Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Rare Disease Science Challenge Offers $400,000 in Cash & Services

San Diego’s Assay Depot, which operates an online marketplace for the life sciences industry, and the nonprofit Rare Genomics Institute say they have joined with 19 life sciences companies in creating a “Rare Disease Science Challenge.”

The sponsoring organizations are offering as much as $400,000 in laboratory services, technology, and other resources—along with a $10,000 cash prize for the winning proposal. Guidelines call for researchers at nonprofit institutions to submit an online proposal for conducting research into a rare disease. Submissions will be evaluated by an expert scientific panel, which may award one or more donated services needed for the scientists to carry out the work. The deadline for submitting proposals is Dec. 15.

Top proposals selected by the panel also will be eligible on Facebook for voting by the rare disease community for the $10,000 prize. Finalists will be announced on Feb. 28, 2013, World Rare Disease Day.

Organizers say rare diseases affect over 25 million Americans, yet less than five percent of the 7,000 known rare diseases have any therapy. The Rare Genomics Institute, based in St. Louis, provides an expert network and an online crowdfunding mechanism to help families design and fund research in diseases that would not otherwise be studied.

Bruce V Bigelow

Monday, October 29, 2012

Trade Names: eHealthObjects wants its software to integrate other health care IT

Sanjay Mittal and his wife, Sunita Gupta, wanted to create information technology systems for the health care industry when they formed eHealthObjects Inc. in 2006.

They knew they had a challenge. Health information technology is very fragmented with many systems available that don't work together very easily.

They wanted eHealthObjects to develop software programs that would integrate with other health care technology systems.

"Innovation was the key," Mittal said.

One of eHealthObjects' products is its ThinkHIE, a health information exchange system that consolidates medical data from a variety of medical providers in a unified health history of patients.
Another offering is its ThinkCDM disease and case management software. The company's ThinkEHR provides software for health record management systems.

The company's software products are offered on eHealthObjects' private cloud. "That is key," Mittal said.

Mittal and Gupta first thought about starting a company in 2004 when both worked in the health care technology field.

In 2006, the couple hired a software developer to help begin creating software.

Mittal continued working for Coventry Health Care until 2010 when eHealthObjects' software products were ready for sale.

"We wanted to be primarily a products company," Mittal said. "We didn't want to be a services-only company."

The company's first clients were based in Virginia. Today, it has clients in Maryland, Illinois, Georgia, Texas and Pennsylvania.

Clients include state agencies, state universities, long-term care centers, nursing homes, rural hospitals, pharmacists, mental health counselors and public and private providers.
The couple found it difficult to get clients at first.

"We made contacts with people who have worked with us in the past," Mittal said, noting that the company provided some small initial project work for free with a stipulation that the client sign a contract with eHealthObjects. "For example, we gave the University of Maryland about $100,000 of work free. We were new in the market and didn't have a brand name. We don't have to do that anymore."

The company has grown mainly through word of mouth, networking and repeat business.
"We also attend trade shows and invite providers to our product launches," Mittal said. "We have a strong client base now."

Tara George, director of All Family Matters, a Richmond-based community health provider, had eHealthObjects tailor-design software for the organization.

"It was amazing," she said of the finished product. "I am an old-time paperwork person, and they made this user-friendly for me."

She likes that Mittal is always available for questions.

"I am a late worker, and I sent out a text to Sanjay in the middle of the night," she said. "He texted me back that night and said, 'Call me now.' "

Revenue at eHealthObjects rose 100 percent last year compared with 2010, when the company launched its products.

"This year, we are on track to do the same," Mittal said.

The company is considering expanding its services in and out of the United States.

"That is 12 to 18 months down the road," Mittal said.

When hiring employees, the couple always looks for local talent.

"People have told us to get offshore resources, but, as a corporate strategy, we have always said no to that," Mittal said. "We will never move our development offshore."

The couple used their own funds to start the company.

"There are no loans on the company," Mittal said. "We had money to invest, and I worked at other organizations to support the company. We didn't take out any business loans."

Wendy Cohen, comptroller and program administrator for the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, sees eHealthObjects as a "very progressive and exciting company."

"eHealthObjects has provided data analytics and secure portal services to the University of Maryland P3 Program for the past several months," she said. "We are very happy with their ability to accommodate our growing needs and allowing us the opportunity to manage large-scale proposals."

John Kleski, CEO of PhyMedica LLC, a Henrico County-based health care company that specializes in electronic medical records, contracted with eHealthObjects to develop software.

"Their work was within budget and time commitments," he said. "They were very professional and exceptionally skilled. They developed products in conjunction with our team without conflict. That is a very positive thing in this business."

