Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ceres Nanosciences' scientist awarded Popular Science's "Brilliant 10"

When Alessandra Luchini was a girl growing up in Italy, she visited the Museo Galileo in Florence, where she saw the telescope that Galileo Galilei had invented four centuries before, in 1610. She was struck by its simplicity. with a just a couple of pieces of curved glass, anyone could see whole new worlds.

In 2005, Luchini, now an engineer at George Mason University, came to the U.S. on a grant from the Italian National Health Service to study ways to detect molecular signs of cancer. Some diseases, early on, release faint hints of their presence into our bodily fluids. These “biomarkers” are ephemeral—our enzymes chew them up within minutes, so they’re undetectable in most lab tests. If doctors had a way to catch and stabilize those biomarkers, they could detect diseases more quickly and begin treatment at a stage when the chances of recovery were much higher.

Luchini’s solution was to build a nanoparticle trap. The concept, like Galileo’s telescope, is simple: “It’s like a net for catching very small fishes,” Luchini says. The spherical nanoparticle, which took two years to perfect, uses hydrogel as its backbone. Inside, a crisscrossing polymer net holds bait, such as acid or dye, which chemically attracts various biomarkers. when lab technicians mix the nanoparticle in with a fresh blood sample, it traps the biomarkers and protects them from enzymes. The sample can then be tested at leisure. So far, Luchini has used nanoparticle traps to produce an early diagnosis of infectious diseases such as Lyme disease and tuberculosis. (The traps can also reveal the presence of human growth hormone in urine, and thus offer a novel way to reveal illegal doping by athletes.) She and her team are also working on nanotraps to find the skin-cancer biomarkers that exist in a person’s sweat.

Luchini’s next step is to modify the nanoparticles so they can trap biomarkers in a body, giving doctors a realtime view of what’s going on inside their patients.

By Madhumita Venkataramanan
Popular Science

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

VABIO Entrepreneurship Event 9/8 to be Streamed on the Web

The Virginia Biotechnology Association (VABIO) is pleased to offer an opportunity to view the sold out Greater Richmond Bioscience Luncheon live on the web through our new LiveStream channel. The program will take place tomorrow, Thursday, September 8, from 12:00-1:30 p.m., program details are below. The program is called “Entrepreneurship Failures and Successes: The Perspective of Entrepreneurial Faculty.”

Tune in to our blog ( at noon and the program will begin shortly thereafter.

We are testing this new technology with the intent of making our valuable program available to those that are unable to attend this sold out event. Please bear with us if we experience any technical difficulties, we will work through them as quickly as possible.

“Entrepreneurship Failures and Successes: The Perspective of Entrepreneurial Faculty.” The panel will lead a frank discussion about the risks and rewards of commercialization activities in a university environment. What aspects about university “culture” either encourage or discourage commercialization activities by faculty? The panel will cover topics such as tenure, wealth creation, equity, royalties, managing conflicts of interest, and raising money (angels, grants and venture capital).

Speakers: Mike Grisham, CEO of GPB Scientific, Richmond (Moderator); Dr. Curt Civin, Dean, University of Maryland School of Medicine and Director of Regenerative Medicine; Dr. Martin Chapman, CEO of Indoor Biotechnologies, Charlottesville (former tenured UVA faculty); Dr. Chip Petricoin, Co-Director of the Applied Proteomics Center at GMU (and serial entrepreneur); Dr. Jim Bennett, Chair of Department of Neurology at VCU; and Dr. Gordon Archer, Associate Dean for Research and Training at VCU.

VA Business Mag: Virginia's Refundable R&D Credit Makes News

Great article on Virginia's R&D Tax Credit in Virginia Business:

Check’s in the mail
Virginia joins a handful of states to offer tax rebates for tech-based R&D

September 01, 2011 6:00 AM
by Garry Kranz
Virginia’s high-tech companies no longer are among the have-nots. This year state lawmakers created a refundable income tax credit designed to help startup companies defray the costs of research and development.

Before the move, Virginia was one of 12 states that did not offer a tax credit for R&D expenses. That had put Virginia at a disadvantage — especially since competing neighbors Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and West Virginia offered similar breaks, say state economic leaders.

The initial investment is capped at $5 million. Despite the modest sum, business leaders say it marks an important step in helping Virginia compete in an increasingly innovation-driven economy. “Technology companies create high-paying jobs, and we want to make sure those jobs are created here,” says Mark A. Herzog, executive director of the Virginia Biotechnology Association.

The new law also shifts Virginia into another, albeit more desirable, minority: one of only seven states to offer a tax credit in the form of a cash refund.
As a result, Virginia companies that perform “qualified research and development” could be eligible to claim a tax credit equal to 15 percent of the first $167,000 of research expenses they incur during the taxable year. If the company has yet to turn a profit, it could receive a state refund check for the equivalent amount, worth up to $25,000.

Also, companies pursuing research in tandem with a state college or university can claim up to 20 percent on the first $175,000 of R&D expenses, or a refund check worth as much as $35,000. The slightly higher amounts reflect a push to promote greater collaboration between academic and private-sector researchers, state officials say.

“The refundable aspect is what makes it special,” Herzog says. “Without that element, the credit has zero value to the vast majority of Virginia’s advanced technology companies.”

In dollar terms, the total amount of tax credits available to qualified businesses in Virginia is capped at $5 million for each fiscal year from 2012 through 2016. The money will come from the state’s general fund.

Technology-based companies typically absorb the full costs of research but may have to wait years for a product to hit the market and begin generating sales revenue. The tax credit softens the financial blow a bit, says state Sen. Mark R. Herring (D-Loudoun), who co-sponsored the bill with Del. Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge).

Although the amount per company is modest, it’s sufficient to help pay for research equipment costs, lab space, supplies and similar items, Herring says. It will “incentivize companies to invest in the research and development” needed to commercialize products and, ultimately, spur job creation and economic growth across Virginia.

The Northern Virginia Technology Council and the Virginia Biotechnology Association led an intense lobbying effort to get lawmakers to approve the R&D tax credit, which Gov. Bob McDonnell swiftly signed into law.

Virginia’s law piggybacks on a federal R&D tax credit signed into law by President Reagan in 1981. But the tax break is not a handout, says Josh Levi, vice president of policy for NVTC. “Think of it like a rebate on expenditures already made,” which companies recover if their current-year’s research expenditures eclipse the previous year.

Virginia’s approach is a different direction than that taken by most states. Giving a company cash to reinvest sends a much stronger message than simply letting them carry forward expenses year to year on a balance sheet, says Jay Langston, senior project support manager with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.

“It’s not a huge sum of money, but if it helps a company pay for a piece of equipment, it’s a positive in their mind,” says Langston. Plus, it reinforces Virginia’s pro-business stance.

Should the applied-for tax credits exceed $5 million, the Virginia Department of Taxation would pro-rate the credits and assign them on a pro-rata basis. The idea is to prevent a handful of companies from quickly exhausting the available funds, Herring says. Conversely, the legislation allows companies to apply for an additional tax credit if the $5 million is not consumed, although officials concede that seems unlikely to happen.

The R&D tax credit generated the biggest headlines, but state technology companies have other news to celebrate as well. Lawmakers added $4 million to the Commonwealth Research and Commercialization Fund. It also provided $4 million for the Center for Innovative Technology’s “Gap” Fund, which provides seed funding to promising startups, and $2 million in matching funds for companies that win federal Small Business Innovative Research grants.