Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Free Lance Star: VA State Senator Houck Fights PDL for Mental Health Drugs

By Chelyen Davis
The Free-Lance Star

Once again, mental health advocates are fighting against a governor trying to save money on psychotropic medications.

One of Gov. Bob McDonnell's proposed budget amendments would add psychotropic medications--such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications--to the state's "preferred drug list" for Medicaid.

The term "preferred drug list" pretty much means "cheaper drugs." It's a set, limited list of medications that doctors under the program are supposed to prescribe--such as generic versions of brand-name drugs. Any drug not on the list isn't supposed to be prescribed to a patient unless a doctor can show that the patient has already tried a drug on the list with poor results. But mental health advocates argue that when it comes to mental illnesses, those poor results can be as extreme as suicide.

Sen. Edd Houck, D-Spotsylvania, and Del. Riley Ingram, R-Hopewell, held a press conference yesterday in Richmond with mental health advocates to say they will oppose that amendment when lawmakers return to Richmond tomorrow to deal with the governor's amendments to bills.

McDonnell isn't the first governor to propose this: Governors Tim Kaine and Mark Warner before him also did so. Houck said he fought those proposals as well.

"We've had this same battle, seems like each governor listens to his budget people and fails to really hear the voices of people who advocate or treat mentally ill patients," Houck said.

When Kaine proposed it, it was estimated to save the state $1.5 million a year. McDonnell's version would save about $1 million a year.

McDonnell proposes grandfathering in current Medicaid patients who are receiving psychotropic drugs, so the change wouldn't affect them. But Houck said that's not good enough.

"It's always put in terms of cost savings to use the drugs on the PDL list," he said. "What they fail to realize is the real, tragic results that can come from trying patients on a medication to see if it works. With mental illness, it can have life-ending affects, and that's just not acceptable."

Houck said there aren't that many psychotropic medications out there, and the cheaper ones also tend to be the older, less-effective ones. Newer drugs are more effective but are costlier.

"There's a whole new generation of psychotropic medications," he said. "In fact, the treatment of mental illness has changed over the years because the medications have improved so much."

Fredericksburg Free Lance Star

Governor McDonnell Names Biotech Appointees to Jobs Commission

Three bioscience industry representatives, all members of the Virginia Biotechnology Association, were named by Governor McDonnell to his Economic Development and Jobs Creation Commission: R.J. Kirk, CEO of Third Security; Robert Skunda, CEO of the Biotech Park in Richmond and Mark Herzog, executive director of VaBIO.

Governor McDonnell Announces Members of Governor’s Economic Development and Jobs Creation Commission

RICHMOND – Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell today announced the members of the Governor’s Economic Development and Jobs Creation Commission created by the his Executive Order Number One, issued moments after he took the Oath of Office on January 16th. Keeping in mind the unprecedented economic difficulties facing Virginia families and businesses, the highest unemployment rate in decades and the ever increasing competitiveness of the global economy, the Commission will work to put forth bold and innovative ideas addressing these significant challenges. The Commission is scheduled to have its first meeting in May, and will complete its initial report to the Governor by October 16, 2010. Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, who serves as Virginia’s first-ever Chief Jobs Creation Officer, and Bob Sledd, the Governor’s Senior Economic Advisor, will serve as Co-Chairs of the Commission.

“The foremost priority of our Administration is job creation. Economic opportunity and free enterprise are the bedrock of a stable and prosperous Commonwealth. Virginia is home to abundant resources, fiscal responsibility boundless human potential and the entrepreneurial spirit instrumental to a robust economic recovery,” said Governor McDonnell. “The work of this Commission is to create more opportunities for good paying work for all Virginians. I look forward to the ideas and solutions that this Commission will put forward to help create new jobs, spur economic development and ensure this is a ‘Commonwealth of Opportunity’ for all Virginians.”

Lieutenant Governor Bolling remarked, “Governor McDonnell and I have been clear in our commitment to do everything we can to get Virginia’s economy moving again and create jobs. We accomplished a great deal with part one of our Jobs and Opportunity Agenda during this year’s legislative session, but there is more work to be done. Over the coming year, the Governor’s Economic Development and Jobs Creation Commission will help us craft part two of our Jobs and Opportunity Agenda. By looking for additional ways to make Virginia a more competitive state and invest in proven economic development and job creation programs, we can strengthen our reputation as the most pro-business state in America, and secure the capital investment and jobs we need to provide the people of Virginia with greater economic security.”

