is excited by the possibilities. “There’re literally thousands of opportunities for us to use our technology for different types of diseases,” he says.

Virginia is still in the trial phase of becoming a national biotech leader. Reaching its promise may depend on unknown scientific wonders. Or as Kirk says: “I would imagine there are things going on that we don’t know about, in unlikely places, that are absolutely wonderful.”

Friday, August 17, 2007

Why UVa will spend $20 million on 6 professors

Why UVa will spend $20 million on 6 professors-- This concept was one of the key recommendations that came out of the Governor's Commission on Biotechnology.

Why UVa will spend $20 million on 6 professors
By Brian McNeill | 978-7266
Sunday, August 12, 2007

In five labs at the University of Virginia, Joe C. Campbell’s research team is developing more efficient ways to transfer data over fiber optic networks, advancing night vision technology and building a better bioterrorism detector.
“Here at UVa, I sense that there is a growing emphasis on research in engineering and science,” said Camp-bell, sitting in his office in Thornton Hall. “It’s fun to be a part of something that seems to be growing into something even better.”
Campbell, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, is one of six world-renowned researchers recently hired by UVa as part of a $126 million initiative.
The university’s Board of Visitors launched the “research enhancement initiative” in 2004 to boost UVa’s standings in science and technology research.
Though U.S. News & World Report ranks UVa as the nation’s No. 2 public institution of higher education, UVa’s scientific research rankings are a bit less lustrous. UVa’s School of Engineering and Applied Science graduate program, for example, is ranked 38th.
“To achieve the reputation that UVa wants to achieve, it’s got to move up in the rankings and everyone - except for No. 1 - is trying to do the exact same thing,” Campbell said. “If UVa wants to be a top-rated institution, it’s going to be very expensive.”
UVa has spent $20 million so far to attract Campbell and the five other “superstar” faculty members from research facilities around the world. A committee of UVa scientists selected the superstars - as many UVa administrators refer to new hires - out more than 175 applicants.
More money from the $126 million fund will be allocated to attract mid-level and junior faculty members to fill out the beefed-up research capabilities.
“If we hire the right people, it will create a whole new world at UVa,” said R. Ariel Gomez, vice president for research and graduate studies. “Not too many universities will say that they’re going to put over $100 million toward hiring the very best.”
As part of the initiative, geneticists Christine and Bernard Thisse will join UVa’s faculty this month. Recruited from the Institute of Genetics and Molecular and Cellular Biology in Strasburg, France, the Thisses are among the world’s leading experts in zebrafish genomics.
Because embryos of the tropical fish are large and transparent, researchers such as the Thisses can study zebrafish embryonic development to gain insights into how cells form and mutate.
The Thisses’ research may one day help unravel the mysteries of human birth defects, how cancer cells form and much more.
The Thisses did not come cheap. To lure them from France, UVa spent $4.5 million. On average, hiring a faculty member in science, medicine or engineering carries a one-time cost of $500,000, according to UVa planning documents.
Meanwhile, the university spent another $3.35 million to snag Stephen S. Rich, a genetic epidemiologist leading a worldwide effort to better understand the genetics behind Type 1 diabetes.
There are 20.8 million Americans living with diabetes, and 4,100 new cases are diagnosed each day. Rich’s research may one day reveal who has a genetic predisposition to complications - such as blindness, or the loss of a limb - from diabetes, thereby allowing for preventative medicine. His research may also be applied to finding better treatments for cancer and other ailments.
The superstar faculty members are fetching some of the most lucrative salaries among UVa’s 11,962 employees. Campbell earns $310,600 per year, while Rich earns $300,000. Fewer than 15 faculty members earn $300,000 or more, according to public employment records.
A big draw
The university’s pricey investment in the six researchers will be worth it, top administrators said, because it will draw millions in public and private research grants, could generate profits from new discoveries and will help attract top-tier junior faculty members and graduate students.
“This program brings to the university a number of people who are very well known in their particular fields,” said Dr. Arthur “Tim” Garson, UVa’s provost. “And they are capable of tremendous collaboration across the university. Their talent will be leveraged throughout UVa.”
The six superstars will “seed” UVa’s scientific research efforts, Garson said. Eventually, their areas of expertise - genomics, biomedical engineering, nanotechnology and more - will be filled out at UVa with additional faculty members, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.
One area of cutting-edge research that is coming into focus at UVa is known as morphogenesis, or the study of how cells form to create organs and tissue.
At UVa’s Morphogenesis and Regenerative Medicine Institute, research spearheaded by faculty members including the Thisses may eventually allow physicians to use a patient’s cells to grow them a new kidney, ligaments or even a limb.
By using a patient’s own cells to regenerate organs or tissue, there is much less chance of rejection than in the case of organ donation.
“This is the future of medicine,” Gomez said.
The project received an additional $1.8 million in UVa’s current budget. Garson said morphogenesis and regenerative medicine is considered the “next step beyond stem-cell research.”
Their space
In addition to UVa’s researcher recruitment effort, additional funds from the initiative will go toward expanding the university’s research space. A $40 million, 85,000-square-foot research facility, under construction at Fontaine Research Park, will house the researchers’ new labs and offices starting in the spring.
Not everyone at UVa is pleased with the mega investment in research. Kevin Simowitz, an organizer of a campaign to implement a “living wage” for UVa workers and a fourth-year American studies student, said the initiative represents skewed priorities.
“If UVa put as much time and effort into making sure that its workers weren’t below the poverty line as they spend hiring faculty members from France, I think we’d all be better off,” he said.
But Del. Tom Rust, R-Herndon, chairman of the House of Delegates subcommittee that oversees the state’s higher education system, said UVa’s efforts reflect a statewide push to increase the amount of valuable scientific discoveries in college labs across Virginia.
“It is in keeping with the direction we want the higher education institutions in Virginia to go,” he said. “We’re looking to become more of a leader than we are now in research.”


