Monday, April 27, 2009

OSTP Launches New Blog on Science Policy

President Obama's Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) launched a blog to serve as a place where the public can have input into the policy-making process as it relates to science and technology.

NAS Posts Video of Obama Speech on US Research Funding

From the National Academy of Sciences: President Obama addressed members of the National Academy of Sciences on April 27, announcing a renewed commitment to science, technology, engineering, and medicine. Topics included America's energy future, revitalizing our health care system, science and math education, and allocating funding and implementing policies to ensure that America reclaims a position of world leadership in scientific innovation.

Click here for the video:

Senator Specter Calls for New Federal Biotech Agency

From Reuters and the Boston Globe:

Republican senator pushes biotech funding
Apr 25, 2009, Boston Globe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Senate Republican who could prove a swing vote in the U.S. healthcare debate said on Saturday he wanted a new agency to help struggling biotech companies as part of a future healthcare system.

Senator Arlen Specter said the new agency could be important as Democrats push a health plan that aims to rein in soaring costs and to provide health coverage for an estimated 46 million uninsured Americans.

"I believe that we can live not only longer lives, but healthier lives, by harnessing and applying the genius of our biomedical research community and getting about the task of accelerating cures," Specter said in remarks prepared for a Chicago speech to physicians and researchers.

Specter, who has survived two bouts of cancer, proposed a new agency known as the Cures Acceleration Network that would award grants to cash-strapped biotech companies to help them develop new treatments.

He said these companies are having difficulty tapping into private capital and a number have cut or put on hold important drug development programs that could provide new treatments for cancer, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and other diseases.

"Without adequate funding, these companies will be unable to take these products to the development state, the basic research done by the NIH (National Institutes of Health) will be lost, and many patients will die waiting for drugs and devices to give them a better quality of life," Specter said.

A copy of his speech was made available in Washington.

Specter was able to secure additional funds for NIH as part of the $787 billion economic stimulus package signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Specter's vote for that package got him into trouble with some of his fellow Republicans and he is facing a primary challenge for re-election in Pennsylvania next year from conservative Pat Toomey.

Specter said he would make creation of the new agency and increased funding for NIH a major focus of his re-election bid next year. He also said he would push to include the measure in the sweeping healthcare overhaul that Obama wants.

Democrats control 58 votes in the 100-member Senate and could need the support of at least two Republican votes to overcome any procedural roadblocks.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Coast IRB Closes Doors After Federal Investigation

From FierceBiotech:

At the beginning of this month, Coast IRB was a flourishing independent-review firm overseeing some 300 clinical trials. Today, it's dead.

The company has sent out an e-mail saying that the company's owners have decided to cease doing business. Oversight of the clinical trials it has been working with is being transferred to other independent review board companies.

Coast IRB's trouble hit hard and fast after the company approved a clinical trial for a product that never existed. Federal investigators wanted to see how much due diligence the review boards were bringing to the table. And in Coast IRB's case, that wasn't a lot--at least not in this instance.

The company CEO tried to fight back, saying that the federal sting operation amounted to nothing more than entrapment. But lawmakers were a little less than happy to hear that.

Virginia's Previous Attempts at a UK-style Investment Fund

Virginia legislators have debated policies similar to what was just announced by Alistair Darling, the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Britain. Two examples are posted below. It would be great if all of the candidates for Governor would look at innovative programs like these. This was one of the key recommendations from the Virginia Biotechnology Initiative back during Mark Warner's term as Governor.

So far this year, Terry McAuliffe does include the state-supported VC concept in his plan. Maybe we can get Brian Moran, Creigh Deeds and Bob McDonnell to weigh in as well.

HB 1572 Venture capital funds; creation of an investment program.

HB 75 Venture capital investments; creates program which makes investment return guarantees for certain.

UK Govt Announces $1B Advanced Tech Investment Fund

LONDON, April 22 (Reuters) - The UK's high-tech industrial sector will get an investment of 750 million pounds ($1.09 billion) through a fund focusing on advanced technology, the government said on Wednesday.

The Strategic Investment Fund -- announced by Chancellor Alistair Darling in his annual Budget speech to parliament -- will provide financial support, focusing on emerging technologies and regionally important sectors in, for example, advanced manufacturing, digital and biotechnology.

As part of the fund, 250 million pounds will be earmarked for low-carbon investments, a further 50 million pounds for the Technology Strategy Board and 10 million pounds for UK Trade and Investment.

The Technology Strategy Board cash will be used to increase its capacity to support innovation in areas that have high potential to drive future growth, such as low-carbon technologies, advanced manufacturing and the life sciences, the budget report said.

National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts Chief Executive Jonathan Kestenbaum welcomed the new fund, saying it would help to regenerate the UK economy.

"The fund will give a new vibrancy to the UK's technology market and will bring about deep and lasting change to our economy," he said.

However, it falls well short of the 1 billion pounds that was hoped for by the biotechnology industry.

In the budget report, Darling also said the government would be looking at whether to change the tax system to encourage global firms to locate their R&D activities in the UK.

