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."

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