By: Joan Tupponce
Richmond Times-Dispatch

HDL Gives $500,000 Donation for Fitness Initiative

An effort to encourage physical fitness in the Richmond area is getting a big financial boost from one of the region's fastest-growing companies.

Health Diagnostic Laboratory Inc. has donated $500,000 to the Metropolitan Richmond Sports Backers, a nonprofit organization that puts together numerous local sports events, for its "Active RVA" initiative.

It is a lead donation in a campaign that kicked off Wednesday night to raise $4.5 million to support health and wellness activities in the area.

Among other things, Health Diagnostic's donation will help support an "active RVA stairwell initiative" to encourage people to take the stairs instead of the elevator. That involves placing signs with "whimsical messages" at the stairways in local offices, stores and museums.

The messages might say "Walk this Way" or "Don't Let the Machines Win," said Sports Backers Executive Director Jon Lugbill.

"It is a fun way to encourage that first step" to better health, he said.

Sport Backers also wants to develop an application for mobile phones and computers so physicians can identify specific, local fitness programs best suited for their patient's needs.

"A doctor is more likely to give (fitness) advice if they know what exercise program to tell their patients to use," Lugbill said. "The patient is much more likely to take it up if their doctor is telling them a specific thing to do."

A third part of the initiative is a certification and awards program to recognize local employers and schools that implement innovative programs promoting fitness and physical activity.

The $500,000 donation will help support the program for five years.

It was appropriate given Health Diagnostic's mission as a company to help identify and prevent diseases, said Tonya Mallory, the company's president and chief executive officer.

The company provides diagnostic services to detect early risk factors for conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It also provides lifestyle counseling for patients to help them avoid those conditions.

"What we want to do is make everyone aware of the small changes that we can make in our lives on a daily basis that make a huge impact on health," Mallory said.

Health Diagnostic has been adding hundreds of jobs locally and is expanding its offices and laboratories in the Virginia BioTechnology Research Park in downtown Richmond.

John Reid Blackwell
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Phthisis Diagnostics' President on Translating Research into Diagnostic Products

Here's a nice interview from MD+DI with Crystal Icenhour, Ph.D., President and Chief Science Officer with Phthisis Diagnostics.

Charlottesville, VA–based startup Phthisis Diagnostics began operations in 2006 with a mission to bridge the translational gap between infectious disease research and diagnostic products that help patients. The company now has its first product on the international marketplace and it is making progress in expanding its distribution channels. Only recently, Phthisis has announced distribution agreements for its products in Latin America, Asia, and the United Kingdom. In July, the company received a second round of angel funding.
MD+DI recently had the opportunity to speak with the company’s president and chief science officer, Crystal Icenhour, PhD, who was the recent recipient of the Kauffman Outstanding Postdoctoral Entrepreneur award and our very own “40 Under 40” feature. In this Q&A, Icenhour provides an overview of her plans for the company and how she became an entrepreneur.

MD+DI: Could you explain how the different distribution agreements Phthisis Diagnostics has signed recently are helping you to tap into the global diagnostics market?

Icenhour: Our first product is a tool that clinical laboratories use for doing the downstream diagnostic but it is not a diagnostic itself. Our second product, for which we are getting ready to start clinical trials, is a clinical diagnostic. Our strategy is to get all of our international distributors in place now so that once we get [regulatory approval for] the first diagnostic, we will be able to very quickly and efficiently push that out into [a number of markets]. Actually, before we get it cleared by FDA, we will be able to introduce it into a lot of the international markets because we are able to do the CE Marking more efficiently than going through the FDA clearance process.

MD+DI: I’ve heard a lot about how the CE Mark process is generally more efficient than going through the U.S. system. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

Icenhour: For us, the CE Mark has been much more efficient than the FDA 510(k) clearance. It allows us to begin sales in Europe before we technically get our FDA clearance here in the United States. From a cash flow standpoint, that is ideal because we can begin bringing in revenue for the products. We can also begin collecting a lot more data about the product before it ever hits the U.S.-based market. There are a couple of different reasons why it has been beneficial to do that, but, right now, everybody is facing the same economic crunch. Getting revenues rolling in on each individual product as efficiently as we can is really important.

MD+DI: When you say “economic crunch,” are you referring to the global efforts to cut costs in healthcare?

Icenhour: More basic than that: we are an early stage company and we only have a certain amount of funds to carry us through. Our last round of funding was specifically invested to get us through clinical trials. If we expend those funds before we are able to make it all the way through our clinical trials without bringing in some sales revenues, that would be an issue because we don’t have unlimited resources to fund the company.