Richard Barker, Director General of UK trade body Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said: "It could have significant impact on how companies make their investment decisions."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Terry McAuliffe Touts Plan for Biotech in VA

VaBIO staff met Terry McAuliffe, one of the candidates for the Democratic nomination for Governor of Virginia, yesterday at a "meet & greet" event in Richmond. Mr. McAuliffe said that if he were to be elected, Virginia would have plenty of wet lab space for commercialization. He asked us to read his plan which is posted on his website.

Here are some quotes that relate directly to the Life Sciences...

"Reward in-state investment in research
and development
: Virginia is one of a rapidly shrinking number of states not offering a research and development (R&D) tax credit. Recent enhancements of the federal R&D tax credit have made this a more attractive incentive than ever before, particularly when states closely link their offerings to the federal credit. According to the Kauffman Foundation’s 2008 State New Economy Index, Virginia
ranks below the national average in industrial R&D investment.

To improve its standing, we should consider initiatives such as New York’s Research and Development tax credit that offers businesses who invest in research and development facilities a 9 percent corporate tax credit. In June 2008, Governor Deval Patrick put into place the new Massachusetts Life Sciences law. This legislation, designed to make the state the national leader in the life sciences field, provided $500 million in capital funding for infrastructure projects related to life sciences and $250 million for the Massachusetts Life Sciences Investment Fund for loans, grants, and investments to stimulate increased research and development in the life sciences sector."

McAuliffe also discussed venture capital:

"Investing in venture capital firms with a commitment to pursue investments in Virginia: A Virginia Capital Investment
Corporation could be created to conduct a national solicitation for investment plan
proposals from qualified venture capital investment fund allocation managers,
focusing on businesses within Virginia committed to maintaining a physical presence
in Virginia. For instance, the Iowa Fund of Funds (IFOF) is a $100 million venture capital development program influenced by similar initiatives in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Monies are invested in venture capital projects agreeing to establish
a presence in Iowa and actively seek Iowa investments. A contingent tax credit is also available through the State. Cimarron Capital Partners LLC manages the fund. The first investment by an IFOF-supported venture fund in an Iowa company was made in 2007. The IFOF’s $28 million in commitments has attracted six venture funds with over $570 million in venture investing capacity to the state."

On NOL's:
"Match federal net operating loss “carry
back” for small businesses
: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will provide some help for small businesses, including additional funding for the federal Small Business Administration and its loan programs. The federal stimulus will also provide some new tax breaks for small businesses, notably extending a net operating loss “carry back” provision from two years to five years, a change that will provide immediate cash infusion for many small businesses. In basic terms, lengthening the “carry back” provision will enable business owners to balance out their net losses over years when the business had a net operating gain. The ability to “spread out” its tax liability will help a business to decrease the impact of recent bad
years. We should enhance the impact of the federal “carry back” provisions here in
Virginia by making parallel changes to our own tax policies."

Mr. McAuliffe spoke to about 30 lawyers and industry representatives.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

UK: Second hESC Trial Announced

Blind to be Cured with Stem Cells
Apr 19, 2009 The Times UK
Sarah-Kate Templeton, Health Editor

BRITISH scientists have developed the world’s first stem cell therapy to cure the most common cause of blindness. Surgeons predict it will become a routine, one-hour procedure that will be generally available in six or seven years’ time.

The treatment involves replacing a layer of degenerated cells with new ones created from embryonic stem cells. It was pioneered by scientists and surgeons from the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London and Moorfields eye hospital.

This week Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical research company, will announce its financial backing to bring the therapy to patients.

The treatment will tackle age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of blindness. It affects more than 500,000 Britons and the number is forecast to increase significantly as people live longer. The disease involves the loss of eye cells.

Under the new treatment, embryonic stem cells are transformed into replicas of the missing cells. They are then placed on an artificial membrane which is inserted in the back of the retina.

Tom Bremridge, chief executive of the Macular Disease Society, said: “This is a huge step forward for patients. We are extremely pleased that the big guns have become involved, because, once this treatment is validated, it will be made available to a huge volume of patients.”

Embryonic stem cells have the ability to develop into all types of body tissue. Their use is controversial, however, because it involves the destruction of human embryos.

Laboratory trials completed by the British team have demonstrated that stem cells can prevent blindness in rats with a similar disease to AMD. They have also successfully tested elements of the technology in pigs.

The team is led by Professor Pete Coffey, director of the London Project to Cure Blindness, working alongside Lyndon da Cruz, a surgeon at Moorfields.

Coffey said the treatment would take “less than an hour, so it really could be considered as an outpatient procedure. We are trying to get it out as a common therapy”.

He welcomed Pfizer’s agreement to manufacture the membranes, saying: “This is a major development because of the size of the partner. We need a big pharmaceutical company to scale it up.

“We have nearly 14m people within Europe with AMD. This will ensure that the therapy gets through to clinical trials in a safe and effective manner.”

Professor Peng Khaw, director of the Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, added: “This shows that stem cell therapy is coming of age. It offers great hope for many sufferers around the world who cannot be treated with conventional treatment.” He added: “All my patients say to me is, ‘When will this stem cell treatment be ready? I want it now’.”