Joe C. Campbell
Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering
Innovator in fiber optics, researching night vision technology and bioterrorism detection
Hired January 2006

Stephen S. Rich
Director of UVa’s Center for Public Health Genomics
A genetic epidemiologist, he is leading a worldwide effort to understand the genetics of Type 1 diabetes
Hired January 2007

John T. Yates Jr.
Department of Chemistry
A top investigator in the fields of surface chemistry and physics, he researches photochemistry as well as astrochemistry in the solar system and deep space
Hired January 2007

Dr. Mark Yeager
Chairman of the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics
A practicing cardiologist, he also conducts research that may provide new strategies for treating heart failure
Hired July 2007

Christine and Bernard Thisse
Department of Cell Biology
Experts in zebrafish genetics, a field that may unlock the secrets of human birth defects, cancer and more
Hired August 2007

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

NPR on Generic Biologics

Interesting story done by NPR on the generic biologics issue.

Health & Science
Are Generic Biotech Drugs Coming Soon?

Listen to this story... by Joanne Silberner

Correction: At the time this story aired neither the House nor Senate had voted on legislation. There have been two hearings in subcommittees of the House of Representatives, and a Senate committee has approved legislation.

All Things Considered, August 9, 2007 · While Congress is away this month, House and Senate staffers are working on a bill aimed at helping patients who rely on innovative biotech drugs that can cost as much as several thousand dollars per month.

Generic versions of the drugs would surely be cheaper, but opponents of generic versions say that making sure the knockoffs are safe and effective may be trickier than it sounds.

Donna Gosbee, 51, came from Wyoming to Washington, D.C., to attend a meeting of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. She is using a walker.

"I never know from one day to the next until I put my feet down on the floor whether I'm going to be able to walk," Gosbee says.

Gosbee was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis four years ago.

"The doctors put me on one of the biologics, Betaseron," she says. "I've been on it for three years now and this drug costs $1,500 a month."

The government helps Gosbee with some of the cost, but she's worried the help won't always be there. So she came to Washington to lobby Congress.

Lobbying for Change

"I'm going to talk to Wyoming legislators to try to convince them that medications are just out of reach of the normal person," Gosbee says.

A generic could significantly cut her medical bill. At, for example, the generic version of the statin drug, Mevacor, is only one-third of Mevacor's price.

But Gosbee's drug is manufactured very differently — by living, bioengineered cells.

They make molecules that are much bigger than most conventional drugs, and a lot more complex, says Roger Williams, CEO of U.S. Pharmacopeia, a nonprofit organization that sets standards for drug manufacturers.

"If I showed you on a page the molecular structure of a biologic, it might cover two pages just of carbons and nitrogens and hydrogens and oxygens," Williams says.

In contrast, he says the structure of many conventional drugs fill less than half a page.

Williams says making conventional drugs is like snapping together Tinker Toys. You add one chemical after another, and the manufacturer is very much in control.

Making a biotech drug is more like farming. You start with a living cell, then keep the temperature, the nutrients and other growing conditions just right. Just as wheat grown from a different seed stock or under different conditions will produce slightly different grain, different versions of biotech drugs can vary — even when made by the same company.

The Process of Biotech

In Gaithersburg, Md., a company called MedImmune makes the biotech drug Synagis. The drug fights a virus called RSV that can kill premature babies.

Just getting into MedImmune takes work — you have to put on gloves, booties and a double set of what look like surgical scrubs.

You must also go through multiple airlocks. Sterility is important for conventional drugs, too, but it's especially important here. If bacteria or viruses get into the cell cultures, they could disrupt the manufacturing process and wind up in the final drug.

Workers take large beakers of living cells in culture from a refrigerator. The cells go into gleaming metal vats the size of small cars.

"This is the start of our bioreactor train," explains Tony Luttrell, MedImmune's vice president.

There are enough pressure monitors and temperature gauges and pipes to make a science-fiction movie proud.

Conventional manufacturers use temperature gauges too, as well as vats filled with buckets of chemicals.

But these biotech vats hold mouse cells, each one loaded up with human DNA. The human DNA is directing the cells to produce a particular protein — an antibody that can fight RSV.

If you want to make a copy of MedImmune's drug, you would have to insert some human DNA into mouse cells in a precise way — a way that will produce that protein. It's a real challenge.

"One little genetic change, one little change in the way the protein is configured or the way the proteins fold onto each other may have an effect on how it actually acts in the clinic," Luttrell says.

Then you have to be really careful about how you grow the cells, Williams says. For example, temperature can make a big difference. Look at albumen — the protein in egg whites.

"If you take egg white and cook it, that's OK to eat, but it's no good to the chicken anymore," Williams says.

Generic Outlook

Williams thinks some biotech drugs could be made generically. But the only way to know for sure that a different version would be just as safe and effective is to perform lengthy and expensive testing in animals or people — something that's not required for conventional generics.

There have been two hearings in subcommittees of the House of Represenatives, and a Senate committee has approved legislation. Staffers are now working to develop legislation that can win approval.

But don't hold your breath — companies that make brand name drugs are still adamant that testing in people should be required.

Patients and generic companies waiting for less expensive drugs aren't happy either. Both bills would make generic companies wait 12 years before they could market a cheaper drug, not much different from conventional generics, but a long time when you're spending several thousand dollars a month to fill a prescription.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Zakour Named Head of MdBio

Tech Council of Maryland/MdBio Appoints Richard Zakour Executive Director of MdBio and MdBio Foundation

ROCKVILLE, Md.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The Tech Council of Maryland/MdBio (TCM/MdBio) announced today that it has appointed Richard A. (Ric) Zakour, Ph.D. to lead MdBio and the MdBio Foundation as executive director. Zakour is a 23-year veteran of the biotechnology/pharmaceutical industry and is tasked with the daily management, membership recruitment, event promotion, education and other programs for the MdBio division of TCM/MdBio and the MdBio Foundation.

“The search committee conducted a thorough exploration to identify well-qualified candidates, and I truly believe we found the best person for the job,” said Jim Leslie, chairman of the MdBio Foundation. “Ric has a stellar reputation and is highly capable of taking the charitable mission and programs of the MdBio Foundation to a new level.”

Before joining TCM/MdBio, Zakour was the general manager for Fisher BioSciences, where he was responsible for a 300-employee unit that included both government and commercial business divisions providing pharmaceutical and biological support services. Prior to his time at Fisher, Zakour held various senior management positions with McKesson Clinical Services, DynCorp and Cambridge Biotech Corporation. Zakour’s research and studies have been published in numerous national publications. He is active in the local community and holds a Ph.D. in biology from Rice University.

No stranger to TCM/MdBio, Zakour served on TCM’s board of directors from 2003 until earlier this year as well as on the MdBio Foundation board. He has participated in the organization’s volunteer program and awards committees, chairing both groups.