MD+DI: Another thing I was interested in relates to MD+DI’s selection of you for our “40 Under 40” features. Can you give me some background on how you became a healthcare entrepreneur at a young age?

Icenhour: To be honest, I didn’t really even think about it. I grew up in a family-run business and that was simply the way that my world existed. You see a problem, you create a solution for it and you run a company. In my case, it has been a much different industry. My family owns a truck repair shop. So I am definitely not in the same industry but the idea of working for yourself and of being able to step into a business setting wasn’t a foreign idea to me.

MD+DI: The mission of Phthisis Diagnostics is to bridge "the translational gap between infectious disease research and the patient." Could you provide some more context on how it does that?

Icenhour: A lot of my earlier days as a researcher were spent investigating things such as sugar transport pathways. Although it was very interesting, as a researcher I didn’t feel very fulfilled by that because it didn’t have an immediate or even a sometime-in-the-future impact on an actual patient who was suffering from the infectious diseases. Certainly, those questions are incredibly important and worth finding the answers to, but for me, I really wanted to be able to apply my scientific knowledge to problems and come up with some more tangible solutions to things and to actually measure the benefits that you are able to create.

Some of the technology that has been explored more thoroughly is real time PCR. It is a fairly well understood technology from the science realm but from the clinical diagnostic perspective, it is newer. I want to be able to take that basic biology understanding and be able to develop products that will solve a need, which is to diagnose patients who have different infectious diseases. That is something I have a passion for and something I think I am good at.

Monday, August 13, 2012

New 'Product Pipeline' Directory Showcases 72 Products Based on U.Va. Discoveries

University of Virginia Innovation, a University initiative focused on maximizing the impact of U.Va. research discoveries, today unveiled a directory featuring 72 products based on University research.

The "product pipeline" details where these products stand in the development and commercialization process and includes business and consumer products, computer software, medical devices and diagnostics, and therapeutics at various stages of development. Approximately 40 of the products are currently available on the market.

"It's clear from the pipeline that U.Va. researchers are doing incredibly innovative work with applications in a variety of commercial markets," said Michael P. Straightiff, director of the Licensing & Ventures Group. "We look forward to continuing to work with our partners to drive these products – and future collaborations – ahead."

Part of the U.Va. Innovation initiative, the U.Va. Licensing & Ventures Group commercializes University research discoveries through partnerships with industry and entrepreneurial ventures.

"It's important for universities to cultivate a strong pipeline of discoveries, as commercial success for these products can lead to societal benefits, economic development and reinvestment in tomorrow's research breakthroughs," said U.Va. alumnus Robert Paull, co-founder and managing partner of New York-based venture capital firm Lux Capital. "U.Va.'s pipeline is growing increasingly more impressive in both depth and breadth, featuring a large quantity of products with substantial commercial applications."

Considered to be the University's most successful product to date, Adenocard is an injectable drug used to treat cardiac arrhythmia. Developed in 1985 by the late Dr. Robert M. Berne, Adenocard is today found in emergency rooms and ambulances nationwide, with total sales generating approximately $45 million in revenues to U.Va. and the inventors.

Another product family with U.Va. roots has emerged as the standard for accurate mass and high-resolution measurement in mass spectrometry, a technique used to identify molecules within a sample. Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc.'s breakthrough Orbitrap technology and several other key products are based on the research of chemist and University Professor Donald F. Hunt and collaborators.

"Don focuses on finding answers to important biological questions, and this drives us to develop innovative tools," said Iain Mylchreest, vice president of research and development for chromatography and mass spectrometry at Thermo Fisher Scientific, a leading provider of analytical instrumentation and lab equipment worldwide. "The resulting techniques benefit broad segments of the life science research community."

View the product pipeline on U.Va. Innovation's website here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

HemoShear rockets to front of commercialization

In taking a big product development risk, Charlottesville-based HemoShear has found a big reward, earning the trust of 10 major pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device companies.

The Charlottesville Business Innovation Council recently honored HemoShear with the Rocket Award, which recognizes the rapid commercialization of a product or technology.

Local firms Phthisis Diagnostics and WillowTree Apps also were nominated for the award.
Founded in 2008, HemoShear began commercial operations in 2009.

The company was recognized for creating a system that accurately replicates the biology of the body’s organs and disease processes, which in turn, enables better study of pharmaceutical and biotechnology advancements, according to the company’s website.

HemoShear employs 25 people and is currently working with about 10 major pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device companies. The concept is so new and dynamic that HemoShear is essentially the only firm so far that has been able to take that concept from an idea to commercial viability, according to Nikki Hastings, HemoShear’s vice president of laboratory operations. And they did it in about five years.