Pfizer’s role would be crucial in bringing production of the membranes to an industrial level.

The team is applying for regulatory approval for trials from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, the Human Tissue Authority and the gene therapy advisory committee.

The clinical trial, due within two years, is expected to be the second in the world to use embryonic stem cells on humans. The first, on patients with spinal cord injuries, will start this year in America.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Device Industry: Stop Bill to Overturn Riegel v Medtronic

Device Industry Says Anti-Preemption Bill Would Hurt Innovation
Apr 16, 2009 Inside Health Policy

As the debate over FDA preemption for medical devices shifts from the courts to Congress, the device industry is arguing that revoking preemption would undermine innovation and have a disproportionate effect on small businesses. Manufacturers are also casting the U.S. Supreme Court's pro-preemption decision on devices as an affirmation of long-standing policy that they say Congress should leave alone.

The Advanced Medical Technology Association is hoping to defeat a bill that would overturn the Supreme Court's 8-1 decision in Riegel v. Medtronic, in which the court held that federal law blocks state tort suits involving devices with premarket approval from FDA. AdvaMed officials said this week that lobbying on the bill has fallen along the traditional battle lines for tort issues -- a framework that would appear to work in the Riegel bill's favor but has historically failed to produce results even when one party controls the House, the Senate and the presidency.

AdvaMed President and CEO Stephen Ubl told reporters that members of the conservative Blue Dog and New Democrat coalitions have been receptive to AdvaMed's concerns. Only 14 members from either group have cosponsored the bill to overturn Riegel. And with the number of other issues, including health care reform, already facing the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Senate health committee, AdvaMed government affairs director Brett Loper said, it's ?not outside the realm of possibility? that the legislation won't get off the ground. It didn't last year.

The AdvaMed officials discussed the bill during a meeting with reporters Wednesday (April 15). The American Association for Justice, one of the bill's leading supporters, declined to discuss its legislative strategy or identify the members or coalitions it has targeted.

Ubl said passage of the Riegel bill would be a major setback for innovation. Venture capital is already difficult to find, he said, and the threat of expensive litigation would only make the situation worse. And because the Riegel decision only applies to products with premarket approval, overturning it could open up litigation involving the most innovative types of devices, he said. Most products go through the less rigorous 510(k) clearance process, and those devices are still subject to tort suits under a previous Supreme Court decision.

?This flawed legislation contemplates a regulatory scheme that would undermine the safety and effectiveness determinations of the FDA with respect to complex medical devices -- for reasons that may or may not be medically and scientifically sound,? AdvaMed and 17 other industry groups stated in a March 31 letter to both parties' House and Senate leadership.

Officials said the adverse effects of the Riegel bill would fall largely on small businesses -- an argument that might not have made much difference to the Supreme Court justices but could be much more salient with members of Congress. Industry has also sought to downplay the level of protection afforded by Riegel. Ubl said the case's impact has been exaggerated through ?so many myths being propagated by the other side.?

AdvaMed chief counsel Christopher White said the Riegel decision was not ?a sea change in the law,? an argument the industry has made before. Although Riegel was only decided last year, AdvaMed says overturning it would effectively reverse 30 years of regulatory and legal precedent. Robert Weiner, a partner at Arnold & Porter, said the trend picked up after 1996, when the Supreme Court issued its 510(k) ruling. That decision hinged on the differences between the PMA and 510(k) processes, and Weiner said it hinted at support for preemption in the former context even though it didn't address the issue directly.

The Supreme Court only agreed to hear Riegel because of a division among lower courts, but White said it was a ?minimal split.? Only three courts -- two state Supreme Courts and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- came down against preemption, he said.

The plaintiffs' bar disputes AdvaMed's claim of a long pro-preemption history. Sue Steinman, policy director at the American Association for Justice, was unfamiliar with the extent of circuit-court divisions but said the Supreme Court read into medical device law a restriction that Congress never intended to impose. The law prohibits state ?requirements? that go above and beyond FDA regulations, and the court said in Riegel that damages in tort suits count as a ?requirement.?

Lawmakers who helped write the statute in question filed a brief in Riegel stating that they only intended to preempt state statutes, not product liability actions. Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion, was dismissive of that brief in a speech about the case (see related story, March 31, 2008). Steinman, however, said the stated intent of lawmakers who wrote the bill ought to carry more weight with colleagues deciding whether to accept the Supreme Court's interpretation.

Steinman said AdvaMed is overstating the effects of preemption on innovation. PMA devices on the market today were developed before Riegel and therefore before the issue was fully resolved. She also said the Riegel decision gives medical devices a stronger legal shield than almost any other industry.

?Why are they so special?? she said.

