Thursday, December 09, 2010

NIH Board Approves New Translational Institute

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins said that his agency took a "bold step" yesterday when a senior working group voted to create a new NIH center that will focus on advancing translational medicine and therapeutics (TMAT), and which will have major implications for the National Center for Research Resources.

The new national center will be tasked with supporting, fostering, and catalyzing TMAT research and serving as a resource for the business sector, and it will do so by taking over several of NCRR's current programs, the TMAT Working Group of NIH's Scientific Management Review Board (SMRB) agreed yesterday.

"This is a momentous occasion," Collins, who aims to have the center funded by the 2012 fiscal year, told the group after the vote.

"The creation of a new center is not something that has happened at NIH very often," Collins said, explaining that the TMAT center arose out of the scientific need for new approaches and avenues for getting medicine from the lab to the clinic more swiftly and cost-effectively.

The new entity will have three central responsibilities, according to a TMAT working group report that outlines the new center.

The center will develop and provide infrastructure for translational medicine, and will support the development of new diagnostics and therapeutics, TMAT Working Group Chair Arthur Rubinstein explained in an SMRB meeting yesterday.

The TMAT center will foster new and innovative strategies for TMAT research, including strengthening and streamlining the therapeutic development process. It also will be a catalyst and a resource for collaborations and partnerships, seeking to use the strengths of NIH and the extramural research community, government, academia, and the private sector.

The working group developed the proposal at Collins' behest, who asked SMRB in May to consider what an effective translational medicine program might look like and to identify any programs, networks, or resources at NIH that could be used to start such a center.

One of the places that the group found these existing resources was at NCRR. According to their recommendations, that center's Molecular Libraries Program (MLP - which includes the Molecular Probe Production Centers Network and the NIH Chemical Genomics Center), the Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases Program (TRND), and the Clinical and Translational Science Awards program all would be relocated into the new center. The working group also agreed that the partnership with the Food and Drug Administration, the NIH-FDA Regulatory Science Initiative, would fall under the domain of the new center.

NCRR Director Barbara Alving told the TMAT Working Group yesterday that the creation of the new TMAT center "will require that NCRR actually turn into something else."

"This is a consideration that involves not just NCRR but also the grantees, stakeholders, and other centers," said Alving, who called NCRR "a center for centers" that is "essential for the research conducted by our R01 grantees."

She said that the objectives of TMAT "cover just a range" of NCRR's portfolio, adding that the center funds the purchase and development of transformative technologies and animal models, and provides training and opportunities for minority institutions.

Alving advised the group that a financial impact report will need to be conducted, and that SMRB and NIH in general will need to "engage in dialogue with stakeholders, academic health centers, other centers at NIH, and the public," among others.

"NCRR is a unique institution," Mark Lively, a member of NCRR's National Advisory Research Council, told the group yesterday during a phase of the SMRB meeting when the floor was open for public comments.

"Its research significantly affects all aspects of our programs. If you didn't have an NCRR, you'd probably find that you need to invent it," he added. "The members of the council urge you to proceed with caution."

He added that there are many stakeholders "that we feel have not been adequately represented."

Beyond the programs that SMRB expects the new center to take over, NCRR also runs and funds the Institutional Development Awards (IdeA) program, the Shared Instrumentation Grants program, the Biomedical Technology Research Centers, the National Primate Research Centers, the Research Centers in Minority Institution program, and others.

Collins and Rubinstein both said that many stakeholders will be consulted as the process of developing the new institute moves forward. But Collins added that he wants the process to move "with due speed."

Collins said that he has assigned two senior NIH officials to seek input from NCRR and other stakeholders and to draft a report on the potential side effects of the TMAT center plan, which would be ready in three months. He said that they would begin the process as early as today.

Because efforts to translate discoveries and research into medicine face many challenges, Collins explained, "Gradual evolution is not adequate to meet these challenges."

He suggested that what may be needed is "the equivalent of punctuated evolution to transform NIH structure," and said that addressing these challenges could result in a Cambrian explosion of new discoveries.

Lively, in his statements, reminded Collins that during that explosion a great number of organisms became extinct.

GenomeWeb Daily News

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

McDonnell Turns To Tobacco Commission For Help Luring Company

Gov. Bob McDonnell is looking to land a California biotechnology business with the help of a commission that has been struggling to fulfill its mission of revitalizing Virginia's tobacco belt.

McDonnell made a surprise visit yesterday to the executive committee of the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, but not to talk about ways to tighten oversight of its finances in the wake of a $4 million fraud perpetrated on the panel by a former state finance secretary.

Instead, the governor was there to tell the committee that he needs the commission's help in competing for business associated with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a Silicon Valley venture-capital company whose Greentech team includes former Vice President Al Gore.

"This is a very exciting opportunity for Virginia," McDonnell said before Commerce and Trade Secretary James Cheng cautioned him about revealing details in a public meeting.

Afterward, the executive committee met for more than two hours in closed session with representatives of the California firm but adjourned its public meeting without taking further action. Members would not discuss what kind of help the governor is seeking from a commission that handles more than $1 billion in money from a national settlement of state health claims against the tobacco industry more than a decade ago.

There was no mention in the meeting of John W. Forbes II, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison last week for defrauding the tobacco commission of more than $4 million from a grant it made to a foundation he created in 2001. Forbes, who was a member of the commission as finance secretary for then-Gov. Jim Gilmore, had promised to use the money to provide educational opportunities for undereducated residents of Southside and Southwest Virginia.

McDonnell said last week that he will work with the General Assembly "to ensure that such actions can never take place again," but he offered nothing but praise for the tobacco commission yesterday.

"Overall, the commission is well-run," he told reporters, citing the leadership of Del. Terry G. Kilgore, R-Scott, who is chairman of the panel. "But there's room for improvement."

Kilgore convened the executive committee meeting after a call from the governor about the possible economic-development opportunity in the tobacco region. The opportunity would involve state incentives, including some drawn from federal stimulus funds, in a competition with Mississippi and other states to attract the unnamed business.

"Obviously, if this is in the footprint of the tobacco commission, we would be aggressive joint venturers," said Sen. William C. Wampler Jr., R-Bristol.

McDonnell hinted publicly that part of the commission's role is the five energy research and development centers it has helped establish in the tobacco belt from Halifax to Wise County. "This fits exactly into that model," he said.

Robert T. Skunda, president and chief executive officer of the Virginia BioTechnology Research Park, said the tobacco region would be attractive for companies developing alternative sources of energy, such as biomass.

Kleiner Perkins' Greentech portfolio includes 20 alternative-energy companies. The Greentech team includes Gore, chairman of Generation Investment Management, which has allied with Kleiner Perkins.

By: Michael Martz
Richmond Times Dispatch
November 30, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

WHITECOAT Strategies Wins Top Honors for Video Production

WHITECOAT Strategies Wins Top Honors for Video Production WASHINGTON, DC -- (Marketwire) -- 11/18/10 -- The Television, Internet and Video Association of DC (TIVA-DC) awarded WHITECOAT Strategies the gold medal for best public relations/marketing video for "New Hope for Gene Therapy... A Young Boy's Fight Against Blindness" at the annual DC PEER Awards held at the National Press Club on Saturday.

WHITECOAT Strategies produced the video for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) and it premiered during the keynote speech at BIO's 2010 International Convention in Chicago. A second version of the film was later produced for the Foundation Fighting Blindness.

"Science driven companies and organizations are more challenged then ever when it comes to differentiating themselves in an increasingly confusing media environment," said WHITECOAT Strategies' Chief Creative Officer David Welch. "We're honored to win an award doing what we love to do, telling the many amazing stories of biotechnology and science through video production. I am very proud of our amazing team, which ranges from a biochemist 3-D animator to a former med student."

The video, which highlights continued advancements in gene therapy, tells the inspirational story of Corey Haas, who was born virtually blind due to a rare genetic disease but regained his vision after undergoing a gene therapy procedure.

WHITECOAT Strategies is a Washington, DC-based multimedia communications company that specializes in integrating creative, award-winning video into proven public relations and marketing strategies and incorporating social media and earned media programs. More information is available at

TIVA-DC, a not-for-profit organization, was formed to serve the needs of the growing Washington/Baltimore media production community. Recognition of the outstanding work created by area professionals is one of the most celebrated social events each year: The DC PEER Awards. The event, which is held at the National Press Club, is sponsored by TIVA-DC.

Video link:

Embedded Video Available:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ignite Institute Finds a Home through New Partnership with Fox Chase Cancer Center

The Ignite Institute for Individualized Health will join with Philadelphia's Fox Chase Cancer Center to launch a new Cancer Genome Institute, ending the startup Ignite's year-long search for a permanent home.