“Ric’s dedication to TCM/MdBio has been unwavering. He’s a proven industry leader and well known in the community and within our organization. As a long-time volunteer and executive, he fully understands TCM/MdBio’s strategic objectives and goals,” said Steve Trevisan, chairman of the MdBio board.

The MdBio division of TCM/MdBio produces educational programs, collaborative member roundtables and benefits specifically for TCM/MdBio members that specialize in life sciences. The MdBio Foundation is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the growth of bioscience in Maryland through a variety of programs, with a special emphasis on education, training and communications. Zakour’s position complements the recent promotion of Rick Harris to executive director of the Tech Alliance.

“TCM/MdBio has grown into the preeminent technology association in Maryland. We have assembled a first-class senior management staff to lead us as we continue to expand. Ric is a wonderful addition to our talented team,” said Julie Coons, CEO of TCM/MdBio.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

PRA International Goes Private Again

PRA International Enters Into Merger Agreement With Genstar Capital

RESTON, Va., July 25 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- PRA International , a leading global clinical research organization, today announced that it has entered into a definitive merger agreement to be acquired by affiliates of Genstar Capital, LLC ("Genstar"), a private equity firm and a beneficial owner of 12.8% of the outstanding PRA shares. The transaction is valued at approximately $790 million.

Under the terms of the agreement, PRA stockholders will be entitled to receive $30.50 in cash for each share of PRA common stock, representing a premium of approximately 13% to PRA's closing share price on July 24, 2007, and a premium of approximately 24% to PRA's average closing share price for the three months ended July 24, 2007.

The members of the Board of Directors of PRA, with the exception of management and those affiliated with Genstar, following the unanimous recommendation of a Special Committee composed entirely of independent directors, has approved the agreement and recommends that PRA stockholders approve the merger.

Armin M. Kessler, Chairman of the Special Committee, added: "After extensive negotiations and careful and thorough analysis, together with our independent advisors, the Special Committee and our Board endorsed this transaction as being in the best interest of the Company and our stockholders. We are pleased that this transaction appropriately recognizes the value of PRA as one of the world's leading global CROs while providing our stockholders with an immediate cash premium for their investment in PRA. In Genstar, we are pleased to have an experienced group of investors committed to maintaining our company's client-focused culture, building upon our core therapeutic expertise, and expanding our product offering across all business segments."

"We believe PRA has a strong business model and intend to invest in the strategic initiatives necessary to allow the company to capitalize on the favorable dynamics of the CRO industry. By making the right investments and empowering employees to succeed, we fully expect to accelerate PRA's current growth trajectory," said Jean-Pierre Conte, Chairman and Managing Director of Genstar Capital.

Under the agreement, PRA may solicit proposals for alternative transactions from third parties for a 50-day period ending on September 12, 2007. To the extent that a superior proposal solicited during this period leads to the execution of a definitive agreement, PRA would be obligated to pay approximately a $7.9 million break-up fee to Genstar. In accordance with the agreement, the Board of Directors, through its Special Committee and with the assistance of its independent advisors, intends to actively solicit superior proposals during this period. There can be no assurances that this solicitation will result in an alternative transaction. PRA does not intend to disclose publicly developments with respect to this solicitation process unless and until its Board of Directors has made a decision regarding any alternative proposals.

Pending the receipt of stockholder approval and expiration of the waiting period under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976, as well as satisfaction of other customary closing conditions, the transaction is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2007. There is no financing condition to the obligations of Genstar to consummate the transaction.

Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC is acting as financial advisor to the Special Committee. Dewey Ballantine LLP is acting as legal advisor to the Special Committee.

UBS Investment Bank is acting as financial advisor, and Latham & Watkins LLP is acting as legal advisor, to Genstar.

PRA will hold a conference call today, Wednesday, July 25, 2007 at 9:00 a.m. EDT to discuss this announcement, as well as second-quarter results. The call will be available via live webcast at Please go to the website at least 15 minutes early to register, download and install any necessary audio software. The call may also be accessed by dialing 800-322- 2803 or 617-614-4925. A replay of the call will remain available at the site for 30 days.

Additional Information and Where to Find It

In connection with the proposed merger, a proxy statement and other materials will be filed with the SEC. PRA INVESTORS ARE URGED TO READ THESE DOCUMENTS WHEN THEY BECOME AVAILABLE BECAUSE THEY WILL CONTAIN IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT THE PROPOSED MERGER. Investors will be able to obtain, without charge, a copy of the proxy statement (when available) and other relevant documents filed with the SEC from the SEC's website at Investors will also be able to obtain, without charge, a copy of the proxy statement and other relevant documents (when available) by directing a request by mail or telephone to PRA International, 12120 Sunset Hills Road, Suite 600, Reston, VA 20190, telephone: (703) 464-6300, or from the Company's website at

Participants in the Solicitation

The Company, its directors, executive officers and certain other members of management and employees may be deemed to be participants in the solicitation of proxies from the Company's stockholders with respect to the proposed merger. Additional information regarding the interests of potential participants in the proxy solicitation will be set forth in the proxy statement and other relevant documents regarding the merger when they are filed with the SEC.

About PRA International

PRA International is one of the world's leading global clinical development organizations, with over 2,700 employees working from offices in North America, Europe, South America, Africa, Australia, and Asia. PRA delivers services to its clients through a unique approach called Project Assurance(R), which represents the Company's commitment to reliable service delivery, program-level therapeutic expertise, easy global access to knowledge and involved senior management.

To learn more about PRA International, please visit or call our World Headquarters at +1 (703) 464-6300.

About Genstar Capital LLC

Based in San Francisco, Genstar Capital ( is a private equity investment firm that makes leveraged investments in quality middle- market companies. Genstar Capital works in partnership with management to transform its portfolio companies into industry-leading businesses. With more than $3 billion of committed capital under management and significant experience investing in businesses, Genstar focuses on selected segments of life science and healthcare services, industrial technology, business services and software services.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Story about frontrunner in Mass Biotech Council Post

Rumors about new Mass Bio Council president...

Former selectman and state Rep. Robert Coughlin, who left the Legislature for an economic development job in Gov. Deval Patrick's administration, is in the running to head the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, an influential lobbying group.