The AdvaMed officials, however, emphasized during the media briefing that only about 2 percent of all devices are PMA rather than 510(k) products. They also noted that manufacturers can still be sued over PMA devices if the products are manufactured improperly. State courts can also continue to hear parallel claims, or suits in which the state law mirrors a federal regulation. AdvaMed has made the same points about the scope of the Riegel decision in its meetings on Capitol Hill. -- Sam Baker

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Economist Profiles Biotech in NC: $1.2B Has Paid Off

Great piece on what North Carolina has accomplished. Of course, I like to remind folks that Charles Hamner, the key figure in this success story, is a Virginian! My congratulations to all our biotech friends in North Carolina for this great story.

North Carolina: Pipettes at the ready
Apr 16th 2009 | RALEIGH
From The Economist print edition

The state helps engineer a biotech boom

DURING a laboratory session at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, a dozen students gathered around a chromatography column. They were sending clarified lysate through an anion exchange, and some compared notes on the peculiar chemical smell of the classroom. “It’s like bad chicken noodle soup,” said one, wrinkling her nose.

Others explained how they had ended up in the protective goggles and booties. Wrennie Edwards said that she had started her career in textiles, but now she was “transitioning” to a livelier field. Megan Crum explained that, growing up in Greensboro, she always wanted to be a vet. But once she got to university she realised that everyone wanted to be one. There were, she thought, more opportunities in biomanufacturing. Her father, who used to work in tobacco, was enthusiastic.

Thirty years ago manufacturing in North Carolina meant textiles and furniture, and neither was doing well. The loss of those traditional industries was a blow. But North Carolina is finding a new course. The state has invested more than $1.2 billion in biotechnology in the past ten years, between facilities, research, training programmes and incentives for companies. Those efforts have paid off. North Carolina now has more than 54,000 people working for some 500 biotech companies. It is considered the third-largest biotechnology centre in the country, after California and Massachusetts. The aggregate economic impact, according to one report, is almost $46 billion a year.

It is no wonder that biotechnology companies like North Carolina. It has a high-powered university zone in the triangle formed by Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, home to North Carolina State, Duke University and the University of North Carolina respectively. This has helped attract over 170 companies to Research Triangle Park, right in the middle of things. And the state has reached out to industry. North Carolina’s community-college system runs courses that prepare students for entry-level technician jobs. It also offers short courses in specific skills, such as micropipetting.

North Carolina State’s Biomanufacturing Training and Education Centre, where the students were working with the chromatography column, is a more elaborate example of college-state-industry interaction. The gleaming building was paid for with $38m from the state’s 1998 settlement with tobacco companies. Operating costs are covered by the state, to the tune of $7m a year. “We look at ourselves, and I think the state does too, as an economic-development tool,” says Rick Lawless, the associate director of the centre. Biotech has its struggles at the moment; companies are worried about investment in the current climate. But North Carolina’s love affair with its new industry will survive.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

MD Budget ax spares biotech tax credit

But DBED funding program, stem cell research are cut...

Monday, April 13, 2009
Budget ax spares biotech tax credit
But DBED funding program, stem cell research are cut
by Kevin James Shay | Staff Writer

Bioscience industry leaders got their wish for full funding of the state's biotechnology investment tax credit, as the House on Saturday passed a $13.8 billion operating budget that included $6 million for the popular program.

The House earlier voted to slash that fund by $2 million. But the Senate approved the full funding, and a compromise by a House-Senate conference committee included $6 million for the biotech tax credits.

The full Senate planned to vote Monday — the final day of the legislature's regular 90-day session — on the final version of the budget, but it is not expected to reduce the biotech tax credit. Owners of biotech companies, led by the Tech Council of Maryland, launched a campaign to lobby for full funding of the program.

The tool, which formed in 2006, allows investors in Maryland biotechnology companies to take a 50 percent credit against state income taxes. The biotech that receives the investment must have headquarters in Maryland, have fewer than 50 employees and be in business less than 12 years.

Last July, the credits ran out on the first day applications were taken, with $8.5 million worth requested by local biotechs, officials said.

However, other programs of interest to Maryland business executives were slashed by the conference committee. The Maryland Economic Development Assistance Authority and Fund, which has provided more than $160 million in loans, grants and other aid to help companies expand or relocate to the state since forming about a decade ago, is expected to see a $6 million reduction in both this year and next fiscal year.

That is less than the $10 million cut legislators originally set for that program, whose beneficiaries include telecommunications company Comcast Corp. and Rockville biotech Novavax. The fund is the "workhorse" tool that the state Department of Business and Economic Development uses to retain and attract companies, said Jim Henry, managing director of finance programs for DBED.

Funding for stem-cell research next fiscal year was reduced by the House-Senate committee by $3 million to $15.4 million, although the Senate sought a larger cut. The state arts council saw its funds reduced by $3 million.

In addition, the program started last fall to help subsidize small employer's health insurance costs for workers was reduced by the House-Senate committee by $13 million. The program has not had as many businesses sign up as officials expected, largely due to the flagging economy, said Nicole Stallings, chief of government relations and special projects for the Maryland Health Care Commission.

Some business owners have said the requirements are too restrictive. Legislators passed a bill that would expand eligibility, including a provision to let businesses with as many as 19 employees tap the subsidies.