“I think they really have come a long way and they’re going to go much further. And I think they’re going to be a real hit out of the biotech arena in Charlottesville,” said Gary Henry, chairman of the CBIC board.

Tracey Danner, the CBIC’s interim director, agreed.

“HemoShear is an excellent example of an innovative startup firm with technology that has the potential to add significant value to the world’s human health care needs, while also contributing to the health of our region’s growing tech-based ecosystem,” Danner said by email.

Starting with a staff of five in 2008, Danner said HemoShear is expected to grow to nearly 40 employees by the end of this year and potentially double that in 2013.

In her capacity as vice president of laboratory operations, Hastings oversees project workflow and efficiency. Hastings credits HemoShear’s quick growth to the ability of the company to provide demonstrated support for what they’re doing, thereby gaining the confidence of major companies.

“We’ve been fortunate in being able to break into that network,” Hastings said. “Many people are surprised that there are 30 biotech companies right here in Charlottesville, and I’ve been really engaged in getting the word out about that and getting students excited about what’s going on locally as a future career.”

By: Nate Delesline III

Hastings' enthusiam for STEM is contagious

As a younger student, Nikki Hastings said she always enjoyed math and science but couldn’t quite connect the dots on how her love for those subjects might translate into a career.

That changed after attending a month-long summer camp that showed students hands-on what they could do with their skills.

“It just takes that one experience to get someone fired up to make them understand,” Hastings said. For today’s students and parents, “I would encourage parents to have their students experience a lot of different things.”

Hastings has led the development of programs to introduce local students to science, technology, engineering and math careers.

For her ongoing efforts, the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council recently honored her with the Community Award. The award recognizes a firm or individual who demonstrates a commitment to improving the quality of life in Central Virginia through community involvement.

Rimm-Kauffman Group and The Gaines Group also were nominated for the award.

Today, Hastings is vice president of laboratory operations at HemoShear, a local biotech firm that develops technology that’s been adopted by major pharmaceutical companies to help them improve the safety and effectiveness of medicines.

Hastings is also chairwoman of VABio’s Charlottesville Regional Council. She also has led efforts to develop local programs to expose students to career possibilities in science, math, engineering and technology. Hastings also serves on the advisory committee for the newly created health and medical sciences academy at Monticello High School, according to a biography provided by the CBIC.

“She’s one of those rare people who has both the energy and the enthusiasm and the devotion to actually make a difference in some kids,” said Gary Henry, chairman of the CBIC board. Henry said the role that people like Hastings play in attracting and retaining student interest in scientific and technical careers shouldn’t be underestimated.

“Nikki’s an inspiration to all of us,” Tracey Danner, the CBIC’s interim executive director, said by email. “Her passion and commitment to help grow and strengthen the base of technology opportunities in the Charlottesville area — for both today’s and tomorrow’s workforce — is making a real difference.”

“She’s in what I consider to be one of our most important societal endeavors,” Henry added. “Providing some feedback to [children] that says, a [science, technology, engineering or math] career is hugely positive and something that’s valuable ... to everyone.”

A native of upstate New York, Hastings came to Charlottesville in 2004 to pursue her doctorate at the University of Virginia.

When she’s not working or promoting the possibilities of science to students, Hastings has played a key role in supporting the local MS Society’s annual Bike MS event.

“I do tend to take on a lot, but when I see what I’ve done in the community it’s really energizing to me in other parts of my life at work,” Hastings said. “I’m always looking for something to be active in,” she said. “There are so many great things going on here.”


First of CBIC's award winners at forefront of new biotech thrust

For starting a local company that’s developed an international footprint and launching a project to redevelop a historic downtown building into a research center, Martin Chapman, founder and CEO of Indoor Biotechnologies, earned the People’s Choice Navigator Award from the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council.

Presented earlier this summer, the award honors significant leadership in the local entrepreneurial or high-tech community. Chapman, who founded the company in 1997, was one of seven firms or individuals to receive honors from the CBIC this year.

Tracey Danner, CBIC’s interim executive director, also was nominated for the award. However, unlike many of CBIC’s other recent honors, the award recipient was based on community-wide online voting. “It’s obviously ... very encouraging,” Chapman said of the recognition from his peers in the innovation sector and the community at-large.

“I think we actually have quite a vibrant community going on here and lots of meeting and social events being set up which tend to get people together and drive a sense of the biotech community development and companies.”

Chapman is a former professor of medicine and microbiology at the University of Virginia and a former member of the UVa Asthma & Allergic Diseases Center. He’s also served as a consultant to the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and other biotech and environmental products companies.