Coughlin, the current undersecretary for business development, last week said he would recuse himself from work on the governor's 10-year, $1 billion plan to boost the life sciences industry to avoid any potential conflict of interest.

``Massachusetts Biotechnology Council is a membership organization and its potential membership will be increased by the passage of the Governor's Life Sciences Initiative,'' Coughlin said in a statement filed with the State Ethics Commission. ``Until a selection is made, I will recuse myself from all matters related to the biotech and life sciences industries.''

The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council has been looking for a new president since former House Speaker Thomas Finneran resigned in January due to legal problems.

The council lobbies state lawmakers on behalf of more than 500 companies and institutions involved in health care and life sciences.

Coughlin, a Dedham High School graduate, served on the Dedham School Committee from 1991 to 1994 and on the Board of Selectmen from 1995 to 2003. He defeated Maryanne Lewis to represent the 11th Norfolk District in the state House of Representatives in 2002 and resigned from that post in January to join the Patrick administration.

The undersecretary of business development works to encourage economic growth and job creation in Massachusetts by acting as a liaison between businesses and state government.

On Wednesday, a day before disclosing his interest in becoming council president, Coughlin announced the state had added 23,500 jobs since he took office.

Sarah MacDonald, deputy chief of staff in the department of business development, said yesterday Coughlin had no comment about his interest in the council presidency.

Calls to the council itself yesterday were not returned.

State Sen. Jack Hart, D-Boston, also filed a disclosure statement with the ethics commission expressing interest in the Council position.

VaBIO Adds New Staff

The Virginia Biotechnology Association (VaBIO) announced the addition of two new team members in the month of July. Dawn Freeman joins the Association as senior administrative assistant and Stephanie Jenks takes over as the new manager of membership and communications.Ms. Freeman spent the last six years as the former administrative assistant, development associate and special events manager for the Richmond Symphony Orchestra. Prior to the Symphony, Ms. Freeman spent several years as benefits specialist and claims adjuster for United Healthcare and Sentry Insurance. She comes to the Association with experience in database management, special events planning, fundraising and administrative operations. On the side, she runs her own catering business and is a licensed minister at the First Baptist Church in Richmond.

Ms. Jenks is a recent transplant from Syracuse, NY and brings with her a variety of experiences from the worlds of higher education and non-profit management. Prior to relocating Ms. Jenks was the assistant director of alumni and parent programs at her alma mater, Le Moyne College. While at Le Moyne, Stephanie was responsible for creating regional alumni clubs, communications for targeted groups and worked with various committees and board sub-groups. Prior to Le Moyne, she was employed by the development arm of Hospice & Palliative Care, Inc. where she planned fundraising events, supervised volunteers and coordinated marketing and publicity efforts.

The new staff members bring the VaBIO team up to five, a huge increase in the space of a year. “The new team members are already adding so much to our operations,” said Sheryl Bryan, the project director for the Virginia Council on Advanced Technology Skills, the workforce initiative of VaBIO and the Virginia Manufacturers Association.

Contact the VaBIO staff with questions or comments at 804-643-6360.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Insmed Receives NASDAQ Deficiency Notice Relating to Minimum Bid Price

Insmed Receives NASDAQ Deficiency Notice Relating to Minimum Bid Price

RICHMOND, Va.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jun 19, 2007 - Insmed Incorporated (NASDAQ: INSM) announced today that on June 18, 2007 it received a NASDAQ Staff Deficiency Letter from The NASDAQ Stock Market. The NASDAQ Letter states that for the last 30 consecutive business days, the closing bid price per share for the Company's common stock has been below the $1.00 minimum per share requirement for continued inclusion under NASDAQ Marketplace Rule 4450(a)(5).

In accordance with NASDAQ Marketplace Rule 4450(e)(2), Insmed will be provided 180 calendar days, or until December 17, 2007, to regain compliance by maintaining a closing bid price per share of $1.00 or higher for a minimum of 10 consecutive business days. If Insmed is unsuccessful in meeting the minimum bid requirement during this initial compliance period the Company may transfer the listing of its shares of common stock to The NASDAQ Capital Market and receive an additional 180 day compliance period if the Company meets all initial listing criteria, except for the minimum bid requirement, for that market as set forth in Marketplace Rule 4310(c). If Insmed does not demonstrate compliance within the required period the Company will be issued a delisting letter, which may be appealed at that time. The NASDAQ Letter received on June 18, 2007 has no effect on the listing of the Company's common stock at this time. The Company will seek to regain compliance within this cure period and is considering alternatives to address compliance with the continued listing standards of The NASDAQ Stock Market.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

HHMI Tax Break Extended

Supervisors Support Tax Exemption
Staff to review exemption process every three years
By Erika Jacobson
June 13, 2007

The Board of Supervisors reaffirmed the tax exemption status on the land of the Howard Hughes Medical Research Institute (HHMRI) during its Tuesday, June 5, meeting.
While the six Republicans on the board were vocal in their opposition to the research-and-development institute’s exemptions when they first took office in 2004, only three remained opposed during Tuesday’s vote.
"At the end of the day, I felt the resolution of support of the promise that the prior board made to the HHMRI should be honored," Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) who made the motion to reaffirm, said.
As part of the motion, the board also directed staff to detail the process and the requirements for tax exemptions every three years.
"I believe those tax exemptions should be renewed at least once in a term to make sure those exemptions are still in the vein they were given in and are still in the best interests of the citizens," Tulloch said.

SUPERVISORS MICK STATON (R-Sugarland Run), Stephen Snow (R-Dulles) and Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) continued their opposition to HHMRI’s exemption, citing the increasing tax burden on residents and the process the previous board used to grant the exemption.
"What you are asking me to do by the reaffirmation is put my stamp of approval on how this was handled previously," Staton said. "And I can’t do that."
Snow said he could not support giving a tax exemption to a campus where people made hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, when most people in the county were earning much less. He suggested using the money to help the people of HHMRI put it toward workforce housing or other tangible solutions.
"I think we need to make sure we take this money and at least fence it in a way that would benefit that organization and others," he said.
Those supervisors who supported the Howard Hughes institute said they believed in the work researchers were doing and said the organization had been a great benefit to the county.
"They are a community partner with us," Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) said. "Picking on this one organization because we may or may not like them is not right."