Moran Promises $100M for Biotech Labs in Virginia

Former state Delegate Brian Moran is one of three candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for Governor of Virginia. He announced yesterday several key technology-based economic development initiatives that relate to the bioscience industry in Virginia.

Moran pledges state support to create biotechnology jobs
By Olympia Meola
Published: April 15, 2009

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brian J. Moran said yesterday that, if elected, he would authorize the sale of $10 million in revenue bonds to help create biotechnology jobs.

The bonds would be part of a 10-year, $100million commitment to finance construction of a biotechnology "wet lab" and production facilities, he said yesterday while discussing his broader plan to create and attract more high-tech jobs.

"I think we could do more with our biotech center in Richmond," he said. "My thought here is to kind of kick-start the construction of new facilities to make sure that facilities are available here in Virginia."

Moran's "Innovation Agenda" aims to create incentives for research and development and expand biotechnology, green-energy technology and universal broadband. He explained the plan in a conference call with reporters yesterday and was joined by Eugene J. Huang, who was secretary of technology under Gov. Mark R. Warner.

The former delegate from Alexandria is fighting for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination along with state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds of Bath County and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

Moran would invest in Virginia's Biotech Commercialization Loan Fund and repeal the ban on lending to companies that conduct human stem-cell research from human embryos "because research should be based on science, not ideology," according to his plan.

Technology jobs make up 16 percent of the work force in Virginia and pay 29 percent of the wages, Moran said. More than 175 biotech, pharmaceutical, equipment and medical-device companies are based in the state, he added. That accounts for more than $2.5 billion annually to the state's economy and more than 7,000 jobs.

Among his other ideas: create teams from government, state universities and the private sector to develop Energy Technology Parks to help incubate emerging companies and technological innovation; create a tax credit for private investment in university research; coordinate resources and policies to close the broadband gap.

Moran would not give a price tag for his plan, answering with: "It'll be too costly if we don't move in this direction."

Monday, April 13, 2009

TGEN Founder Targets VA for $245M Institute

Dietrich Stephan, founding scientist from TGEN is planning to build a 300,000 square foot, $245M personalized medicine institute that will employ more than 500 scientists. Another great story by the WBJ's Vandana Sinha.

Friday, April 3, 2009 | Modified: Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Geneticist wants to open research center in N. Va
Washington Business Journal - by Vandana Sinha Staff Reporter
Stephan Dietrich
View Larger

When Dietrich Stephan plans his next career move, he plans big.

As in a $245 million research institute focused on personalized medicine in a 300,000-square-foot Northern Virginia building that would employ up to 500 top-rated scientists recruited from the far corners of the world.

That may be Stephan’s vision, but he will have to persuade federal, state, local, university, nonprofit and charitable money holders — in the midst of a painful recession — to make the institute a reality in the next five years.

Stephan speaks from experience. He was a founding scientist of the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix, where a discussion among 50 government, business and science leaders in 2002 led to the rustling up of $90 million for a six-story, 176,000-square-foot, green-glass research building that opened two years later.

Now Stephan has set his sights on the Washington area, where he says a new president has raised hopes for a transformed health care system and where he would like to launch a specialized center for personalized medicine, the act of tailoring treatments to a patient’s DNA.

A former faculty member at the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health, The George Washington University and Children’s National Medical Center, Stephan is working with Chesapeake Crescent, a regional economic development organization, to connect with potential investors and partners.

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP is helping him develop the business implementation plan for the project, preliminarily called the Ignite Institute for Individualized Health.

So far, Stephan has recruited George Washington University, George Mason University and Inova Health System to commit $500,000 toward PwC’s operational design and planning phase and, when that finishes by the end of May, to consider becoming permanent partners.

The Ignite Institute would dedicate many of its 60 to 90 investigators and 500 researchers to basic personalized medical research, focusing on the most common and least treatable diseases within the neurological and mental health, cardiovascular, metabolic, cancer and pediatric fields.

The institute’s researchers would use complex equipment to drill down into the molecular makeup of diseases and patients afflicted by them, hoping to discover in the process new drugs, devices and diagnostic tests that could be custom-made to a patient’s genetic profile.

“There is no other place in the country or world where people are thinking about this in a holistic way,” said Stephan, a 20-year geneticist who served as the Phoenix institute’s deputy director of discovery research and headed its neurogenomics division before stepping down last year.

“Right now, it’s happening very haphazardly around the country,” he said. “But there’s a way to do it that’s systematic and focused and that will result in higher yield in the back end.”

But front and center is the funding search. The institute’s organizers need an estimated $140 million for construction of the building and $105 million for operations during the first five years until the institute is self-sustained from research grants and charitable giving.

The institute’s building would sit on land donated by one of the university or medical partners in Prince William, Fairfax or Loudoun counties. The organizers also envision a D.C. location on land owned by George Washington University.

Arguing that government backing is crucial, the organizers have begun talks with Virginia leaders to get their support for the project. They also are pursuing stimulus funds and philanthropic avenues, though they acknowledge they’re facing long lines and limited dollars.