Chapman said that Charlottesville’s broad spectrum attractiveness as a good place to live, work and learn makes his job of sharing the successes of the tech sector easier.

“Because of the quality of life, that’s why we see a lot of companies developing,” he added.
Last year, Chapman and the company announced plans to develop the former Coca-Cola bottling plant on Preston Avenue as a bioscience facility called the CityCampus Biotechnology Center.

“Certainly, as far as the CityCampus is concerned ... we’re anticipating if we can get companies moving into the project, [we’ll] have 60 to 70 people working there. It’s certainly one of the things that we’re focusing on and putting a lot of effort in.”

Chapman is also an expert in the fields of allergy and immunology, is chairman of the Virginia Bioscience Foundation and a member of the board of directors of the Virginia Biotechnology Association, according to a biography provided by the CBIC.

Gardy Bloemers served as co-chairwoman of the CBIC gala and has years of experience in the innovation and biotech fields. She said Chapman has always been an inspiration.

“He’s always been on my list of people to meet and ... I’ve been most impressed to learn about what he’s doing with CityCampus. [And] really, he’s got a global businesses that he’s running here from Charlottesville … In many ways, that’s a good thing for everyone,” Bloemers said.
Danner agreed.

“Martin’s leadership nature is gentle yet effective; he’s been a steady force behind the growth of our region’s burgeoning biotech sector. He’s an innovator, an entrepreneur, a friend to biotech and an extraordinary asset to our community,” she said by email.

By: Nate Delesline III 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Gov McDonnell on Life Sciences & Job Creation

In a recent Op-Ed on job creation, Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell highlighted the importance of the bioscience industry in the commonwealth: Governor McDonnell: "Investing in emerging markets is imperative to sustained economic recovery. Because of the funding approved by Virginia's legislature, we will be launching a new $5 million life-sciences initiative to help research universities around the state conduct targeted, strategic and collaborative life-science research and development. Life sciences are an emerging sector of our economy with enormous growth potential at Virginia Tech and our other research universities. This funding has the potential to put Virginia at the forefront of a rapidly growing industry." Click here for the full article: http://www.roanoke.com/editorials/commentary/wb/309082

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

McDonnell adds $44M in budget amendments

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has added nearly $44 million in amendments to the state budget, including funding for economic development and education initiatives.
McDonnell submitted the amendments before the Friday midnight deadline to make changes to the two-year, $85 billion budget passed by the General Assembly last month, his office said Saturday.
As part of the proposed chan-ges, McDonnell seeks to restore $19.5 million in economic development funding, including money to entice Hollywood to film movies in Virginia and a program designed to lure private capital to life-science research projects at several state-supported universities. Lawmakers had removed about $47 million in economic development funding from McDonnell's original spending plan.

"I believe strongly that Virginia must invest in attracting and retaining private-sector job creators and capital," McDonnell said in a statement.

"This strategic investment in attracting and supporting private-sector job creation is crucial to ensuring that the 250,000 Virginians who are still looking for good-paying jobs to feed their families secure employment in the years ahead."

McDonnell also preserved nearly $881 million in new funding for K-12 and higher education, and also proposed an additional $2.7 million in funding to recruit teachers in science, math and technology disciplines and to fully fund a third-grade reading program.

The Republican governor, at the request of several General Assembly leaders, also proposed an amendment that would treat state legislators and statewide office holders the same as state employees regarding pension plan contributions.

"Similar to requirements passed in 2011 for state employees, this amendment would require elected officials to contribute 5 percent of their income toward their Virginia Retirement System pensions, offset by a 5 percent increase in compensation when constitutionally permitted," McDonnell's office said in a news release.

McDonnell also wants to fund a 3 percent bonus for state employees in November 2012 relying on savings from state agencies by the end of the 2012 fiscal year, and a 2 percent raise for state employees in fiscal year 2014.

To pay for the amendments, the governor is has proposed transferring an unused portion of a previous debt allocation to new capital project, transferring certain year-end balances, and spending cuts.

The General Assembly will reconvene May 14 to take up the governor's amendments.

After voting against the $85 billion budget needed to fund Virginia government three times over the past two months, the state Senate abruptly took up and passed the spending plan last month after Sen. Charles Colgan, a senior Democratic lawmaker from Prince William County broke ranks.

The budget bill remained alive because the special session to act on it was recessed — not adjourned. As the political fallout settled in, the bill was called up for reconsideration in the Senate and, without debate, passed 10 1/2 weeks before the current budget expires June 30.

The spending blueprint for the 24 months beginning July 1 totals nearly $85 billion in combined appropriations, up from about $80.7 billion for the biennium that ends June 30.