Bob Sledd, the Governor’s Senior Economic Advisor, noted, “I took this job to help create good jobs for Virginians. That is the focus of this Administration and the work of this Commission. Every state and every nation is engaged in a fierce competition to attract capital, jobs and economic development. As Virginians we cannot afford to lose. The private sector creates jobs, but public policy plays a major role in creating an environment that makes job creation easier or tougher. Our goal is to put in place the policies that will free our job-creators and entrepreneurs to grow and be successful, to innovate and expand. When they can do that, Virginians will find the good paying jobs that they deserve and upon which our future prosperity depends.”

Members of Governor’s Economic Development and Jobs Creation Commission
Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling
Bob Sledd, Governor’s Senior Economic Advisor

Jim Cheng, Secretary of Commerce and Trade
Todd Haymore, Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry
Lisa Hicks-Thomas, Secretary of Administration
Gerard Robinson, Secretary of Education
Ric Brown, Secretary of Finance
Doug Domenech, Secretary of Natural Resources
Jim Duffey, Secretary of Technology
ean Connaughton, Secretary of Transportation
Don Banker, CEO & Owner Banker Steel, Lynchburg
Steve Baril, Partner, Williams Mullen, Richmond
John Biagas, CEO, Bay Electric, Newport News
Tom Brock, Retired Vice President, General Electric, Roanoke
Del. Kathy Byron, Co-Owner of B&B Presentations, Bedford
Mel Chaskin, Chairman, Virginia-Israeli Advisory Board, Clifton
Christine Chmura, President, Chmura Economics and Analytics, Richmond
Del. Barbara Comstock, McLean
Dr. Deborah DiCroce, President, Tidewater Community College, Chesapeake
Helen Dragas, President and CEO, The Dragas Companies, Virginia Beach
James W. Dyke, Partner, McGuireWoods LLP; Chairman, Greater Washington Board of Trade
Joe Funkhouser, President, Coldwell, Banker and Funkhouser Realtors, Harrisonburg
Lisa Gable, Executive Director, Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, Fauquier
Anne Gavin, State Government Affairs Regional Manager, Microsoft, Reston
Tom Godfrey, President, Colonna’s Shipyard, Norfolk
Julia Hammond, State Director, National Federation of Independent Business, Richmond
Ann Heidig, President, Virginia Wineries Association, Spotsylvania
Mark Herzog, Executive Director, Virginia Biotechnology Association, Richmond
Del. Matthew James, Director, Peninsula Council for Workforce Development, Portsmouth
Donna Johnson, President, Virginia Agribusiness Council, Richmond
Kenneth S. Johnson, Founder, Johnson Inc., Richmond
Pat Jones, Vice-President and General Manager, Kings Dominion, Richmond
Quintin Kendall, Director of Government Affairs, CSX Transportation, Richmond
Del. Terry Kilgore, Chairman of the Tobacco Commission, Gate City
Andrea Kilmer, Vice President, ESG Enterprises, Virginia Beach
Randall Kirk, Chief Executive Officer, Third Security, Radford
John Langlois, President, Tele-Video Productions, Virginia Beach
Bob Leber, Director, Workforce Development, Northrop Grumman, Newport News
Chris Lloyd, Sr. Vice President, McGuireWoods Consulting, Richmond
Frank Longaker, President, National Business College, Roanoke
John Luke, CEO, MeadWestVaco Packaging, Richmond
Bengt Lundgren, Manager, Swedwood, Danville
Del. Danny Marshall, Danville, Small businessman
Mike Melo, President, ITA International, Newport News
Caren Merrick, Co-founder, Webmethods, Reston
Donna Morea, President, US, Europe and Asia, CGI and Chair, Northern Virginia Technology Council
Christofer Mowry, President, Babcock and Wilcox Nuclear Energy, Lynchburg
Dakshay Patel, Managing Member, American Enterprises, Richmond
Julien Patterson, CEO, Omniplex Worldwide, Chantilly
Sen. Phil Puckett, Vice President First Bank & Trust Company, Tazewell
Harold Pyon, Supervisory Patent Examiner, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Fairfax
Mike Quillen, Founder and CEO, Alpha Natural Resources, Abingdon
Daphne Reid, TV and Film Actor, Co-Owner, New Millennium Studios, Petersburg
Brenda Robinson, President and CEO, Environmental Solutions, Inc., Richmond
Richard Sharp, Managing Director, V-Ten Capital Partners, Richmond
Sudhakar Shenoy, Chairman and CEO, IMC, Fairfax
Bob Skunda, President and CEO, Virginia Biotechnology Research Park, Richmond
Steve Smith, CEO, Food City, Bristol
Don Storey, Owner, Quality Tech Services, President and CEO, govtips.biz, Norfolk
Bruce Thompson, CEO, Gold Key/PHR Resorts and Hotels, Virginia Beach
Fred Thompson, Chief Administrative Officer, Thompson Hospitality, Herndon
Brett Vassey, President and CEO, Virginia Manufacturers Association, Richmond
Sen. Frank Wagner, President and CEO, Davis Boat Works, Virginia Beach
Michel Zajur, President, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Richmond