CURRENTLY THERE IS approximately $4.725 billion worth of property given tax exemptions in the county, both by classification and designation.
County Assessor Todd Kaufman and his staff have been reviewing all of the 4,400 parcels coded as exempt by the county to see if they still meet the requirements. Now only approximately 1,100 parcels remain exempt. Kaufman said, however, that the number of parcels does not necessarily equal the number of exempt sites in the county.
"You could have a 250-acre site that is divided into 250 parcels," he said.
Properties exempt by classification include churches, government property, public schools, state-owned property, public libraries, YMCA properties, missions, hospitals, parks, playgrounds and property used by a nonprofit organization.
Those properties make up a majority of the county’s tax exemptions, including approximately $3.4 billion property value for 635 government parcels and local schools.

HOWARD HUGHES Medical Research Institute’s $3.6 million exemption falls under the designation category, which makes up more than $486 million of the total property receiving exemptions.
Prior to 2003, the Virginia General Assembly had to approve all designation exemptions, but the code changed Jan. 1, 2003, granting authority to the local governments to give designation exemptions.
Kaufman said there are eight questions a government can look at to decide on a property’s eligibility for exemption, including whether it is a nonprofit organization, the revenue impact for the county and whether the services provided are for the common good of the public.
"The answers are not reasons not to make [a property] exempt, it is just something to consider," Kaufman said.
Also given a designation tax exemption in the county are the VFW, the Waterford Foundation and Patrick Henry College in Purcellville.

KAUFMAN SAID he is reviewing each parcel independently in his office’s review of tax exemption, but is not singling out any particular property.
"I just want to make sure that what is in the system is correct," he said.
The portion of the Howard Hughes Medical Research Institute that is tax exempt is also under review, as the exemption was given to the overall value of the property based on construction costs before the campus was finished.

"We’re reviewing that value to make sure it’s still correct," he said.

Tolson Next NC Biotech CEO?

From the Tech Journal South:

NC Revenue Secretary Tolson next Biotech Center President/CEO?
June 19, 2007
By Allan Maurer

EXCLUSIVE RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC—Sources close to the NC Biotech Center say E. Norris Tolson, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Revenue, will be the next President and CEO of the Center, replacing Leslie Alexandre, who stepped down in March.

The source close to the Center tells TechJournal South that Tolson was offered the position and has accepted it. The Biotech Center has said it expects to announce its board’s decision in late summer. The board apparently has not yet made a formal decision.

Despite repeated calls to his office Monday and Tuesday, Tolson did not respond to requests for comment.

Biotech Center responds
The Biotech Center issued the following statement in response to TechJournal South’s inquiry:

“Rumors typically swirl around a vacant position, but the Biotechnology Center doesn’t comment on rumors. Our board of directors is responsible for hiring a president, and the board has not yet done so. When the board does hire a president, the Biotechnology Center will share the good news with everyone as quickly as possible.”

When Leslie Alexandre took the helm, however, the news leaked to the “Raleigh News & Observer” prior to being released generally.

Tolson, who would be only the third president/CEO in the Center’s history, is vice chair of its board and was on the steering committee that guided development of the state’s strategic plan for biotechnology. He has wide experience in state government, economic development, and in industry.

Center relies on state support
Gov. Mike Easley appointed Tolson Secretary of Revenue in 2001. He also served as NC Department of Transportation Secretary in 1998 and as NC Commerce Secretary from 1997-98. He was a member of the NC House of Representatives from 1994-97.

The Biotech Center relies on state support for its initiatives, grants, and programs, widely seen as catalysts that helped propel NC into an enviable position as one of the top four biotech hubs in the United States. It's state appropriation for 2006-07 is $13.1 million.

Since 1984, it has invested $187 million in state funds to develop a statewide biotech industry.

The Center has a worldwide reputation and its CEO frequently travels domestically and abroad with state commerce department officials and other economic development specialists.

Tolson has industry experience
According to his NC Revenue site biography, prior to his election to the General Assembly, Tolson worked at E.I. Dupont from 1965 until his retirement in 1993.

He worked in various research, marketing and sales assignments in the company's agricultural products and electronics business for 28 years. He was assigned both domestic and international business responsibilities and lived in Europe for several years.

Tolson graduated from North Carolina State University with a bachelor's degree in crop science and agribusiness in 1962. He also served in the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps from 1963 through 1965.

In an interview with the publication Biotech Catalyst, Tolson said, “Currently, biotechnology generates $3 billion in annual revenues in North Carolina and employs about 18,500 people.

"As a proud member of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center's board of directors, I can assure you that this whole area of scientific development is growing at lightning speed and that, because of our long-term investments in the industry, North Carolina's economy is poised to grow with it.”

Leslie Alexandre led the Biotech Center during a period in which the state climbed to the third ranked in the nation as a biotech hub.

She presided over development of the “Jobs Across North Carolina” strategic plan submitted to Gov. Mike Easley in 2004 and considers it one of her two most important accomplishments.

She also helped establish the Center’s regional satellite offices in the Piedmont Triad, Charlotte, and Eastern and Western NC.

Alexandre followed visionary leader Charles Hamner, who led the Biotech Center for its first two decades.

For more see:

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Vaccines and Autism: Court Convenes in DC

Fight Over Vaccine-Autism Link Hits Court
Families, After Having Claims Rejected by Experts, Face Lower Burden of Proof
By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 10, 2007; A06

For more than a decade, families across the country have been warring with the medical establishment over their claims that routine childhood vaccines are responsible for the nation's apparent epidemic of autism. In an extraordinary proceeding that begins tomorrow, the battle will move from the ivory tower to the courts.

Nearly 5,000 families will seek to convince a special "vaccine court" in Washington that the vaccines can cause healthy and outgoing children to withdraw into uncommunicative, autistic shells -- even though a large body of evidence and expert opinion has found no link. The court has never heard a case of such magnitude.

The shift from laboratory to courtroom means the outcome will hinge not on scientific standards of evidence but on a legal standard of plausibility -- what one lawyer for the families called "50 percent and a feather." That may make it easier for the plaintiffs to sway the panel of three "special masters," which is why the decision could not only change the lives of thousands of American families but also have a profound effect on the decisions of parents around the world about whether to vaccinate their children.

A victory by the plaintiffs, public health officials say, could increase the number of children who are not given vaccines and fall sick or die from the diseases they prevent.