By:  The Associated Press

Open Biotech Faculty Position at NVCC

Northern Virginia Community College has a full-time permanent biotechnology faculty position opening at the Manassas Campus.  View the position description here.

Monday, April 09, 2012

2012 Virginia State Science and Engineering Fair Awards for Biotechnology

Virginia Bio, in conjunction with the Virginia Bio Foundation, presented awards at the 2012 Virginia State Science and Engineering Fair on Saturday, April 6, 2012, at Old Dominion University in Norfolk. The volunteer judges studied the abstracts prior to their arrival at the Fair and then voted on the top projects to interview one-on-one at the event. Photos from the competition are available here.

"It was hard to choose among so many outstanding projects," said Mark A. Herzog, Virginia Bio executive director. “The judges were extremely impressed by the caliber of the work.”

After talking with each of the students, the judges made their final selections:

First Place: Sachith Gullapalli of Roanoke
Project: "Do nPKC isoforms mediate lipid-induced beta cell dysfunction?"

Second Place: Bina Wasunga Kakusa and Connor Thomas Hann of Fairfax
Project: “Mind Controlled Wheelchair”

Third Place: Andrea Li of Fairfax
Project: “Histone Deacetylase 1: Modification by cAMP-dependent Protein Kinase and Promotion of Recovery from Demyelinating Diseases.”

Congratulations to all of the students for their outstanding projects.

Thank you to our Virginia Bio judges:
David Anderson, Vice President Scientific Affairs, Lyotropic Therapeutics, Inc.
Michael Francis, Research Associate, LifeNet Health
Mark Herzog, Executive Director, Virginia Bio
Eugene Maurakis, Director of Science Education, Science Museum of Virginia
Roy Ogle, Director of Regenerative Medicine, LifeNet Health
Patrick Sachs, Research Associate, LifeNet Health
Silvia Chen, Director of Research, LifeNet Health
Kurt Langenbach, ATCC

The winners are encouraged to apply for the 2012 Virginia BioGENEius Challenge team that will compete at the national challenge in June at the BIO Convention in Washington, DC. The deadline for applications is April 15. For more information, please visit www.vabiofoundation.org.

Friday, March 16, 2012

VCU Researchers Discover Cancer Killing Compound

New compound discovered that rapidly kills liver cancer

March 13, 2012

Scientists have identified a new compound that rapidly kills hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cells, the most common form of liver cancer and fifth most common cancer worldwide, while sparing healthy tissue. The compound, Factor Qunolinone Inhibitor 1 (FQI1), works by inhibiting an oncogene originally discovered by a team of researchers led by Devanand Sarkar, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., Harrison Scholar at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Massey Cancer Center, Blick Scholar and assistant professor in the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics and member of the VCU Institute of Molecular Medicine at VCU School of Medicine.

Recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study demonstrates that HCC cells have what is known as an "oncogene addiction" to the transcription factor Late SV40 Factor (LSF). Oncogene addiction is a term used when a cancer cell is found to be dependent on a single gene to survive. Using the compound Factor Qunolinone Inhibitor 1 (FQI1), the scientists prevented LSF from binding to HCC DNA during the transcription process, which is the first step in a series of actions that lead to cell division and duplication. This action caused rapid HCC cell death in laboratory experiments and a dramatic reduction in tumor growth in mouse models with no observable toxicity to normal liver cells.

"We may be on the verge of developing a new, effective drug for liver cancer," says Sarkar. "In the last 2-3 years, my laboratory demonstrated the role of LSF in liver cancer and my collaborators at Boston University screened over 110,000 compounds to identify the ones that inhibit LSF function. FQI1 was identified as one of a class of effective compounds, but we never anticipated it would work this well."

Sarkar discovered LSF's role in liver cancer in 2010 when he demonstrated significantly higher LSF levels in HCC patients in comparison to healthy individuals, and showed that inhibition of LSF reduced the progression of HCC in laboratory experiments. This finding led to the collaboration between VCU and Boston University that resulted in the discovery of FQI1.

Now that FQI1 has been identified, pharmacokinetic studies are being conducted to determine how the drug behaves in the human body. Once the scientists have determined how the drug is absorbed, distributed, metabolized and eliminated from the body, they will work with clinicians to translate their findings into phase I clinical trials in patients with liver cancer.

"We have proven this compound is effective and nontoxic in living animals," says Sarkar. "While we won't know how FQI1 reacts in humans until the first clinical trial, we are very excited by our findings and hope they lead to a new drug for a disease that is currently very difficult to treat."