A spokeswoman for Fox Chase confirmed news of the partnership with GenomeWeb Daily News this morning.

"In establishing the Cancer Genome Institute, we are reaching for a new era in medicine, one that will engage the power of the latest molecular scanning and information technologies to transform cancer research and treatment globally," Dietrich Stephan, Ignite's president and CEO, said in a statement expected to be published today. "With its rich culture of innovation and achievement in cancer science and medicine, Fox Chase Cancer Center is the right partner at the right time for this bold venture."

Neither Stephan nor a spokeswoman for Ignite returned telephone messages left this morning.

Fox Chase Cancer Center President Michael Seiden and other officials first disclosed news of the partnership to the Philadelphia Business Journal in advance of the planned announcement. Seiden told the newspaper Stephan would play a "lead role" in organizing the new institute, and in forming partnerships to create the largest genome sequencing center in the US.

One such partnership was already announced back in January, when Ignite agreed to purchase 100 SOLiD 4 sequencing systems from Life Technologies, a deal the institute said would create the largest next-generation genomic sequencing facility in North America. At the time, the company said installation of the units would "begin in the first quarter and continue through the balance of 2010."

It is not known if Ignite will be among ABI SOLiD customers upgrading their machines from the SOLiD 4.0 to the company's recently-announced 5500 series, which will supplant the previously-announced but unavailable SOLiD 4hq.

Fox Chase has emerged as a partner five months after Stephan told GenomeWeb Daily News during an interview with editors that Ignite was on track to locate a permanent facility and begin operations at a location he declined to disclose.

The interview followed setbacks earlier this year that included the loss of much of its previously-announced funding, and subsequent collapse of original plans to open in Virginia's Fairfax County.

Stephan and the institute joined officials from Fairfax County and Virginia — including Gov. Robert McDonnell and his predecessor, Timothy Kaine — in announcing the original plan last November.

But that plan collapsed after Inova Health Systems withdrew a commitment to provide $25 million over five years to the institute, citing in a statement "the scope and scale of the project and the time needed for capital development in the current market." Inova's pullout, in turn, prompted Fairfax County to retreat from its own plan to partially finance the permanent facility by issuing up to $150 million in Fairfax County Economic Development Authority industrial revenue bonds.

From: GenomeWeb Daily News

Monday, November 01, 2010

At biotech conference, a focus on finding funding

The Mid-Atlantic Bio conference has built an identity by knitting together what many see as the region's biggest biotech strength, its proximity to federal labs and regulators, with what many lament as its biggest weakness, a small investment community.

The annual event, now in its seventh year, didn't deviate from that theme last week as it brought biotech executives and investors from both sides of the Potomac together at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center.

Coming off a year when venture capital across most industries sank to its lowest levels in a decade, a sense of measured enthusiasm seemed to prevail as the numbers posted so far in 2010 show a slow return to pre-recession levels.

"I definitely sense an uptick in optimism," said Mark Herzog, executive director of the Virginia Biotechnology Association. His organization organized the event, along with the Mid-Atlantic Venture Association and the Tech Council of Maryland.

"It's been a very tough couple of years in the community, there are a lot of companies that have struggled to get bank loans and bridge funding to keep their business going," he said.

Biotechnology and life science companies present high-risk opportunities for investors even in the best economic conditions. Research, clinical trials and regulatory reviews are cash intensive and time consuming with the promise of returns often years away.

Most of the event's speakers and panels centered on ways to chip away at that reality, either by finding new streams of funding or speeding up the Food and Drug Administration approval process.

Taking the stage Friday, industry leaders James Greenwood, president and chief executive of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, and John Castellani, president and chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, suggested tax credits and reduced capital gains taxes could spur investment.

About 24 hours earlier, Joshua Sharfstein, the FDA's principal deputy commissioner, fielded criticisms cloaked as questions about the agency's approval requirements and emphasis on safety data. Sharfstein said regulatory science "really needs to grow in concert with biomedical research" so that a balance is found between breakthrough medicines and safety.

Several top chief executives were brought in to offer business advice, including Martine Rothblatt, chief executive of United Therapeutics. She discussed public ownership. Then came a question many in the audience likely wanted to know: What do you look for in a corporate partner?

"What we ask ourselves internally is, will this be a force multiplier for United Therapeutics? Will this extend our reach, extend our revenues, extend our pipeline?" Rothblatt said.

Many of the policy discussions ran concurrently with 10-minute pitch sessions from company executives seeking investments.

One was Alan Klein, executive vice president of development at Rockville-based Sequella. The company is poised to begin trials of a tuberculosis drug in Africa by year's end, but needs funding to advance other products in development.

"Most of the companies here had to be very careful in how they got through the last couple of years," Klein said in an interview. "The private markets were either closed or close to closed ... so hopefully they're opening back up."

By Steven Overly
Washington Post

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Shrinking U.S. Biotechnology Sector Lost 25% of Companies in Past 3 Years

One hundred publicly traded biotechnology companies in the U.S. have been acquired or ceased operations since the end of 2007, a 25 percent drop in the number of active companies, a report said.

Companies have struggled to raise funds from public offerings and acquisitions haven’t filled the void, said John Craighead, managing director for investor relations and business development of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a Washington-based trade group. While acquisitions of biotech companies grew to 55 in 2008 from 40 in 2007, the number fell to 38 last year and to 21 so far this year, Craighead said.

The estimated 294 public companies that remain in the biotechnology industry are in a better cash position than they were at the end of 2008, when 45 percent of companies had less than a year’s worth of funds available. Today, only 25 percent of companies have such limited resources, according to data released today by BIO.

“The biotech industry is significantly smaller than it was three years ago,” Craighead said during a presentation at the group’s annual investor meeting in San Francisco.

Since August 2009, 13 biotechnology companies have gone public and the share prices of 12 of the companies fell by an average of 20 percent once they began trading, Craighead said. The offerings were priced 30 percent below the company’s initial goals, he said.

Among surviving publicly traded companies with at least one year of cash, 40 percent have cut staff, 11 percent have issued debt and 7 percent have sold assets, Craighead said.

Rob Waters
October 5, 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

Surprise Visitor at VABIO's "Bio on the Bay"

It was a beautiful day in Virginia Beach. Even with temps in the '90's, the breeze off of the Chesapeake Bay was fantastic. The Virginia Biotechnology Association sponsored a networking cruise for board members and special guests from the life science community in the Commonwealth. We even had a surprise visitor to make the day even more memorable! Our special thanks to Governor and Mrs. McDonnell for stopping by. From left to right: Jeannie Schuelke, Maureen McDonnell, Governor McDonnell, Mark Herzog and Skip Scheulke.

Thanks to all of our guests for joining us on our 2010 Chesapeake Bay cruise.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Building On Biosciences

Industry leaders see the newly opened Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute as a key to cultivating the region's economic growth in biomedicine, biotechnology and health care.

Biomedical and biotechnical jobs led the region in growth last year, outpacing all other sectors.

The trend for growth is expected to continue, according to an analysis by the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission.

"The industry is fast becoming a strong and regionally significant engine for growth and prosperity," the report said.

Expanding on the region's growth in biosciences is partly tied to the maturation of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, which officially opened Wednesday with little fanfare.

The study showed that from 2006 to 2009, the region's overall rate of employment decreased 5 percent. However, employment in the biomedical and biotechnical sector increased nearly 8.9 percent during the same time.

"It's been quite dramatic in terms of the data," said John Hull, regional economic development manager for the commission and the person responsible for analyzing the trends for the report. "Things are happening here that aren't happening elsewhere."

Even as the sector has been identified as a significant area of economic growth potential nationally, the region's growth outpaced the nation's. Nationally, employment between 2006 and 2009 remained nearly stagnant, decreasing 0.29 percent, according to the report.

Building on the region's development in the biosciences means continuing to focus attention on things such as the new research institute, Hull said.

But for some in the community, the institute has seemingly taken a back seat to its partner the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, which began classes in August.

"We've heard a lot of talk about the medical school, but we hadn't heard a lot of people talking about the research institute," said Cory Donovan, executive director of the NewVa Corridor Technology Council. "A lot of people didn't know anything about it."

Donovan and other business leaders are looking to change the relative low profile of the institute, because they are convinced the institute is a key to the cultivating the region's economic growth in biomedicine, biotechnology and health care.

"People are just realizing that this is a huge opportunity and this is where a lot of the growth and job opportunities and economic development is going to come from," Donovan said.

In July, Donovan sought to galvanize the technology community about the potential by giving the podium to the research institute's executive director during the NCTC's monthly breakfast gathering.