“The timing, in terms of the economy, isn’t perfect, but on the other hand, the opportunity is great,” said George Vradenburg, vice chairman of Chesapeake Crescent, which was formed by Maryland, Virginia and D.C. leaders and has made this institute of one of its top projects. “If neither Virginia nor Maryland is prepared to do this, other regions in the country are itching to get their hands on this opportunity. It would be a real loss to the region.”

Their pitch is simple: Check out the Phoenix institute, which began on the same trajectory and with the same team.

The institute generated $21.7 million in economic payback to Arizona and created 220 jobs in 2006, according to a recent study by Pittsburgh consulting company Tripp Umbach, which expects the economic impact to grow to $31.7 million next year and $72.1 million in 2025, when as many as 900 new jobs could result from the venture.

Click here for the rest of the story...

Va Biotech Park CEO Bob Skunda Profiled in RTD

Well done profile of Bob Skunda, the CEO of the Va Biotechnology Research Park.

Virginia BioTechnology Research Park’s chief builder
Inside biotech. Ever wonder what the Virginia BioTechnology Research Park looked like on the inside?

Published: April 13, 2009

Robert T. Skunda has no training in biosciences, technology or medicine.

The 62-year-old does have a bachelor's degree in architecture and a master's in urban planning.

He chaired the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and was secretary of commerce and trade under Gov. George Allen.

But since 1997, Skunda has been the man behind the Virginia BioTechnology Research Park in downtown Richmond.

As the park's CEO, Skunda has melded his planning, recruiting and management skills with science. He oversees management, development, leasing and operations at the park.

"I enjoy being around the scientists," he said. "I enjoy being around the entrepreneurs as much as I enjoy doing the deals and putting the deals together."

Getting the job offer surprised him.

"When the board asked me to take this position, I said: 'I am not a research scientist; I don't know biotechnology.'"

But the board was less focused on science.

Eugene P. Trani, outgoing Virginia Commonwealth University president, recruited Skunda.

"Bob is the right guy . . . to provide the long-range planning and economic development" required to jump-start the park, Trani said during an interview in 1997. "We will have an individual with a solid handle on strategies for successful economic development."

Trani, who has been the only chairman of the BioTech park since its inception, declined an interview or to answer questions about Skunda.

When Skunda took over, there were four buildings in the 34-acre park. The rest of the land was mostly covered by a haphazard arrangement of parking lots. Twenty-two companies employed about 500 people.

Today, the park has nine buildings taking up 1.1 million square feet -- about the size of Short Pump Town Center -- that house 44 private companies, five state labs, four Virginia Commonwealth University research institutions and five nonprofits.

More than 2,000 scientists, engineers and technicians now work at the park.

"He's taken a kernel of an idea and turned it into something much larger than we even thought it could be," said Sheldon M. Retchin, CEO of VCU Health System.

. . .

Skunda is looking for more companies to come to the park.

He is heading to Israel at the end of the week to recruit medical companies. This is one of the many trips he has made to Israel and elsewhere, including Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom.

With medicaland surgical-supply company Owens & Minor and other medical distributors with operations in the region, Richmond is a great location for foreign companies to develop products to be able to take to local distributors, he said.

"The U.S. market is the Holy Grail if you have health-care products," Skunda said.

Making sure the park does well leads to more economic development, he said.

Worldwide, more than 4,200 biotechnology companies earn $63 billion in annual revenue, Skunda said. Fifty-two percent of that was generated in the United States.

"I believe what we're creating here is a sector of the economy that will be long-lasting and will continue significantly over a long period," Skunda said.

He considers the biotech park another component to what makes Richmond's economy diverse. The advantages brought by variety was learned early.

. . .

Skunda was born and grew up in Flint, Mich.

When the automobile industry was doing well, everyone prospered. When times were bad, few were spared.

It taught him a lesson: An economy dependent on one industry would never be secure.

When he was chairman of the Virginia chamber from 1991 through 1993, he focused on state competitiveness and job issues.

While waiting in a receiving line during a conference in New York in 1993, Skunda found himself next to Allen, then the soon-to-be governor.

He shared ideas about making Virginia open for business. Not long after, an offer came from the new governor for Skunda to be his secretary of commerce and trade.

His mission: create jobs and recruit companies while overseeing 15 state agencies and 2,000 employees. "It was one of those completely life-changing, serendipitous things that you don't plan for and never anticipate," Skunda said.

Together, the two traveled to Europe, Asia, Mexico and Canada. On one trip to England, Germany and Sweden in 1995, the duo helped close four deals that lead to $43 million in foreign investment.

He was also instrumental in recruiting IBM, Frito-Lay and Volvo Trucks.

"Bob was one of my very, very best players and teammates and truly a great, loyal, trustworthy friend," Allen said. "Folks would call him Little Big Man because he was a big man, but of height, not all that tall."

. . .

Colleagues say Skunda is energetic, detailed, prepared and always looking for partnership opportunities.

Skunda himself admits that he rarely slows down and can be a bit obsessive-compulsive.

His office, like his house, is pristine. The only thing bordering on clutter are pictures covering the walls.

One is a framed score card paired with a picture of Skunda with famed golfer Arnold Palmer to his right. On a par 72 course, Palmer hit a 75; Skunda came in at 86.