Economics and politics intersect in the case with questions of health and the deepening mystery of soaring autism rates. Advocates of the vaccine theory have argued that the increase in cases was triggered by a mercury-based preservative in vaccines that, they say, is toxic to children's brains.

Under pressure from the advocates and to keep the issue from disrupting vaccination programs, U.S. officials began phasing out the additive, thimerosal, in children's vaccines around 1999 while maintaining that there was no hard evidence that it was dangerous. But thimerosal is still used in vaccines across much of the developing world. If the vaccine court decides that the preservative caused autism, parents of children in poor countries are likely to protest its inclusion, but removing it would make vaccines much more expensive and potentially put them out of reach for many.

Gary Golkiewicz, chief special master in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, where the case is to be heard, said he is aware of the larger ramifications. But the court's job, he said, is only to focus on whether plaintiffs show a plausible link between vaccines and autism.

About 20 experts are expected to testify in the case, which will involve a staggering amount of complicated epidemiology and biochemistry. Golkiewicz said a ruling could be a year off.

Experts for the government will argue that a range of epidemiological studies found no link between vaccines and autism, as the prestigious Institute of Medicine concluded in a 2004 report. The institute, part of the National Academies that was chartered by Congress to advise the government and the public on matters of science, dismissed the vaccine-autism theory, which is mostly based on biochemistry studies on the toxic effects of mercury.

Large international studies -- and preliminary evidence from the United States -- suggest that after thimerosal was removed from children's vaccines, autism rates continued to soar.

If thimerosal was the cause, removing it should have sharply lowered autism rates, scientists say. Although definitive national evidence is not in -- children vaccinated after 1999 are just beginning to enter school, which is the point at which many receive a diagnosis -- data from California suggest that autism rates are continuing to climb steeply.

The cases are rising, experts say, primarily because of better diagnosis and services: Parents and teachers are more attuned to the signs of autism, and doctors are better equipped to spot it than they were two decades ago. Also, the boundaries of the diagnosis have expanded to include a range of problems under an umbrella known as autism spectrum disorders.

The plaintiffs acknowledge that their case is far from airtight scientifically. But Kevin Conway, a Boston attorney representing the family of 12-year-old Michelle Cedillo of Yuma, Ariz., whose claim was designated the opening test case for more than 4,800 plaintiffs, said that even if the science is equivocal, he has a good legal argument, which is all he needs.

"There is a difference between scientific proof and legal proof," Conway said. "One is 95 percent certainty, and the other is . . . 50 percent and a feather."

Besides, Conway added, those who support the vaccine-autism theory did not put all their eggs in the thimerosal basket. They are also arguing that something else in vaccines might be making children sick.

Like many other advocates of the link, Conway said he believes that vaccines in general are a good thing and have saved many lives. In an age of bioterrorism, moreover, vaccines are not just a health priority but a national security priority. But Congress's efforts to shield vaccine makers from lawsuits over the rare but inevitable side effects of vaccines have given the companies no incentive to make vaccines as safe as possible, Conway said.

Congress set up the vaccine court to provide compensation for individuals harmed by those side effects, because lawsuits were threatening to put vaccine makers out of business.

The law requires people claiming they were harmed by a vaccine to bring the case in the special court first, but if they lose, they can still file suit in civil courts.

Scientific advocates for the vaccine-autism theory, such as the father-and-son team of Mark and David Geier of Silver Spring, say fears about damaging public health programs have prompted scientists and the government to hide evidence of a problem. Many of the families believe that the medical establishment and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have conspired in a massive coverup.

Peter Hotez, president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and a biology professor at George Washington University, who has a 14-year-old autistic daughter, said the controversy has distracted from the real problem: finding services for rising numbers of autistic children and ramping up research to find a cure.

"We are absolutely confident Rachel's vaccines have nothing to do with her autism," he said. "If we could roll back the clock, we would give her all the vaccines again."

But the family of severely autistic Michelle Cedillo, who arrived in Washington on Friday for the trial, disagrees.

Michelle was a healthy 15-month-old when she was given the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, said her mother, Theresa. The dozen or so words she had been able to speak -- including Mommy, Daddy, baby, kitty and juice -- vanished. She developed a high fever one week after the shot and went rapidly downhill. Today, she does not speak and is totally dependent on caregivers. She suffers from seizures, arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease and is nearly blind.

Cedillo said she is "not anti-vaccine" and not very interested in playing the blame game or weighing in on matters of public policy.

"I am not a scientist. I am not a doctor," she said in an interview. "We want to focus on Michelle and find out what happened and get the help for her that she needs."

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Dr. Lee Hood at VaBIO-VCU Systems Biology Event

Dr. Leroy Hood, the famous president of the Institute for Systems Biology was the special guest at the Virginia Biotechnology Association's “Biotech After Hours,” June 4, at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond. The event was held in conjunction with the opening reception for the “2007 Summit on Systems Biology” sponsored by Virginia Commonwealth University. Hundreds of scientists, students and biotech company representatives from Virginia, North Carolina and other states attended this important scientific meeting.

(Photo: Mark Herzog, executive director of VaBIO; Lee Hood, president of the Institute of Systems Biology; and Maciek Sasinowski, CEO of Incogen and chairman of VaBIO. Photo credit: Mark Licata)

Dr. Hood's research has focused on the study of molecular immunology, biotechnology, and genomics. His professional career began at Caltech where he and his colleagues pioneered four instruments — the DNA gene sequencer and synthesizer, and the protein synthesizer and sequencer — which comprise the technological foundation for contemporary molecular biology. In particular, the DNA sequencer has revolutionized genomics by allowing the rapid automated sequencing of DNA, which played a crucial role in contributing to the successful mapping of the human genome during the 1990s.

In 1992, Dr. Hood moved to the University of Washington as founder and Chairman of the cross-disciplinary Department of Molecular Biotechnology. In 2000, he co-founded the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, Washington to pioneer systems approaches to biology and medicine. Most recently, Dr. Hood's lifelong contributions to biotechnology have earned him the prestigious 2004 Association for Molecular Pathology (AMP) Award for Excellence in Molecular Diagnostics. He was also awarded the 2003 Lemelson—MIT Prize for Innovation and Invention, the 2002 Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology and the 1987 Lasker Prize for his studies on the mechanism of immune diversity.

