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 www.WHITECOATstrategies.com.

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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0RvTOF1fEc

Embedded Video Available: http://www2.marketwire.com/mw/frame_mw?attachid=1427486

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