The lead investigators on this study were Trevor J. Grant and Joshua Bishop, Ph.D., from Boston University. In addition to Grant and Bishop, Sarkar collaborated with Ayesha Siddiq, Ph.D., Rachel Gredler and Xue-Ning Shen, M.D., from VCU School of Medicine; Jennifer Sherman and Kevin Fitzgerald, Ph.D., from Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Sriharsa Pradhan, Ph.D., from New England Biolabs, Inc.; Laura A. Briggs, Ph.D., and William H. Andrews, Ph.D., from Sierra Sciences, LLC; and Lisa Christadore, Girish Barot, Ph.D., Hang Gyeong Chin, Sarah Woodson, John Kavouris, Tracy Meehan, Scott E. Schaus, Ph.D., and Ulla Hansen, Ph.D., from Boston University.

The full manuscript is available online at: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/03/02/1121601109.full.pdf+html

Link is here.

Friday, March 09, 2012

WBJ: CIT "GAP" Fund May Face Budget Cut

Here is today's story by Bill Flook about the Virginia House and Senate budgets and how CIT's early stage equity fund may fare...

The state nonprofit fund that supports Virginia tech companies is facing steep cuts from the General Assembly, setting up a potentially jarring financial reduction after a banner year.
The House and Senate have cut Gov. Bob McDonnell’s funding proposal for the Herndon-based Center for Innovative Technology and its GAP Funds program, though the budget has yet to be finalized.
The CIT GAP Funds is in the middle of a record stretch. Since July, the group has doled out funds to more than 20 startups — topping any year since its 2005 founding. About half of those deals closed since the beginning of this year. That’s in large part due to record funding. This fiscal year, the group has had $6 million at its disposal: $4 million in state appropriations and $2 million in stimulus cash from the Department of Energy.
Officials with the Center for Innovative Technology, a state-funded nonprofit, aren’t expecting another infusion from the federal government, which was always seen as a one-time funding source. But spending proposals by both the Virginia House and Senate are also threatening to shrink the perennial state dollars upon which CIT depends, returning it to the fiscal uncertainty that has long plagued the group. When CIT won its record $6 million in funding, for example, it was coming off a year in which it had only $500,000 to invest.
“We have a huge pent-up demand for these funds,” said Hap Connors, CIT’s vice president of government and public affairs. “We’re hearing from the marketplace, industry and universities both, that they need a reliable source of funding from these programs, or else it will lose credibility and they won’t participate.”
CIT GAP Funds’ recent deals include:
○ Norfolk-based financial software startup Harbinger Technology Solutions LLC.
○ McLean-based solar-powered water heater company Sunnovations Inc.
○ McLean-based professional networking site Brazen Careerist Inc.
○ Villagize.com, an Oakton-based social network.
○ Charlottesville-based drug developer Xdynia LLC.
○ Distil Inc., a cloud security company based in Falls Church.
○ Bristol-based WireTough Cylinders LLC, which makes lightweight natural gas tanks.
The fund typically parcels out investments as large as $100,000 when investing alone, or as much as $500,000 when joining with other angels or venture funds.
That growth in check writing has elevated CIT’s profile among a cash-hungry local startup community, as well as fellow seed investors. Jonathon Perrelli of D.C.-based Fortify Ventures LLC, which has co-invested with CIT, calls the team “talented” and “active.”
The question now is how active the group will be in the coming two years after it deploys the rest of its $4 million appropriation by the end of the fiscal year in June.
McDonnell proposed in his two-year budget to keep CIT’s funding level at $4 million for both fiscal 2013 and 2014, but both the House and Senate have taken their own, more tight-fisted route.
The two-year spending plan put forth by the GOP-controlled House would put about $3 million for each of the next two years into CIT Gap Funds.
The Senate’s plan is more complicated. It would grant $4 million to the fund in fiscal 2013 but eliminate funding in the second year.
That could change, however, depending on whether the $1.2 trillion in automatic federal budget cuts are triggered in 2013.
Leaders from each chamber are locked in a stalemate over the budget, which must be approved by March 10 to prevent legislative overtime.
There is no guarantee that the final budget will look anything like the versions approved by the House or Senate.
“Based on reports we got from the General Assembly, we are optimistic of having a healthy fund from which to invest in the upcoming year,” said Tom Weithman, managing director of CIT GAP Funds.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Breaking: NC Joins Mid-Atlantic Bio as Strategic Partner

Exciting news today from RTP!