"I didn't embarrass myself," he said of the 1998 golf outing.

Golf is a major part of his life. He doesn't miss a chance, and he got his family involved.

"He put a golf club in my hand at age 3," said daughter Courtney L. Skunda, 27, who joined the BioTech park staff in October as marketing and communications coordinator. She previously had worked as a lobbyist, fundraiser and public relations representative.

She does not work directly for her father and did not interview with him when seeking the job. But they still work together.

"It gives me a chance to see him every day," she said. "I think this is special, that . . . I get to work with him."

That doesn't mean that her dad wasn't around when she was growing up.

In her 18 years of ballet performances, he never missed a recital. "Between trade missions and things like that, he still managed to make it," she said.

. . .

Over the years, he also served on a number of boards.

He serves on the board of directors of LandAmerica Financial Group Inc., which filed for bankruptcy protection in November. The company has since sold off its primary title-insurance subsidiaries and is in the process of selling off remaining assets.

Skunda calls the demise of the company "heartbreaking" but can say little else because of pending lawsuits. "The only thing I can say publicly is it was just breathtaking the speed with which it all happened."

. . .

The park, too, has its share of problems.

It is projected to have a deficit of $136,500 for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2010, and the budget shortfall is expected to continue, he said.

Increased operating costs, lost rent from vacant office space and a lack of state funding have added to the burden, as has the economy.

"VCU has a lot invested in the park, and we're going to work together to overcome whatever the economic challenges are," said Dr. Frank Macrina, VCU's vice president for research.

Skunda also said he will look at the long-term future of the park and the role of the governing authority. Plans to appeal for state support are under way.

"I'm confident we will deal with it," Skunda said.

As for his future, "I don't see myself retiring any time soon," Skunda said. "I can't possibly conceive of playing golf every day."

Profile: Robert T. Skunda

Born: Sept. 22, 1946, in Flint, Mich.
Education: University of Michigan, bachelor of architecture, 1969; University of Michigan, master's in urban planning, 1972
Work experience: President and CEO, Virginia BioTechnology Research Park, 1997 to present
Virginia's Secretary of Commerce and Trade, 1993-1997
Principal at Dewberry & Davis, 1979-1993
Civic leadership: Board of directors of Greater Richmond Technology Council and LandAmerica Financial Group Inc.
Member of the Virginia General Assembly joint study commission on biotechnology
Greater Richmond Chamber air-service task force
Community Idea Stations science and discovery leadership team
Virginia Biotechnology Association government affairs.
Previous activities: Past chair of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce
Former member of Governor's Commission on the Virginia Biotechnology Initiative
Past board member of Medical Informatics and Technology Applications Consortium.
Family: Wife, Cheryl (married 40 years); son, Kevin, 35; daughter, Courtney, 27
Pastime: Golfing, swimming
Favorite Food: Sushi
Fear: "I really don't like snakes."

Friday, April 10, 2009

NIH Outlines Stimulus Challenge Grants for Genomics

Some of the $200 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding that has been marked for the National Institutes of Health's Challenge Grants program will go for research areas that generally come under the National Human Genome Research Institute's domain.

The NIH program, which will give up to $1 million for each grant, is focused on areas where there are specific knowledge gaps, scientific opportunities, new technologies, a need for data, or research methods that would benefit from an influx of funds.

Included in the 15 NIH challenge areas are requests for advances in genomics and for the development of new enabling technologies.

In the NIH genomics challenge area, NIH is seeking new technologies and resources for high-throughput analysis of functional elements in genomic sequences. There is a need for new high-throughput methods for carrying out functional assays for studying how certain functional genomic elements operate to determine cell states, in development, and in health and disease.

NIH also wants scientists to propose development of a number of new enabling technologies in genomics and personalized medicine.

One grant will fund development of new computational and statistical methods for analyzing the large data sets that come from next-generation sequencing technologies.

NIH also will fund new technologies to manage data from large-scale sequencing, metagenomics, transcriptomics, and genetic network analysis that overwhelms existing computational resources. "Urgent action is needed to enable the translation of this rich new source of genomic information into medical benefit," NIH stated in the funding announcement.

Another grant seeks technologies that can be used to obtain genomic, proteomic, and metabolomic data from individual viable cells in complex tissues. NIH wants tools that can use one or a small number of cells to generate data to understand the molecular phenotype, or state, of a particular cell type and how it functions in both health and disease.

NIH also plans to fund research to develop methods to sequence highly variable, repeat-rich regions of complex genomes. Some variants in complex genomic regions have implications for infectious and autoimmune diseases, so NIH seeks technologies to sequence and assemble these regions.

In addition, NIH intends to fund development of new personalized medicine technologies and resources, including rapid point-of-care genotyping methods and ways to use genetic testing results in conjunction with electronic medical records. NIH also wants research on the effects that using personalized medicine has on health costs and outcomes so that such methods may be integrated into current health care systems.