It was a record crowd of nearly 150 people. After the presentation the hotel conference room was buzzing.

Michael Friedlander had been in his position as executive director of the institute for only six weeks and yet he had sparked an enthusiasm among the crowd that native business executives have long tried to elicit.

"We just got a glimpse of the future of Roanoke, and it's exciting," said Mary Miller, president of Blacksburg-based Interactive Design and Development Inc.

Friedlander ended his talk pleading for community support.

"We need community involvement," he said. "We can't do this in isolation."

An immediate response came in the form of a line as attendees with business cards in hand waited to speak to him.

Miller, who is also president of the NCTC board, said the institute allows the region to import an intelligence base that can help to stimulate more work force opportunities.

From research to business

Friedlander describes his vision for turning research into business opportunities in two waves.

First, he said he wants to concentrate during the next five years on attracting researchers and scientists to the institute.

"So in the first two to three years, it is rather unlikely that you will see things mature to a running business," Friedlander said. "I'm not saying it couldn't happen; it just doesn't happen that often."

But he noted that the researchers being recruited already are developing technology and working on projects that could be ready to move into a commercialization phase. And he said he expects to see a few spinoff companies within five years.

He has already started to build relationships with people who can help take research and transform it into a business.

One area he has already homed in on is the connections to the region's technology businesses. Donovan said a week hasn't gone by when he hasn't spoken to Friedlander. Friedlander said he has already turned to the technology community in his recruitment efforts to populate the institute with scientists to show them that there are valuable relationships that can be built.

Once spinoffs are identified, the second wave is to establish businesses in Blacksburg and Roanoke.

In Blacksburg, Friedlander said he would ideally make use of the existing Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center. But Friedlander also has a vision for developing a similar business research park in Roanoke.

"I think it is going to make sense that we are going to have to look for some sort of site in Roanoke," he said. "I don't know what form it will take yet."

He listed off possibilities of partnerships with the city or building a satellite to the Corporate Research Center.

Learning from others

It took two decades to build the Corporate Research Center into a campus with 27 buildings and 140 tenants. Currently there are about 2,200 employees working at the Blacksburg site.

The goal now is to double the size, adding 28 new buildings. A request for proposals is currently out as the center looks for a contractor to lead the expansion efforts, said Joe Meredith, president of the center.

"The expectation is it is not going to take two decades to double it," he said. "The goal is to grow the park as large and as rapidly and as diverse as possible."

The Corporate Research Center intentionally seeks out businesses in a variety of fields, but about a third of the park is populated with biotechnology companies.

Expanding the local economy is among the reasons for the park, but Meredith said he doesn't have any data on the impact the center has had in Blacksburg or the region.

He noted that they are in the midst of collecting data for an economic impact study that will be part of a larger study conducted by Virginia Tech. He didn't know when that information would be presented or have a comment on what might be found.

Other research parks, however, have established goals for achieving economic growth.

Piedmont Triad Research Park in Winston-Salem, N.C., currently employs about 925 people in 55 companies. Its collective annual payroll is more than $50 million.

The park was first conceived in the 1980s, said Doug Edgeton, the park's president. In the early 1990s development began, and in 2001, Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center took control.

It's taken $49 million in investments in land and infrastructure to develop the park, but the plan is to expand it over the next two decades into a place that supports 27,000 jobs and produces an annual tax base of $150 million, Edgeton said.

"These are 60-year projects," he said. "It takes 40 years before there is actual traction. ... It is a journey and takes a lot of perseverance."

Edgeton is also executive vice president for Medical Center administration.

Making connections

The connections between local scientists and business leaders are paramount for any of these parks to succeed.

Edgeton said the Piedmont Triad Research Park spent nearly a decade trying to attract other companies to its new park, with no success.

"We spent a lot of money on this and did not land a single company," he said. "So everything has been startups. We learned the future is really going to be dictated and driven by how smart we are in developing our own [businesses]."

The same will likely be true for Roanoke, as the hope is to develop businesses out of the research institute. Later, that development could help attract other companies to the region, but those close to the project agree that it has to start with a focus on the local research.

Still, as more communities, both large and small, have tried to capture the economic potential behind biosciences, the competition has stiffened. Identifying venture capitalists to support emerging companies has become increasingly difficult in recent years.

In a June report, the Council for American Medical Innovation said venture capital for biosciences fell 28.8 percent from 2008 to 2009. The report also noted that the number of public biotechnology companies fell 25 percent from January 2008 through January 2010.

The recession and nation's overall economic conditions were a factor, the report said, but not the only reason. The report also cited concerns about strengthening the education pipeline for new scientists.

Along with identifying venture capital, Friedlander and Edgeton both said finding high quality chief executive talent is paramount to successful business development

By: Sarah Bruyn Jones
The Roanoke Times
September 5, 2010

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Two New Organizations Join VaBIO this week

The Microbe Company, located in Christiansburg, and the University of Virgina Patent Foundation have just become the newest members of VaBIO. Please join us in welcoming them and watch for more information about them in our next newsletter.

Monday, August 23, 2010

BioForward (WI) Rebrands

Biotech firms seek strength in numbers

Group holds first gathering since name, leadership change

By Kathleen Gallagher of the Journal Sentinel

Aug. 22, 2010 |(0) Comments

The organization that represents Wisconsin's biotech industry will hold its first annual conference Wednesday since changing its name and hiring a new leader.

BioForward, previously known as the Wisconsin Biotech and Medical Device Association, expects about 300 biotech industry executives to attend the conference Wednesday at the Madison Marriott West.

BioForward's major pushes are to enhance member services and to broaden the organization's membership to include more agriculture and energy companies, said Bryan Renk, who became BioForward's executive director in October.

"If we can't add value to Wisconsin's biotech industry, either we're not doing our job or we're not doing it the right way," Renk said.

The conference will include a keynote speech from Jim Greenwood, president and chief executive of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. The conference will also include discussions about personalized health care, biofuels, funding opportunities and other topics.

It will also feature one-on-one partnering meetings between industry executives and big biotech and pharmaceutical companies, as well as representatives from Manitoba, Canada.

Manitoba and Wisconsin signed an economic cooperation agreement in October 2009, and Manitoba has been looking to develop more partnerships with state companies and institutions.

The conference comes at a challenging time for the biotech industry: It is grappling with a leaner, more aggressive venture capital community. Backlogs clog the U.S. patent office. The Food and Drug Administration's pace of regulation remains an issue, as does its handling of rapidly emerging technologies like DNA sequencing. And Congress has yet to reauthorize funding for the Small Business Innovation Research grants that start-ups in the biotech industry rely on to grow.

Many of those challenges present opportunities as well, said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council.

"Wisconsin's biotech industry continues to be a bright spot in terms of company creation and job creation," Still said.

Wisconsin increased the number of biotech industry jobs in the state by 15.8% from 2001 through 2008, on par with averages for biotech industry growth nationally, according to the Battelle/BIO State Bioscience Initiatives 2010 report, which was released in May by the consulting firm Battelle and the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

Total private sector jobs in Wisconsin increased by 2.1% during the same period, compared with 3.5% nationally, the report says.

There are about 400 biotech companies in Wisconsin, Renk said. BioForward has 270 members, half of them companies and the other half service providers, financiers and others, he said.

Among the agricultural and energy companies that have joined the organization in the past year are General Mills Inc., Monsanto Co. and Virent Energy Systems Inc., Renk said.

BioForward has also added Kathy Collins to its staff. Collins, former technology development consultant and finance manager at the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, will bolster BioForward's efforts to work with early-stage entrepreneurs and help them develop collaborative partnerships earlier with bigger companies, Renk said.

Also during the past year, BioForward has formalized and strengthened its lobbying efforts and is working on a study of the economic impact of state biotech companies and a compensation survey, he said.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Interim Report of VA Governor's Technology Subcommittee

Technology Subgroup Interim Report: After hearing presentations and reviewing materials, subgroup members determined that the Commonwealth has many programs in place to help small businesses, but it lacks significant programs and policies directed specifically at early stage high growth, tech-based companies. These are the type of 21st Century companies that will drive innovation and future economic growth, and sustainable jobs, in the Commonwealth.

Presentations from VEDP/SRI and material from the Commonwealth Innovation Index being conducted by the ten Regional Technology Councils and CIT identify unique and common industry clusters. For instance, energy and green technology industry clusters are being pursued in about all of the regions, while an industry like bioscience has greater emphasis and opportunities in Richmond and Charlottesville because of the early investments in those areas. At the same time, each region has a unique opportunity for many of the same reasons. For instance, the Lynchburg area, or Region 2000, is focused on the nuclear and wireless industries. Again, these studies are exploring many innovative opportunities within these clusters; however, they are also surfacing many gaps that are impeding these regions, and in turn, the Commonwealth, from taking full advantage of the greater benefits of a tech-based Innovation Economy.