The event was sponsored by Biogen Idec, Virginia Commonwealth University, AeroTek Scientific, Clearpoint Resources, Inc., and Latimer, Mayberry & Matthews IP Law, LLP.

Inverness Medical Takes 49% of Techlab

Inverness Medical Innovations, Inc. (Amex: IMA) announced that it will acquire 49% of the capital stock of TechLab, Inc., a privately held diagnostics company, in exchange for 303,417 shares of Inverness common stock. TechLab develops, manufactures, and distributes rapid non-invasive intestinal diagnostics tests in the areas of intestinal inflammation, antibiotic associated diarrhea and parasitology.

The transaction provides Inverness, whose Wampole subsidiary already distributes TechLab’s products in the United States, with exclusive global distribution rights to TechLab’s market leading line of enteric disease testing products, as well as future human medical diagnostic products, as Techlab’s existing global distribution relationships lapse. These products include both ELISA and rapid format assays for the detection of C. Difficile Toxins A&B, a rapidily growing world-wide market segment. TechLab works with major universities in the development of new tests for intestinal parasites for use in both industrialized and developing countries.

TechLab has developed and now, with access to Inverness’ intellectual property, expects to commence selling the only US FDA-cleared rapid membrane assay to detect fecal lactoferrin, a test that can help differentiate bacterial enteric infections and inflammatory bowel diseases from maladies such as irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulitis. In the US alone, there are over 3 million cases of Crohn’s Disease, 4 million cases of ulcerative colitis and 10 million cases of irritable bowel syndrome reported anually. Additionally, TechLab has a pipeline of products in development which represent opportunities for Inverness in both the professional and consumer marketplaces.

TechLab will continue to operate with the current executive management team of Tracy Wilkins, Ph.D. as president, David Lyerly, Ph.D. as Vice President of Research and Development and David Wall as VP of Operations.

The agreement includes an option for Inverness to acquire any shares of TechLab offered for sale to third parties by the existing shareholders.

New Leadership at PRA International

RESTON, Va., May 8 PRA International (NASDAQ: PRAI) , a leading clinical research organization, is pleased to announce that, effective May 7, 2007, Terrance J. Bieker (61), who has served as interim chief executive officer (CEO) and a director since December 2006, was appointed as CEO. In addition, effective the same date, Colin Shannon (47) was named president and chief operating officer (COO).

Mr. Bieker Becomes Permanent CEO and Remains a Director

"After a thorough search of highly qualified external candidates, it became increasingly clear that Terry is the ideal person to continue leading our company and we are extremely pleased that he has agreed to become PRA's permanent CEO," said Chairman, Melvin D. Booth. "As previously noted, we were looking for someone with the skill set to manage a complex global enterprise while driving growth and delivering operational excellence. Terry's impressive credentials and outstanding performance as interim CEO solidified our confidence in his ability to drive PRA's business beyond the $1 billion threshold."

Before joining PRA in December 2006, Mr. Bieker served as director, president and CEO of BioSource International, Inc. (now part of Invitrogen Corporation) from November 2003 to November 2005. For the four years prior to this, he was a director and CEO for several medical device corporations, including Axia Medical and Transfusion Technologies Corporation, and was COO for SafeSkin, Inc. Before this, Mr. Bieker was chairman, president and CEO of Sanofi Diagnostics Pasteur, Inc. for nine years. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota.

"I've spent the last four months visiting many PRA offices around the globe and am genuinely excited about what I see," Mr. Bieker said. "My experience as interim CEO has given me a first-hand look at PRA's prestigious client base, its unique position in the marketplace, its well-established therapeutic expertise, and the caliber and commitment of its entire team. I am more convinced than ever of the untapped potential of PRA and have decided to fully focus my energy on realizing this potential for the company's stockholders."

Shannon Joins Company as President and COO

"As part of strengthening PRA's leadership team, I'm happy to welcome Colin to his new role as president and COO," Mr. Bieker continued. "Colin has demonstrated comprehensive knowledge of the CRO industry and has led the high growth development of global operations -- just the experience we were seeking. He has led the growth of a global Phase II-IV business, creating an international management team, managing organic growth while dealing with emerging markets and setting and exceeding financial goals. More importantly, his management style is a good fit with PRA's culture: encouraging teamwork, sharing best practices and developing close relationships with his clients."

Mr. Shannon said, "I was very impressed with the caliber of the Board and the commitment of their new CEO, Terry Bieker. They have ambitious plans for growth and the culture of the company that is fully compatible with my goals. I am delighted to be part of this exciting phase of the company's development."

Shannon's most recent position for three years was executive vice president, global clinical operations with Pharmaceutical Product Development, Inc. (PPD), one of the largest CROs in the world. For the prior nine years, he served PPD as European COO after being promoted from Chief Financial and Administration Officer for Europe and Pacific Rim. Prior to joining PPD in 1995, Shannon held financial positions with various other companies. Shannon holds a master's degree in business administration from London's City University and is board certified by the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants.

From the FT: Researchers make stem cells from skin

Researchers make stem cells from skin

By Clive Cookson in London and Rebecca Knight in Boston

Published: June 6 2007 23:16 | Last updated: June 6 2007 23:16

Three scientific teams published separate studies on Wednesday showing that embryonic stem cells can be made by reprogramming some of the genes in adult skin cells, without having to create an embryo – at least in mice.

Separately, a fourth scientific paper showed that newly fertilised eggs could be used instead of unfertilised eggs to produce cloned mice. If this technique were extended to humans, it might open up a new source of stem cells for therapeutic cloning research: frozen ­early-stage human embryos, which are much more plentiful than human eggs.

The animal research, carried out in the US and Japan and published in the journal Nature, will encourage opponents of human embryo experiments. But the scientists involved in the studies said it was far too early to tell whether the same procedures would work with adult human cells, let alone whet­her it would be safe to use clinically to treat disease.

“These results are preliminary and proof of principle,” said Rudolf Jaenisch, a member of the Whitehead Institute and a professor of biology at MIT, who led one of the studies. “Human embryonic stem cells remain the gold standard . . . and it is a necessity to continue studying embryonic stem cells through traditional means.”

President George W. Bush banned federal funding of human embryo research in 2001 and has since vetoed bipartisan legislation that would have eased restrictions on the study. That has stoked fears among scientists that the US will fall behind in stem cell research – a trend that is already taking place in fields such as technology and engineering.