From GenomeWeb

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Protocols for Life Scientists Available on the iPhone App Store

From Business Wire

Life Scientists can now access protocols at the bench on their iPhone™ or iPod® Touch using the Promega Protocols and Applications Guide (P&A Guide). Available on the App Store, the Promega App provides a comprehensive selection of step-by-step protocols across a range of molecular and cell biology applications, and features illustrations, animations of key techniques and cellular events, and regular content updates. Much of the information provided is useful and applicable to scientists whether or not they are using Promega products.

The Protocols and Applications Guide has served as a general reference tool for scientists since 1989. An online version has been available since 2004 and is a highly popular resource on the Promega web site. Today, some of the most popular chapters are PCR Applications, DNA Purification, Protein Expression, and Cloning. Online, thousands of downloads of various chapters of the guide occur each month around the world.

With availability on the iPhone™ and iPod® Touch, the P&A Guide content continues to keep pace with the evolution of information delivery in today’s world. To that end, Promega will continue to explore dynamic delivery methods that strive to meet or exceed the expectations of the scientific community and offer rich and specific information whenever and wherever it is needed.

Monday, April 06, 2009

TJ Students Sweep Biotech Awards at VA State Science Fair

Students from the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology swept the top three awards for Biotechnology at the 2009 Virginia State Science and Engineering Fair on April 4 in the Patriot Center at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia.

"TJ is an amazing school but it had never swept all of the awards before," said Mark A. Herzog, executive director of the Virginia Biotechnology Association. "The judges make their decision on the merits of the projects and we only found out later that TJ students won all three awards."

The Biotechnology awards were presented by judges from the Virginia Biotechnology Association (VaBIO) in partnership with the Chesapeake Bioscience Education Foundation (C-BEF).

First place went to Anirundh Mohan, a junior from the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. His project was entitled, "Synthesis and Characterization of Biomarker-Harvesting Hydrogel Nanoparticles."

Second place went to LeeAnn Li, a senior from the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Her project was "The Significant Role of p70 Ribosomal S6 Kinase in Regulating Mouse Embryonic Stem Cell Cardiomyogenesis."

Third place also went to a student from TJ. Jessica Liu, a senior, rounded out the awards with her project entitled, "The Role of CREB in the Downregulation of Cyclin D1 by Tumor-Suppressor RASSF1A."

In addition to winning the Biotech Award, LeeAnn Li won the over-all "Best in Show" award as well as first place in Cellular and Microbiology.

Judges for the Biotechnology Awards for 2009 were Dan Roberts, Chris Farabaugh and Brendan Stitcher of Covance Laboratories. Also judging were Matt Latimer of Latimer, Mayberry & Matthews IP Law, LLP and Mark Herzog, executive director of VaBIO.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

US Senators Agree on Patent Changes, BIO Claims Victory

The leadership of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) announced a compromise between Senators Leahy and Specter to advance patent reform legislation in the US Senate. Here is the article from Reuters...

US senators agree on patent changes
By Diane Bartz, Reuters

Leaders of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee said on Wednesday they had reached agreement on key elements of a bill to revise U.S. patent law.

One of the changes would require judges hearing patent infringement cases to play a gatekeeper role in helping identify appropriate damages, according to a statement from committee chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont.

A similar bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives in late 2007, but failed in the Senate largely because of disagreements between industries over how to craft the bill.

The committee will meet on Thursday to discuss the changes.

Big computer and hardware firms have pushed for years for patent law changes in hopes of reducing litigation, much of which they blame on poor quality patents issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

But the effort has worried big drug companies, some smaller technology firms and others dependent on small portfolios of patents.

The biggest fight has been over damages.

Current law allows for infringement to be punished by payment of the entire market value of the product, but some high-tech companies say that is unfair, as just one of their products may involve hundreds of patents.

Under the proposed amendment, if a company has been found to have infringed a patent, the judge will help determine if the patent was critical to the product, as is typical in pharmaceuticals, or a bit player, as is more typical in high-tech items like computers and mobile phones.

Currently, damages could be tripled if the infringement is found to be willful. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit's 2007 Seagate decision made that harder to accomplish, and the proposed amendment would change the law to make it conform with that decision.

Another proposed amendment to the bill attacks "forum shopping," where plaintiffs file suit in courts likely to favor them. Again, the language in the amendment is designed to match a recent court decision aimed at curbing the practice.

"We are supportive of that compromise package. We hope that they take it up and we hope that it's adopted," said Bill Mashek, a spokesman for the Coalition for 21st Century Patent Reform which includes General Electric , Proctor & Gamble , Eli Lilly , 3M , Johnson & Johnson and Caterpillar.

David DiMartino of the Coalition for Patent Fairness, which counts Apple, Autodesk Research in Motion , Palm , Google, Hewlett-Packard and Intel among its members, said the amendment represented "significant progress."

"It's not everything that we want, that's for sure," he added.

Chris Andrews, an IBM spokesman, said his company hoped the bill would become law. "IBM supports the amendment and urges to committee to move the legislation forward. Patent reform is urgently needed, and failure to act will harm our nation's economy at a time we can ill afford it," he said.