The two primary gaps that need to be addressed are the access to capital, including investments and tax credits, and commercialization of research and technology, the two areas in which the subgroup is investing most of its time discussing. The aforementioned industry clusters, coupled with the economic downturn or transformations in some areas, are attracting energetic entrepreneurs of early stage, innovative, high growth companies. These are companies with unique intellectual properties on the early stage of the innovation continuum between an angel investment and more serious institutional, or Series, investments. Because of their unique nature, even in good economic conditions, these entrepreneurs have difficulty finding seed investments from the private and public sectors in Virginia. Today, the flat economy and frozen capital markets have only exacerbated the problem.

Vision Strategies:

Virginia must deploy existing and develop new technology industry and resources to position itself to create future technology-based economic development opportunities that spur sustainable job growth. We must promote the use of technology to help us solve many of the challenges we face as a Commonwealth, such as smart transportation solutions, a cleaner environment, more efficient health care delivery and increased educational opportunities for all citizens and the lasting effect on long-term economic stability.
I. This subgroup will examine existing programs and initiatives currently offered within the Commonwealth, while analyzing potential changes and enhancements, using best practices from industry and other sources inside and outside the Commonwealth.
II. This subgroup will focus their evaluations and recommendations in those areas that foster innovation and technology-based economic development strategies.

I. Reaffirm financial support for sustainable or increased funding for CIT GAP Fund and tax credits for early stage companies.
II. R&D Strategy - look at ways to establish a statewide research and development strategic plan that clearly articulates the research direction, investment requirements, expected quantitative and/or qualitative returns and obstacles to resolve.
III. Assess which sectors of biotechnology and information technology Virginia is currently positioned to develop and consider strategies to maximize opportunity within those sectors.
IV. Accelerate Broadband Deployment: Update the Commonwealth Broadband mapping and
development plan to address the gaps in coverage in all localities.

V. One major area that can and will lead to job creation is the implementation of electronic medical records. This is a major initiative that should be considered to see how Virginia can position itself to take full advantage of updating these records.
VI. Consider how we can attract advanced technology early stage investors to Virginia.
VII. Examine how Virginia can implement a refundable R&D tax credit targeted at advanced technology companies, especially those that sponsor research with Virginia universities.
VIII. Increase the number of investors who apply for the Angel Investor Tax Credit through effective marketing of the program.
IX. Consider how increase biotechnology infrastructure including additional Bioscience "wet-lab" development.
X. Examine the Technology Business Commercialization Programs (Business Incubator Program).
XI. Streamline and simplify the technology transfer process at Virginia institutions.
XII. Provide outline for all-up Chief Executive marketing/public relations campaign to promote Virginia’s assets around job creation and viability for formation of new, organic businesses.
XIII. Modeling and Simulation: Examine ways to grow the modeling and simulation center at Old Dominion University, review opportunities and complementary research that will expand additional centers throughout the Commonwealth.

Initial Ideas and Recommendations:

Capital Formation

The Commonwealth has some limited programs with limited funding available to assist these entrepreneurs, but the subgroup agrees that it needs to do more. Specifically, members are reviewing:

• A refundable R&D tax credit targeted at advanced technology companies, especially those that sponsor research with Virginia universities. This tax credit is used in 38 states.
• An advanced technology jobs convertible loan fund for high-growth, advanced technology companies based in the Commonwealth.
• Increase the angel investor’s tax credit.
• Increased funding for the CIT GAP Funds, which has invested $3.8 million since 2004 to help 39 companies that then attracted another $51 million in private investments – a 13 to one leverage.
• A “VentureVirginia” program to increase venture capital investment that generates funds with tax credits to insurance companies that expedite payment of their state taxes due in 2015. The concept is being advanced in Maryland, Tennessee, and Texas, and is similar to the Small Business Investment Company Credit offered by Delegate Merricks in the 2010 Session.
• Programs to attract advanced technology early stage investors to Virginia by investing in a special life sciences, clean energy, medical devices, or other technology services venture capital fund or “fund of funds” that would be matched by private venture capital.
• A relocation fund to attract innovative, high growth technology companies from other states to Virginia.
• The need to audit and improve existing marketing programs to increase the number of applications for the Angel Investor Tax Credit.
R&D Strategy, Commercialization and Tech Transfer
In addition to addressing the capital formation “gap,” the subgroup is also focusing on the need to improve the Commonwealth’s Research and Development strategies and investments, as well as the commercialization of university research. In 2008 Virginia ranked 16th nationally in R&D expenditures. To improve this national rank, Virginia must execute on its recent decision to develop a long-term strategic R&D plan that is integrated with a capital investment plan that is not limited to just new facilities, as has been done in the past. For instance, as the Commonwealth’s Chief research Officer, the Secretary of Technology must establish a comprehensive strategy that includes
• The work being conducted by the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Investment Authority to establish a statewide research and development strategic plan.

• Streamlining university developed intellectual property licensing and commercialization to reduce inherent barriers to university/industry collaboration.

• Establishing an immediate emphasis on energy research, commercialization and new company formation.

• Coordinating existing transportation-sector initiatives and encourage development of alternative product and service offerings through research, commercialization and new company formation.

• Reprogramming and investing in the Commonwealth Research and Commercialization Fund (CRCF) to serve as an incentive for new and improved commercialization programs.

As this new approach to R&D planning generates innovation and marketable solutions, the Commonwealth will need to improve technology commercialization to enhance the transition of these discoveries from the research lab to the market place. Specifically, the subgroup is reviewing:
• The need to streamline and simplify the technology transfer process at Virginia institutions by creating incentives that reward policies and programs that simplify contractual and financial negotiations while providing reasonable remuneration for researchers and value based pricing for industry.
• A Virginia version of “San Diego CONNECT” to link entrepreneurs, capital, talent and technologies available for commercialization in the Commonwealth.
• A strong focus on research and investments in alternative energies and green technologies, and the expansion of modeling and simulation activities across the Commonwealth.
Wetlabs and Incubators
Another primary focus of the subgroup is the expansion of wetlabs and incubators has long been supported by previous state commissions and policy groups to enhance Virginia’s competitiveness in life sciences. It recognizes the unique profile and nature of this industry, its specialized facility needs and reality that without state participation to mitigate risk, Virginia will be unable to create the product (i.e., commercial facilities) necessary for creating viable life science industry clusters. Expanding wetlabs would allow Virginia to attract companies by having product “in place” rather than just showing prospects raw land which will add 12-15 months to the occupancy timeline. It also allows Virginia to compete with other states implementing various types of loan and lease guarantee or grant programs for biotechnology facilities.
The subgroup is also reviewing the idea of a comprehensive program to create a network of “knowledge-based” industry incubators and commercialization centers around the Commonwealth – both university-affiliated and independent. Oftentimes, knowledge-based businesses are often founded by scientists, engineers and other technology-oriented individuals who may have had little or no experience in starting a business or in dealing with business challenges. This is frequently in contrast with companies started out of general business incubators which often are founded by individuals who have either started businesses before, or who have been in the business world for some time. While the recommendations and principles advocated apply to both types of incubator programs designed to foster high technology business formation and growth in the Commonwealth, subgroup members strongly recommend targeting any new funds to those incubators with sound business plans that demonstrate a strong return on investment.
To get to the Innovation Economy, broadband access is crucial. While there continues to be a focus on Southside and Southwest Virginia, the Virginia Tobacco has invested more than $100 million for broadband infrastructure build out in those areas. In addition, recent grants from the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Stimulus Funding) will expand broadband infrastructure in Allegheny, Page and Nelson Counties, Blacksburg and Bedford, Buggs Island Telephone, and the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative in Southside Virginia. Currently, CIT is investing $1.8 million of stimulus funding in broadband data collection and mapping activities and $500,000 for broadband planning activities over a two-year period in Virginia, bringing the total grant award to approximately $2.3 million. CIT is the designated entity for the state of Virginia. Twenty-six proposals have been submitted to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for Round II funding. The subgroup will continue to work with Karen Jackson, Deputy Secretary of Technology, to determine additional recommended actions.
Health IT
The subgroup fully supports recommendations by the McDonnell Administration transition to invest more in health information technology. According to transition documents, a first step is to begin to digitize all medical records. As a start, the Governor should require that all state employees’ health records be digitized. This would send a signal to the private sector that Virginia is ready to engage in public-private partnerships to expand the use of health IT, lowering the cost of healthcare delivery while creating economic development opportunities and jobs.
Already, an initiative is underway to expand the use of electronic health records (EHR). Earlier this year, the Virginia Healthcare Quality Center and CIT won a $12 million co-operative agreement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT to implement the expansion of electronic health records (EHR) for nearly 2300 priority primary care providers in Virginia by February 6, 2012. These providers are defined as urban and rural practices with less than 10 healthcare providers. Currently in Virginia these practices have less than a 10% adoption of EHR. This program will help improve healthcare and reduce costs in Virginia, while creating Health IT jobs across the State.