Responsibilities of Governor’s Economic Development and Jobs Creation Commission

Identify impediments to and opportunities for job creation; Review how other states and foreign countries are attracting jobs and how Virginia could replicate and improve upon those initiatives; Review the agencies’ role in job creation and make recommendations on how those efforts can be better coordinated to ensure unparalleled efficiency and effectiveness; Make recommendations on new investments and changes to the tax and regulatory environment in the Commonwealth to maintain and increase the Commonwealth’s standing as the best place to do business in the United State of America; Evaluate the current programs and investments designed to develop the workforce and attract and retain businesses in Virginia, and make recommendations on their effectiveness and need for improvement; and Assist the Cabinet and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership to identify and target industries and businesses to recruit to Virginia.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Ignite Institute loses major funding partner

Ignite Institute for Individualized Health, a medical center startup hailed to be an economic development coup for Fairfax County, has lost one of its biggest sources of funding after Inova Health System’s board voted to pull out of the partnership.

But Ignite Institute’s founder said Inova’s decision doesn’t detract from his effort to launch the ambitious medical research institute, which was touted to bring nearly 500 world-class scientists to a newly built campus in the next five years to study personalized medicine.

“Ignite is absolutely going to launch and we’re on track to do so,” said Dietrich Stephan, president and CEO of Ignite Institute and originator of the idea.

Inova, which was one of the founding partners of the institute, said it could no longer back the venture after it ran into delays in raising additional funding.

“The money that they needed for the scope and scale for what was being proposed for the Ignite Institute was challenging at best,” said Tony Raker, a spokesman with Inova. “With the economic conditions, it became more of a challenge.”

Ignite had said it needed at least $150 million to start construction on a new campus. Inova had committed to pitch in $25 million, and Virginia had bestowed another $3 million from its Governor’s Opportunity Fund in an incentive grant. Just this week, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed into law another measure that frees $22 million for such a research institute, so long as it creates 415 jobs, through $5.5 million annual chunks available starting July 2011.

Ignite had said it planned to hire its first 100 scientists by the end of this year. It’s taking up temporary quarters in the Center for Innovative Technology building, while longer-term lab space is being built out in the next wing of the Herndon building.

Inova leaders had said the original plan to invest the $25 million in the institute was also based on Ignite’s ability to assemble a total $100 million, including the state commitments. Stephen M. Cumbie, Inova Health System board’s chairman, had said the team had come close to another potential $25 million grant from a national technology company that he wouldn’t name.

“But there was a change of CEOs and a pullback, and again a lot of this was being driven by the economy,” Cumbie said. “That and other prospects didn’t materialize.

“We were certainly concerned about starting down that road without the capital being raised,” Cumbie added. “The plan we felt great about. Dietrich is a world-class scientist, there’s no question about that. We had a lot of faith in him.”

With a key medical center partner leaving the table and a brutal economy still leaving wide budget deficits in its wake, Fairfax County leaders said they also can no longer support a multimillion-dollar bond that they had been considering to help locate Ignite Institute in a permanent residence in the county.