Several states, such as California, New York and New Jersey, have begun funding such experiments themselves. In addition, privately funded research on embryonic stem cells is under way at many institutions.

Scientists said that these breakthroughs could move this research forward substantially by attracting greater numbers of scientists to the field, as well increasing private investment.

“There’s still a ways to go but at first blush, the results are very encouraging and it’s certainly a boost for the stem cell research business,” said Terry Devitt, a director at the University of Wisconsin’s stem cell research programme. “But we still have a bottleneck in the federal government. We’re hamstrung because the research is inadequately funded.”

Several candidates for president, both Republican and Democrat, have gone on record as supporting human embryo research, which Mr Devitt said is an indication that funding could increase substantially in the next administration. “Right now we’re stuck,” he said.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

VaBIO-VMA Grants Project in the News

Plants need skilled labor, and Va. project wants to help
Grant will let alliance train youths, others for manufacturing careers

Sunday, Jun 03, 2007 - 12:06 AM

The path to the manufacturing plant was a pretty clear one for Sheryl Alston Bryan.

You might say it was in her blood: Her father worked for Reynolds Metals Co., a Richmond manufacturer, for 40 years; her uncle was a metallurgist for the company.

"In manufacturing, you develop a passion for it, or you don't," she said. "I developed a passion for it."

Now, after a 20-year career in manufacturing at Alcoa Inc., Bryan is trying to help young people find a similar path. It isn't an easy task.

"We don't have a lot of young people coming up who say, 'I want to go into manufacturing,'" Bryan said. "The issue is: How do we develop the new talent?"

Bryan is leading an effort to prepare more Virginians for skilled manufacturing jobs.

In October, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded a $1.49million grant to industry groups in Virginia to support advanced manufacturing training and economic development. The grant was part of a $16.8 million national job-training initiative, but only 11 of 186 groups in the nation that applied were selected to receive funding.

In Virginia, the project is being co-led by the Virginia Biotechnology Association and the Virginia Manufacturers Association, along with Training & Development Corp., a national, nonprofit organization that works on job training and economic development issues.

Bryan was chosen in April as project director for the partnership, known as the Virginia Council on Advanced Technology Skills. She is working with compa- nies with operations in Virginia that also are partnering in the project.

The goal is to develop a training curriculum and certification standards to help young people just entering the job market -- or adults transitioning into new careers -- find work with manufacturing companies that need highly skilled production employees.

The seed money provided by the Department of Labor is helping with outreach and curriculum development. Eventually, the project will involve opening labs, possibly several around the state, for classes in technical skills geared specifically to manufacturing.

One of the goals of the project -- and one of Bryan's personal goals -- is to dispel popular notions that manufacturing is a dead-end career path.

While manufacturing jobs have been declining as a percentage of overall employment in the United States for years, and many lower-skill jobs have migrated overseas, demand is still high for skilled workers, many manufacturing employers say.

"It is not that [manufacturing] is going away. It is changing," Bryan said. "The employee of today is not the same employee as 10 years ago. The manufacturing world today is high-tech, with a lot of problem-solving."

That means people who want to have long, successful and well-paying careers in manufacturing increasingly need to have mechanical, electrical and computer skills, as well as a good understanding of concepts such as lean manufacturing and quality control, said Brett Vassey, president and chief executive officer of the Virginia Manufacturers Association.

"That is the revolution in our industry," Vassey said. "That is what we are trying to keep up with and make sure the state is ahead of the curve."

State officials have estimated that about 100,000 manufacturing workers in Virginia will retire in the next 10 years, including about 45,000 technically skilled workers, which will create a surge of demand for skilled labor.

"Our manufacturers today are having a hard time finding the workers they need to fill positions at their advanced manufacturing companies," said Mark Herzog, executive director of the Virginia Biotechnology Association. "They realize if they are having trouble today filling these jobs, it is going to be almost impossible 10 or 15 years down the road when the baby boomers are retiring."

Private-sector companies that are partnering in the project include Alcoa, Boehringer Ingelheim Chemicals Inc., Micron Technology Inc., Novozymes Biologicals, and Philip Morris USA.

Cathy Martin, human resources and public relations director for the Boehringer Ingelheim Chemicals plant in Petersburg, which makes pharmaceutical ingredients, said her company needs employees who have a good understanding of technology and chemistry.

"Today, we actually spend almost two years in fairly intense training with our new hires before they are really fully capable of being a fully skilled technician for us," she said.

But the training program that Bryan is working to develop could help the company prepare employees six to nine months faster.

David Sutton, a spokesman for Philip Morris USA, said the tobacco company also is concerned about a shortage of skilled labor.

"Given the nature of our business and our operations, we have a need for highly skilled manufacturing employees," he said. "Ultimately, this type of program helps keep these jobs in Virginia."

Bryan was a perfect fit to lead the project, Vassey and Herzog said. "Sheryl epitomizes what we are talking about," Vassey said. "Having run several manufacturing plants, she understands the issue."

When Bryan graduated from Virginia Tech in 1987, she went to work for Alcoa, a global manufacturing company best known for its aluminum products.

Her career with the company took her to plants in Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Detroit and St. Louis, where she worked in a variety of engineering, sales and management roles. Two years after Alcoa acquired Richmond-based Reynolds Metals in 2000, she returned to her hometown to manage the company's local aluminum foil plant, where Reynolds Wrap is made.

She always loved math and physical science and understanding how things are made. When she was in college, she did an internship at Reynolds, in research and development.

"My desire was to go into operations in a plant where products were being made," she said. "I wanted to see the results of my work."

Bryan also has one other key qualification: After leaving Alcoa last year, she spent six months working as a tutor in Henrico County schools, helping students prepare for the state's Standards of Learning tests.

"I love teaching," she said. "It was challenging, but it was fun. It helped me realize what kids are learning today, and how it could relate to what they need to know to be active participants in today's society."

She sees young people who are capable and ambitious, but they often have misconceptions about manufacturing. They might envision it as repetitive, dirty or low-wage work, but Bryan wants to change those views and present manufacturing as a cutting-edge career.

"I've always liked problem-solving," she said. "If we want to keep our jobs here in Virginia, and keep attracting businesses, we have to do something to solve this problem."

Contact staff writer John Reid Blackwell at or (804) 775-8123.