On June 15, Virginia HIT, the federally designated Regional Extension Center for Virginia, in partnership with the Center for Innovative Technology, announced its preferred partners to work with primary care physicians across the Commonwealth (including pediatricians and obstetricians/gynecologists). These three partners — Allscripts, athenahealth, and MDLand — will provide a Software as a Service (SaaS) solution to approximately 2,300 physicians to meet EHR certification requirements for Meaningful Use. Additional services will include education, technical, and implementation resources.
As important as this initiative is, the subgroup strongly believes that the Commonwealth should pursue so many of the other opportunities inherent in a strategic health IT program. Given the cluster of many large and small businesses, as well as non-profit organizations, that are engaged in health IT, coupled with their proximity to and strong contractual relationships with federal agencies, Virginia is well positioned to be a leader in this field. To further explore this area, members will consult with the Secretary of Health Services, VEDP and others on additional health IT and telemedicine initiatives and opportunities, such as personalized medicine, point-of-care diagnostics, computational technologies, data interchange and other innovations that are revolutionizing the healthcare industry.
Modeling and Simulation
The subgroup recommends the continued development of modeling and simulation technologies in the Commonwealth. Since its founding in 1994, the industry has seen significant growth take place, becoming a $640 million industry employing over 5,000 people with an average salary of $83,000 each year. The subgroup advocates a number of action items, such as examining opportunities for pilot and/or demonstration projects using modeling and simulation with Virginia state government agencies as well as working to attract a federal Modeling and Simulation Lab in Virginia.
Although the subgroup is advocating these additional measures, members agree that much more needs to be done to market existing tools to entrepreneurs and investors. Members will recommend suggestions on ways that the Governor’s office can celebrate entrepreneurs and innovation, and also initiate an audit of existing materials and tools to enhance their efficacy.
At its last meeting on July 9, the subgroup heard reports from officials from VEDP and the Secretary of Technology’s office on programs and initiatives covering tech-based economic development and broadband.

Members also reported on areas in which they were charged with developing ideas, again, primarily capital formation; R&D and commercialization; wetlabs and incubators; health IT and broadband; and marketing. The initial ideas and recommendations are mentioned above, and the group agreed to further refine ideas in the coming weeks.

Next Steps:

In addition to honing overall ideas and recommendations, the subgroup agreed that more information is needed in the areas of Health IT and broadband access. In addition, the subgroup began discussing the use of local technology zones that use tax breaks and other incentives to attract innovative high growth technology companies. Qualified businesses locating or expanding operations in a zone may receive local permit and user fee waivers, local tax incentives, special zoning treatment or exemption from ordinances. Once a local technology zone has been established, incentives may be provided for up to 10 years. Each locality designs and administers its own program.

A preliminary review shows that technology zones have been adopted in the counties of Arlington, Bedford, Caroline, Culpeper, Frederick, Halifax, Henry, Roanoke, Rockingham, Russell, Smyth, Spotsylvania, Stafford and Warren; the cities of Buena Vista, Charlottesville, Falls Church, Franklin, Fredericksburg, Harrisonburg, Lynchburg, Manassas, Newport News, Roanoke, Suffolk and Winchester; and the towns of Front Royal in Warren County, Kilmarnock in Lancaster County and Marion in Smyth County. Members and staff will conduct additional research into the use of the technology zones and how they can be linked to other federal and state programs, and consult with staff from the Secretaries of Health and Technology to determine what needs it can best address in the areas of health IT and broadband. These issues will be the primary points of discussion at the subgroup’s next meeting on August 11.

The four members of the subgroup are:

• Anne Gavin - State Government Affairs Regional Manager, Microsoft
• Mark Herzog - Executive Director, Virginia Biotechnology Association
• Caren Merrick - Co-founder, Webmethods
• Bob Skunda - President and CEO, Virginia Biotechnology Research Park

Since the initial meeting of the Commission, members have met twice – June 2 and July 9 in Fredericksburg - to review transition and other documents that outlined statewide technology-based economic development programs and gaps. They also heard more detailed presentations from VEDP, CIT, and the office of the Secretary of Technology on the history and status of broadband activities across the Commonwealth. The subgroup identified several areas on which to focus that will have the greatest impact on tech-based economic growth. Members are very cognizant of the economic and budgetary challenges facing the Commonwealth, and therefore, they are reviewing existing programs that need greater coordination, marketing, and enhancement. The Subgroup is also reviewing successful tech-based economic development programs from other states that could be adopted for use in the Commonwealth.

Subgroup members also recognize the value of reaching out to stakeholders for comments, and have identified the following organizations:

The Virginia Technology Alliance and the Ten Regional Technology Councils; Virginia Biotechnology Association ; Association of University Technology Transfer Managers (AUTM); Virginia Business Incubation Association; Virginia Active Angel Investor Network; Mid-Atlantic Venture Association; National Venture Capital Association

Thursday, July 29, 2010

VCU's MDx Lab May Debut Next-Gen Sequencing in One Year

The molecular diagnostics lab at Virginia Commonwealth University is about a year away from using a next-gen sequencing platform on clinical samples, according to its director.

Andrea Ferreira-Gonzalez, who is also chair of the school's Division of Molecular Diagnostics, Department of Pathology, said the lab is "working with" Illumina, and is testing certain clinical applications of the Roche 454 FLX platform installed at VCU's DNA Core Facilities.

Speaking after her presentation at this year's AACC annual meeting, held here this week, she said her lab is researching Illumina's Genome Analyzer for targeted re-sequencing applications by studying 50 genes linked to cardiomyopathy.

She also said the lab is using Roche 454's pyrosequencing-based instrument to genotype infectious diseases, noting she is keen on the platform "because you can sequence longer fragments" of DNA.

Saying her lab is "still working on issues like quality control," Ferreira-Gonzalez said she thinks it will begin running patient samples on the machines in one year — "with luck."

She noted that "we can use next-generation sequencers to perform whole-genome scans in the laboratory today, but we have nowhere to store" the data such machines are notorious for yielding.

The lab, based in VCU's Richmond, Va., campus, currently uses a pair of capillary electrophoresis platforms — an ABI 310 and 3100 — which she said can be used to confirm mutations detected by other methods and are the "gold standard" for mutation detection and histocompatibility typing (though she did quip that the 310 "belongs in a museum").

"DNA sequencing is undergoing a revolution … [but the 310 and 3100] are bread-and-butter technologies that we use every day," she said during her presentation.

Ferreira-Gonzalez also said she predicts that third-generation sequencers will make their way into clinical labs in three to five years.

"The technology is moving very fast, and I think it's going to take some time for us to catch up," she said.

Greg Tsongalis, director of the molecular pathology lab at Dartmouth College's Hitchcock Medical Center, agreed. Tsongalis, who presented at the same session, told me after Ferreira-Gonzalez's talk that his own lab isn't ready to invest in a second-generation sequencer because technologies continue to evolve.

"You don't want to spend that kind of money if something better may be around the corner," he said.

By Kirell Lakhman
Genome Web

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Funds Hard To Come By On Proposed Tech Tax Break

Funds hard to come by on proposed tech tax break
By Bill Flook, Washington Business Journal

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and four other members of Congress are proposing to carve out a new tax break for investing in government-funded technology startups — the latest in a series of local, state and federal incentives meant to steer private money toward technology and biotechnology ventures.

Van Hollen’s bill, introduced July 15, would provide a 25 percent credit for an equity investment in a company that has already qualified for a federal research and development grant program for small businesses. Under the legislation, the credit’s value would be limited to half the size of the Small Business Innovation Research award, and capped nationally at $500 million.

“Clearly there is a big appetite for this around the country,” Van Hollen said. “I think it’s going to be very well received because it’s targeted at areas that need a boost right now and can add significant value.”

But the bill — like much of the new legislation that spends federal tax dollars — could run afoul of a growing aversion to Congress for new spending that’s not balanced by cuts. That fear of adding to the deficit has played out in several high-profile struggles on the Hill, most recently over extending the stimulus package’s jobless benefits. And finding those needed reductions or revenue is tougher after the passage of the health reform bill, which gobbled up what were considered to be most readily available offsets.