“Fairfax County has never before entertained even the idea of purchasing a building in partnership with an institute,” said Sharon Bulova, chairwoman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “For us, this was a very major consideration and therefore for us, there was a lot of risk associated with it, especially during this time. … Unfortunately, it just turned out not to be possible.”

But Stephan said he’s still collecting a syndicate of national partners and funders for the venture, describing these latest moves as a “reshuffling.” Ignite recently bought new gene sequencing equipment, making it the largest concentration outside of Asia to help scientists decipher through genes a patient’s predilection toward certain diseases.

“It’s mission-critical to maintain momentum,” Stephan said. “This is the future of medicine. Literally. Personalized, preventative medicine is the solution to our health care crisis today. It needs to be in the greater Washington area because of policy decisions. It will absolutely happen.”

Though, these are serious setbacks in an initiative that was grandly announced in mid-November at a press conference with two governors and a host of state, county and Inova leaders as an “accelerator” of the county’s infant biotech sector.

“I’m really disappointed that this didn’t work out, but I’m hopeful that something will come back, maybe in a different iteration,” Bulova said. “Everyone was very excited, very optimistic, and really thought that it could happen. And the harsh reality is that it was just a rough time to try to do something as ambitious as the Ignite proposal.”

Vandana Sinha
Washington Business Journal

Washington region bets big on biotech

State and local leaders are betting billions of dollars in subsidies, tax breaks, loans and grants to biotech capitalists in the hopes of cashing in on a worldwide bio-boom.

But the industry's volatility has some worried that taxpayer dollars are being gambled on a dangerous roll of the dice.

"It's very much a crapshoot -- even with great science," said John Carroll, executive editor of FierceBiotech, a daily Web newsletter that monitors the industry. "On the upside, of course, biotechnology provides a great number of great jobs at high pay. And that's why so many economic development officials are eager to attract them."

Governments on both sides of the Potomac River are doubling down on life science research.

With the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration and Johns Hopkins University calling it home, Maryland is consistently ranked as one of the top five states for biotech research. Virginia has rolled millions into the sector for more than a decade.

In 2008, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley promised to set aside $1.1 billion for the industry. This year, the General Assembly is weighing legislation that would require the state's pension fund to invest in Maryland bioscience companies.

Montgomery County, the fertile crescent of Maryland biotech, is lobbying for a law that would allow the county to buy biotech stocks with taxpayer money. The County Council approved a new tax credit for biotech firms, and Executive Ike Leggett has created a task force to expand the county's research industry. Nearly one-quarter of the county's economic development funds are dedicated to the life sciences industry.

County officials are considering a multibillion-dollar "Science City" project in the Gaithersburg-Potomac-Rockville area that promises to bring up to 76,000 biotech jobs to the area.
Some officials are worried that it's too many eggs in a fragile basket.

"If we invest in a company and they fall flat, we lose," said state Sen. Rob Garagiola, D-Poolesville.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed legislation giving tax breaks to biotech investors. And he approved awarding $22 million in grants to the Ignite Center, a genetic research center that being built in Fairfax County.

The potential rewards are endless.

In the first decade of this century, the biotech industry saw more than $295 billion worth of mergers and acquisitions, according to Carroll's FierceBiotech. Among the big winners was Gaithersburg's MedImmune, which AstraZeneca acquired for more than $15 billion in 2007.
But the perils are just as big.

"For every person who goes down the right path, there's going to many more that went down the wrong path," said Andy Bauer, a regional economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. "Whenever you have an industry driven by innovation, it's going to go in fits and starts."

Of the decade's mergers, only 18 percent of the targeted companies were making money, FierceBiotech analysts found.

In the first three months of the year, drug companies alone cut more than 26,000 jobs, according to analysts at Chicago outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Last week, GenVec, a Gaithersburg biotech firm, saw its stock lose three-quarters of its value when it said it was canceling trials of a drug that was supposed to help fight pancreatic cancer. Its shares closed at 73 cents on Nasdaq Thursday, after a months-long run-up to $3.35. GenVec had borrowed $125,000 from Montgomery County.

For some, that's a bad sign.

"Since when is our county government serving as the chump of last resort for businesses too shaky to get off the ground through conventional means?" Montgomery County Civic Federation leader Peggy Dennis asked.

By: Bill Myers
Washington Examiner - Staff Writer
April 4, 2010