“We will identify an offset,” Van Hollen said.

Reps. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., Betty McCollum, D-Minn., and Jared Polis, D-Colo., joined Van Hollen in introducing the bill — dubbed the Innovative Technologies Investment Incentive Act. It is pending in the House Ways and Means Committee, on which Van Hollen sits.

Linking the tax break to the SBIR award is smart, said Don Rainey, a general partner with Vienna-based venture capital firm Grotech Ventures, “because it takes all those federal dollars that will be spent anyway, and causes more private dollars to complement that investment.”

“Startups tend to create more startups, particularly successful ones,” he said. “People go into a startup, see its success, learn what you need to do and they start companies.”

The legislation is modeled partly off Maryland’s highly sought-after biotech tax credit, which state lawmakers increased to $8 million this year. Montgomery County also put in place an analogous local tax credit based on the state program, and — like Van Hollen — remains unsure of how to pay for it. Gov. Martin O’Malley wants to raise $100 million in venture capital funds for biotechnology by offering deferred tax credits to insurance companies.

In Virginia, lawmakers this year passed a bundle of tech-friendly tax breaks. The largest, a new long-term capital gains tax exclusion, will mean that investors who back tech startups within the next three years will be exempt from paying state capital gains once that company is sold or goes public.

The venture capital world is slogging through a time of uncertainty, with fewer dollars flowing into venture capital funds, but with more, and bigger, deals taking place.

Nationally, venture capitalists invested $6.5 billion in the second quarter of 2010, up from $4.2 billion in the same period the year before, according to a quarterly report from PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. Clean tech, biotech, information technology and software investments all showed signs of recovery. Still, venture capital funds raised a dismal $1.9 billion in the second quarter, the lowest level since the third quarter of 2003.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

BIO Podcast with VaBIO Director Mark Herzog

Podcast with Mark Herzog, Executive Director of Virginia Biotechnology Association

BIOtech-Now recently spoke with Mark Herzog of VaBIO, check out the podcast here. Additionally, Herzog shared the latest on biotech in Virginia in the Q&A below.

The Virginia Biotechnology Association (VaBIO) is the premier statewide non-profit organization that promotes the scientific and economic impact of the life sciences industry in the Commonwealth of Virginia. More than 300 biotechnology, equipment, pharmaceutical and medical device companies are based in Virginia, mainly clustered around universities in Blacksburg, Charlottesville, Richmond, Norfolk and Northern Virginia. VaBIO will be co-hosting the 2011 BIO International Convention in Washington, DC on June 27-30.

What areas of bioscience are currently most active within your state?

Herzog: The greatest concentration of companies, approximately 34%, is located in Northern Virginia. The greater Richmond region is second with 30%, the Charlottesville area with 15%, Western Virginia with 14% and the balance located in Hampton Roads. Based upon surveys conducted of Virginia’s biotech companies, 47% are focused on therapeutic products and 14% on diagnostics. The focus of the remaining companies is divided among areas of concentration such as biodefense, bioinformatics and agricultural biosciences.

Are there currently any state-level legislative barriers to economic development you are working to overcome?

Herzog: Access to capital and wet-lab space for commercialization activities. Thanks to bipartisan support from our new Governor Bob McDonnell, the Senate Democrats and the House Republicans, Virginia took bold steps in 2010, despite a massive budget deficit. The Governor will be signing new legislation that will exclude from capital gains taxes all income from investments in biotech and device firms in Virginia. We also were successful in winning $3 million to incentivize the development of commercial wet-lab space. Funding was also made available to increase the Angel Investor tax credit and recapitalize the “Gap Fund” that invests taxpayer dollars in technology companies. The total bioscience package is nearly $30 million for the biennium.

Is there another state or specific initiative that you look to as a model for your efforts?

Herzog: North Carolina has been a great role model. They built a broad consensus before attacking the issues and that paid off for them. We in Virginia have been trying to follow that approach—start with the foundation of bipartisan legislative support, build on small successes and then use the momentum to go after the big initiatives.

How is your organization engaging in social media to educate and engage audiences?

Herzog: Yes, we have always been able to connect with our CEOs but seemed to miss the opportunity to connect with individuals at all levels in our industry. Social media has provided a great tool to connect with everyone from the bench to the C-Level Suite.

When is your annual meeting? Anything new or exciting you’d like to promote?

Herzog: We will be holding our 6th annual joint conference with Maryland at the 2010 Mid-Atlantic Bio Conference, October 27-29 at the North Bethesda Marriott. We are very excited to be working on the final details to have the opening activities on campus at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It will be a fantastic new offering to our attendees.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

PA Borrows $30M for Vaccine Center

$600 million allocated for Pa. economic projects
Wednesday, July 07, 2010
By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG -- An $830 million vaccine-producing "biodefense center," to be built somewhere in Allegheny County, is getting a $30 million boost from a statewide capital construction bill that Gov. Ed Rendell plans to sign today in Pittsburgh.

Legislation for an additional $600 million in borrowing for economic development projects, known as the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, was enacted last week as part of the new state budget for fiscal 2010-11. The bill contains $30 million to help the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center compete with other states to create a vaccine-producing center, which the bill calls a "state-of-the-art biologics manufacturing facility."

Mr. Rendell is coming to the Connelley School today to sign the economic development bill. All of the RACP projects are legitimate uses of state funds and will be matched with private money, he said Tuesday as he signed the new $28 billion state budget for 2010-11.

Rendell spokesman Gary Tuma said the federal biodefense contract involves "development of an on-demand flu vaccine."

"We will be competing with other states," he said. "It will mean quite a few jobs for the region if it comes" to Allegheny County. One possible site is the old Pittsburgh airport terminal.

"It was important for the state to show support for the project and put in some state money," he added.

The $30 million is just a small start for the proposed UPMC biodefense center, which would need $580 million in federal funds plus $250 million from UPMC itself. It would be overseen by the federal departments of Defense and Health and Human Services.

Last summer UPMC made a pitch to a congressional panel to create such a large-scale vaccine production center. Federal officials think the development of such vaccines is a necessary step in defending America against bioweapons attacks by terrorists. The proposed center would have eight vaccine-producing units, with staff and resources to develop vaccines to counter various threats from hazardous bioweapons.

Mr. Specter and U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire said UPMC would have a "unique advantage," since it's one of the nation's largest medical centers and is close to the University of Pittsburgh, which has a Center for Vaccine Research. The center would likely create 1,000 well-paid, high-tech jobs and another 6,000 spinoff jobs.

A number of Allegheny County Democratic legislators are listed as sponsors for the biologics facility, including state Sens. Jim Ferlo, Wayne Fontana and Jay Costa, plus Reps. Jake Wheatley, Dom Costa, Chelsa Wagner, Dan Frankel, Joe Preston, Paul Costa and Harry Readshaw.

"All the projects in the RACP bill that governor will sign today are important and some will create hundreds of high-paying jobs," said Jay Costa. "While the state's $30 million investment pales in comparison to the federal and private investment, these state capital dollars will leverage three to four times of the investment and create new jobs."

Read more:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pfizer might get incentives to keep research center in Richmond

Pfizer might get incentives to keep research center in Richmond
By Staff Reports | Times-Dispatch
Published: June 29, 2010

City officials are planning to offer incentives to Pfizer Inc. for keeping its research and development center with more than 300 jobs in Richmond.

Executives with Pfizer and city officials reiterated the company's decision to maintain the facility in Richmond at a news conference this afternoon.

Peter Chapman, Richmond's deputy chief administrative officer and interim director of economic and community development, said city officials will present a package of incentives to City Council for approval within a few weeks. He declined to provide financial details but described the incentives as "modest and measured."

He said Pfizer also would preserve a certain number of jobs as part of the deal.

Pfizer announced in May that it would end production at its Henrico County manufacturing plant in two to three years, eliminating about 550 local jobs.

Production of over-the-counter health products such as Chap Stick, Dimetapp, Robitussin, Anbesol and Preparation H will be moved elsewhere, but the company said it planned to keep its consumer research center on Sherwood Avenue in Richmond.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Bode Technology Launches RFID System to Track DNA Evidence

Bode Technology, one of the world's largest DNA analysis firms, is piloting an RFID system it developed to manage DNA evidence as it passes through a supply chain, that includes storage and analysis in the laboratory. If the pilot—held at the company's Virginia lab—goes well, Bode Technology plans to deploy the system for 50,000 or more pieces of evidence annually as they move through the company's facility. To date, says Randy Nagy, Bode's sales and marketing VP, the system is reducing the time spent manually recording information about the specimens and their movement through the site, and provides a better, more accurate record of where each specimen has been, and who has been handling it.

The company is marketing the system, known as Bode-RFID, to law-enforcement agencies, for use in tracking physical evidence such as weapons, as well as DNA evidence. This, Nagy says, is being done in order to create and maintain an electronic record of a sample's movement from a crime scene through testing and storage, with data that could be used in a courtroom if the courts, for example, required proof of where the evidence had been, and when. The system is designed to be flexible (it can be set up to track evidence at specific locations chosen by a user, such as at a crime scene or storage area, or in off-site labs). What's more, it can act as a module to the existing Laboratory Information Management (LIM) system Bode sells, which stores and manages data regarding evidence for municipal, state and federal agencies.

When evidence is gathered, it is typically placed in a paper bag, box or DNA kit, and a unique reference number is assigned to that specimen, either printed in the form of a bar code on an adhesive label attached to the bag, or manually written on the bag using a marker. Approximately 40 percent of law-enforcement agencies currently employ bar-coded labels, while the rest utilize the manual, handwritten method. Often, a law-enforcement official creates a paper manifest with the same reference number, along with details related to that specimen. That manifest then accompanies the specimen when it is shipped to a forensics company, such as Bode, or to an in-house laboratory. The law-enforcement official at the crime scene—and, afterward, the agency or lab staff members handling the evidence—typically put their initials on the paperwork to provide a trail documenting which personnel worked with those samples. Multiple pieces of evidence are often recorded on a manifest, in order to link specimens from the same crime scene, such as several articles of blood-stained clothing. This system is time-consuming, however, and in the case of handwritten reference numbers, there is always the risk that an agency employee creating the manifest could transpose the numbers or otherwise make mistakes.

Another shortcoming with the manual system, according to Andrew Singer, Bode Technology's senior product manager, is that workers handling the sample may fail to add their initials to the evidence or paper manifest. Consequently, it is not always clear who has been handling a particular sample. In other cases, a piece of evidence can go unnoticed—in the trunk of a car, for instance—but if an RFID system were used at the time that evidence was collected, that type of error would be documented electronically, because a record would be stored in the back-end system indicating the date and time a specimen was gathered, along with any subsequent procedures that may have occurred, including receipt into storage or movement to a lab for testing.

Bode Technology watched RFID technology prices drop, and the demand for such a solution increase, until last year, when it determined that an RFID solution would be saleable. At that point, the firm developed Bode-RFID, which includes the company's existing LIM system, as well as its RFID-based software (developed in partnership with RFID Global Solution), to interpret RFID numbers as they are read, along with the location and time of read events—all of which is then stored in the LIM system. Bode-RFID will also provide hardware such as tags, readers and printers, according to customers' specific needs.

Bode Technology decided to first test the system at its own site in Virginia, in order to gather time-saving metrics. Last week, employees began tagging and tracking all new evidence coming from a handful of customers—government agencies that agreed to have their samples tagged and tracked while at the company's facility. Initially, only Bode Technology will use the RFID read data for its own purposes—to automate the tracking of each specimen's arrival, testing and storage, as well as who handled that evidence at any given time. However, that information could also be requested from the agencies in the event, for instance, that it is required for a trial.

When specimens arrive, they contain a printed reference number or a bar-coded ID number, along with information about the specimens printed as text on the paper bag or box in which they are contained. Bode's staff have several options for storing that data in the back-end system. In some cases, an agency sends an electronic manifest to the company prior to the samples' arrival. When that occurs, the electronic manifest provides Bode Technology with details regarding the sample, including the case number, a list of other pieces of evidence linked to that case, the agency that had sent it, and the specific testing required. Workers can then open the electronic manifest on the LIM system and enter information about the carrier (such as Federal Express) and the time and date of its arrival, or scan the carrier's bar-coded label on the item's packaging using a handheld Motorola MC9090 to create a record of that item being received.

In either case, an Avery Dennison ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) Gen 2 RFID tag is then printed and encoded with a unique ID number on a Zebra Technology printer, and attached to the paper envelope or box in which the specimen is stored, thereby linking the RFID number with the sample it is attached to. If no electronic manifest is sent to Bode Technology before the sample's arrival, the company's staff inputs all of the information printed on the packaging or paper manifest accompanying the specimen, again encodes an RFID label and affixes it to the specimen's envelope or box. If the agency had used an RFID-enabled handheld device at the crime scene, attaching an RFID tag to a piece of evidence as it was gathered, and then reading the tag at the scene, Bode's employees could simply read that tag when the specimen arrives at the facility. Bode-RFID software enables a user to read the RFID tag, view an electronic manifest of the evidence, and then follow instructions in a drop-down box to indicate the event that is occurring, such as receiving the specimen from the carrier.

The sample is then moved into the evidence room, where it is stored while not being tested. As it passes through the doorway into the evidence room, it passes through a portal built by Jamison Door and containing an Impinj RFID reader. The ID number is transmitted to the LIMS on Bode's back-end server via a cabled connection, indicating it has arrived at the evidence room. LIMS can then determine the direction in which the tag is moving, based on its location and the data related to its last read. All information is automatically exchanged between the Bode-RFID software and the LIMS, Nagy says.

In addition, each employee wears an RFID-enabled badge, the ID number of which is also read, thereby indicating which employee brought a particular item into or out of the evidence room.

When an item is checked out by a DNA analyst, it again passes through the evidence room's portal and is then taken to the laboratory, where a desktop or handheld reader is used by the staff each time the evidence changes hands. If there are multiple bags of evidence connected with a specific case number, information about the additional evidence related to a specific item is also stored in the LIMS. All of these pieces of evidence are tied together in both the RFID software and the LIMS.

If a DNA analyst goes home for the day before finishing with a particular piece of evidence, he or she can take it to the temporary evidence room within the laboratory, where another RFID reader portal captures the ID numbers of the specimen's tag and the employee's badge, indicating when it was moved into the storage area, and by whom. This security measure, Nagy explained, is intended to track which individuals had the evidence when it came and went, as well as track which personnel had access to specimens stored in the room while it was there. The sample can then be removed again the next morning for further testing.

If Bode's staff require a specific piece of evidence, they can utilize the Motorola handheld reader that they carry into an evidence room or through the lab, and receive an audible alert when it comes within range of the ID number being sought, with the alerts getting louder and more frequent as the reader approaches the tag in question.

Prior to using the RFID system, Bode Technology's staff would manually input data in order to create a record of each item's arrival. The company maintained a written record of what occurred for such events as a lab worker analyzing the specimen, or an item being placed in the evidence room. Seeking specimens was more time-consuming, Nagy says, since they had to be searched for visually, without the aid of the handheld reader. "RFID will save a few seconds in completing each transfer," he states, "and records will be more legible, including the records provided to our customers, which will look more professional."

The electronic data stored for each specimen as it moves through Bode Technology's facility, Nagy says, "will better show who had access to all evidence during the time that it was at Bode. The expectation is that this will help improve the already high level of trust our customers have in Bode, and how we handle their evidence."

To date, Bode has incorporated the portal system only in its primary evidence room, as well as in the room within its lab used for temporary evidence storage. However, Singer says, other forensics companies or agencies could have the technology incorporated throughout their facilities, to track movement through the buildings and between departments.

Eventually, Nagy says, as the time-savings and improved accuracy are proven, Bode Technology hopes to begin tagging all evidence upon arrival, and then track each specimen as it moves through the evidence rooms and laboratory.

Although there are currently no agencies using this system, Nagy notes, Bode Technology is in discussions with many agencies about the prospect of doing so. This fall, as funding is granted to many agencies from the federal government to increase efficiency, Nagy hopes Bode will begin installing the solution with some of the company's customers. The system is commercially available now, he says, and can be used to track not only evidence, but also case files related to that evidence.

By Claire Swedberg
RFiD Journal

Monday, June 07, 2010

Biologists Tackle Cells' Identity Crisis

Ever since biologists learned how to grow human cells in culture half a century ago, the cells have been plagued by a problem of identity: many commonly used cell lines are not actually what researchers think they are.

Cell-line misidentification has led to mistakes in the literature, misguided research based on those results and millions wasted in grant money. Last year, Nature described the situation as a scandal.

But a universal system for determining the identity of cell lines may now be in view. Next month, a working group led by the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), a nonprofit biological repository based in Manassas, Virginia, that stores 3,600 cell lines from more than 150 species, plans to unveil standardized protocols for verifying the identity of cultured cells using DNA fingerprinting. Labs worldwide — including repositories such as the ATCC itself — would use the protocols to determine whether a breast-cancer line, for instance, did come from breast tissue. The group also plans to create a public database, which the National Center for Biotechnology Information in Bethesda, Maryland, has agreed to host, to store DNA profiles of validated lines, allowing researchers to compare their own cell cultures with the ATCC's reference lines.

"I really think it's fantastic progress," says Rolf K├Ânig, director of the Tissue Culture Core Facility at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

Misidentification can happen when faster-growing cells contaminate cultures of slower-growing cells in the same lab, or when researchers simply mislabel a specimen. One particularly robust cell line called HeLa, the first human cell line grown in the lab, has contaminated dozens of other lines without researchers' knowledge2, and there are many other examples where melanoma cells and ovarian cells, for example, have been mistaken for breast cells. In this month's Nature Reviews Cancer3, the ATCC consortium notes that one group has published around 20 papers since 1988 in which they incorrectly use a line called Int-407 as a model of normal intestinal cells.

The working group, composed of representatives from academia, government and industry, as well as from other cell repositories, advocates verifying cells' identities by comparing their DNA in regions where short stretches of three to five bases are repeated. Closely related cells are likely to have the same number of repeats; comparing these snippets at several different positions in the DNA sequence provides an overall estimate of relatedness.

Forensics applications, such as paternity testing and identifying crime victims, already use the technique. But cell lines often come from tumour tissue, in which DNA mutates at a higher rate than normal, making a 100% match between cells unlikely. Instead, the consortium suggests, cells that match at 75% or above can be considered to be the same. The group has now developed and tested a standardized procedure for extracting DNA from cells, doing the fingerprinting and interpreting the results.“Without policing, many investigators may not be motivated to do the necessary tests.”

Many researchers already use DNA fingerprinting to test their cell lines, notes Steve Oglesbee, director of the tissue-culture facility at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The ATCC and other repositories have already established fingerprints for some of the most commonly used lines. "We're recommending that investigators authenticate from the beginning, and do it at least at the very end, and if they feel the need even during the work process," he says. Having a universally accepted approach will allow different facilities to compare their cell lines with each other, he adds.

Fingerprinting has its limits, cautions Michael Johnson, a cancer researcher at Georgetown University in Washington DC. "Just because a cell fingerprints out as the same [as another cell] doesn't mean they will behave the same," he says, noting that a cell's properties can also be affected by the way it has been grown, the number of times it has been cultured anew and small genetic changes that wouldn't show up in a fingerprint test. One classic example, he notes, is an immortalized breast cell line called MCF10A, which can form organized hollow structures similar to those found in mammary tissue; MCF10A cells currently distributed by ATCC do not do this nearly as efficiently.

Cell Solution

He worries that, useful though it would be, a database such as the one ATCC proposes "in some sense creates a false sense of security" about the "official version" of a cell line. Being able to keep track of a cell line's lineage — where it was derived — could be as important as ascertaining its DNA fingerprint, he adds.

Others note that researchers will probably need an extra push to embrace the ATCC protocols. About half a dozen journals, including Wiley's International Journal of Cancer and journals published by the American Association for Cancer Research, have begun demanding that researchers authenticate their cell lines before they publish their work. And Nature has endorsed efforts to make verification easier and cheaper for researchers, pledging to require it once funders acknowledge the need and provide the necessary financial support1. "Without the policing by journal editors and granting agencies," says Gertrude Buehring, a virologist at the University of California, Berkeley, "many investigators may not be motivated to do the necessary tests to authenticate the cell lines used for their research."

Alla Katsnelson
Nature News

Thursday, May 13, 2010

RichTech Honors the Area’s Greatest Tech Firms and Folks

RichTech held its 15th Annual Awards Gala this evening, honoring the best local companies and leaders that drive Central Virginia’s technology-based economy.

“During the last year we’ve watched the economy turn brighter, and so too have Central Virginia’s technology companies. Businesses are stronger and more efficient, good talent is getting hired, and clients locally and nationally are being well-served by the slick tech companies that call the Richmond area home,” said Chip Farmer, Executive Director of RichTech.

“Altogether, the companies that make up RichTech have come together and strengthened our organization as one that stimulates and connects innovative, creative and technical people.”
During the past year, RichTech – formerly the Greater Richmond Technology Council – has revamped its brand, logo and website. It has also updated its membership structure to allow more individuals to join, and reached out to peer groups across the region to promote the cause of supporting innovation and creativity throughout the local technology community.

More than 500 people attended the Technology Stars gala, held at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. The awards are structured in a way that recognize individual accomplishments, corporate wins, non-profit success stories, innovators in their field, and small business triumphs.

“This is RichTech’s 15th year of celebrating innovation, perseverance, and investment in the future of our region and beyond,” said Margaret E. “Lyn” McDermid, Senior Vice President of Information Technology and Chief Information Officer at Dominion and RichTech Chair. “It has been exciting and encouraging to watch our companies grow and strengthen. Tonight we honor the value of technology in our community through these very deserving nominees and award winners.”

The award winners are:

IBM Community Catalyst Award: Mark Herzog This is Herzog’s 10th year as executive director of the Virginia Biotechnology Association. Through his work at VaBIO and the organizations that support it, new technology discoveries are being made in Virginia in medicine and healthcare, the environment and energy. The award recognizes an individual or organization that has made a significant impact on the growth of technology in this region, and/or the advancement of Greater Richmond as a center for technology innovation.

Computer Resource Team Educator Award: Richmond Area Program for Minorities in Engineering (Virginia State University & Virginia Commonwealth University) This pre-college program prepares "new-century engineers" to to gain experiences and target a conceptual understanding of science and technology topics in order to develop workforce skills. The award recognizes an educator or school program that provides exceptional technology leadership and encourages students to pursue higher education or training in engineering, math, and the sciences.

Cherry Bekaert & Holland Emerging Company Award: TBL Networks TBL Networks designs, implements, and supports Cisco IT systems as well as data center infrastructure. The company also provides ongoing troubleshooting, support, and maintenance. The award recognizes a local technology company that has demonstrated recent growth in revenues and/or employees - a company whose recognized accomplishments and prospects demonstrates the ability to achieve commercial success.

The PLANIT Technology Group Technology Builder Award: Altria Client Services Information Systems (IS) team ALCS Information Services provides the full range of IT services and solutions as an internal shared services organization. The group was ranked by Computerworld in its “100 Best Places to Work in IT” survey, ranking No. 1 in Virginia and No. 26 nationwide in 2009. The award recognizes an institution or organization that delivers technology solutions and/or services to internal or external clients that drive business or operational efficiencies.

The VACO Technology Innovation: Financial & Professional Services Award: Capital One Capital One is a diversified bank that offers a broad spectrum of financial products and services to consumers, small businesses and commercial clients. A Fortune 500 company, Capital One has approximately 44 million customer accounts and is one of the nation's most recognized brands. The award recognizes a company or organization whose use of new or existing technology in finance and professional services vertical creates or significantly enhances new processes, methodologies and/or services for their or others benefit.

The Cisco Systems & Packet360 Technology Innovation: Healthcare Award: MedVirginiaMedVirginia has deployed cutting-edge health information exchange technology in a national manner and is garnering headlines across the U.S. for its ability to expedite the Social Security disability determination process. The award recognizes a company or organization whose use of new or existing technology in the healthcare vertical creates or significantly enhances new processes, methodologies and/or services for their or others benefit.

The CSC Leasing Technology Innovation: Manufacturing, Distribution and Retail Award: Owens & MinorOwens & Minor, Inc., is a leading distributor of national name-brand medical and surgical supplies. The company serves its 4,500 healthcare provider customers from 55 distribution centers located strategically throughout the U.S. Owens & Minor's customers include acute-care hospitals, group-purchasing organizations, integrated healthcare systems and the federal government. The award recognizes a company or organization whose use of new or existing technology in manufacturing, distribution and/or retail creates or significantly enhances new processes, methodologies and/or services for their or others benefit.

2010 RichTech Chairman’s Award sponsored by Altria: Scott McKay, CIO and Senior Vice President, Genworth FinancialThrough his steadfast involvement with not only RichTech but VirginiaFIRST, the Science Museum of Virginia, and the Virginia Technology Intern Program, McKay continues to leave a long-term positive impact throughout our community. By working on all of these programs, he engages young people at every stage—from their years in early education through to their years in a university, inspiring them to pursue high-tech careers. The Chairman’s Award is presented annually to an individual or organization that has made a significant impact on the growth of technology in this region, and/or the advancement of Greater Richmond as a center for technology innovation. The award recognizes results that are the product of great leadership, great execution, great process implementation, great innovative ideas, and great talent.