The Mid-Atlantic Bio conference today announced that the North Carolina Biotechnology Center has joined the Virginia Biotechnology Association (VABIO), Tech Council of Maryland (TCM), and Mid-Atlantic Venture Association (MAVA) as a 2012 strategic partner. The addition of North Carolina to the Mid-Atlantic Bio geography solidifies the conference’s position as the leading regional life-sciences event. Expected to attract more than 1000 attendees from industry, government, academia, the investment community and the media, Mid-Atlantic Bio is 2012’s can’t miss event. Mid-Atlantic Bio will be held on September 27-28 at the North Bethesda Marriott and Conference Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

In announcing their partnership, Norris Tolson, President & CEO of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, said, “The Mid-Atlantic region and its portfolio of federal government, emerging company and investment sector assets holds great potential for the life sciences. North Carolina, which has fostered unprecedented growth through three decades of attention to biotechnology, is delighted to join forces to promote the continued expansion of the sector and strength of the region.”

Bioscience industry leaders from North Carolina’s Research Triangle will join senior executives from more than 200 companies, 50 investment funds and researchers from the Mid-Atlantic region’s top academic institutions.

“Mid-Atlantic Bio is an important expression of the vitality of the biotechnology community in the mid-Atlantic region,” said H. Thomas Watkins, President and CEO, Human Genome Sciences, and Chair of the Maryland Life Sciences Advisory Board. “We look forward to expanding regional participation to include North Carolina, and we expect this year’s meeting to provide evidence of a gradually improving economic outlook in the life sciences sector.”

With the addition of North Carolina to the existing collaboration between Maryland and Virginia, Mid-Atlantic Bio 2012 will expand the critical mass of innovators and entrepreneurs that make it a destination for investors.

According to David Mott, General Partner, NEA and former CEO of MedImmune, “As investors, we’re about ROI. From our perspective, a larger event, one that draws attendance from leading industry clusters and centers of excellence – both in and outside this region’s footprint – as well as offers unparalleled access to policymakers in Washington, is a unique and valuable conference platform. The 2012 Mid-Atlantic Bio is well positioned to provide key insights for investors as to the pulse of the industry – from policy to pipelines. This means more VCs, more investment opportunities, more high value attendees from the private and public sectors, more media, and more clarity as to what’s going on in Washington. In other words, this is where business from Maryland to North Carolina will get done.”

“If you are searching for business development and investment prospects in today’s resource constrained world, you are going to prioritize where the greatest opportunities are. That’s Mid-Atlantic Bio. It’s the biotech combine and our members will have their scouts there,” said Julia Spicer, Executive Director, MAVA, which represents 500+ venture and private equity investment professionals with cumulatively more than $90 billion under management.

“Mid-Atlantic Bio has long been a dynamic event thanks in large part to our strategic proximity to key stakeholders from NIH, FDA, NSF, CMS and the U.S. Congress here in our backyard. Now, with the addition of North Carolina, this event will engage an even broader constituency comprising one of the largest bioscience regions in the nation in terms of innovation and commercial output,” said Art Jacoby, Interim CEO, Tech Council of Maryland.

The multiplier effect of North Carolina’s participation cannot be overstated. “This partnership represents a rare platform to bring together influential stakeholders for the benefit of our companies and the industry as a whole,” said Mark A. Herzog, Executive Director, VABIO, on behalf of the Mid-Atlantic Bio Coalition. “Having already offered world-class collaboration, best practices exchange and networking opportunities in the past, North Carolina is the catalyst which will propel Mid-Atlantic Bio, its sponsors and attendees, into the national spotlight.”

Located at the epicenter of biotech R&D, capital and policy, the combined Mid-Atlantic Bio region represents one of the largest industry clusters in the nation in terms of number of companies, size of workforce, funding, innovation, clinical trials and commercial opportunities.

For more information visit midatlanticbio.org

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

8 New Bioscience Jobs Posted on VABIO Career Center

Here are eight new life science jobs available in Virginia! Please share with colleagues:

Mass Spec Lab Technologist (3rd Shift)
Health Diagnostic Laboratory, Inc. - Richmond, VA
This key team member will be responsible for performing LCMSMS, GCFID, electrophoresis or other advanced technological testing on patient specimens. Essential Functions/ Responsibilities (other duties may be assigned): The Mass Spectrometry Laboratory Technologist is responsible for performing moderate and high complexity testing with strict adherence to regulatory requirements. All of the duties and responsibilities will be performed according to laboratory guidelines and procedures.

Molecular Lab Technologist (3rd Shift)
Health Diagnostic Laboratory, Inc. - Richmond, VA
The Laboratory Technologist in the Molecular Genetics department, is responsible for performing moderate and high complexity testing with strict adherence to regulatory requirements. All of the duties and responsibilities are performed according to laboratory guidelines and procedures.

Research Associate
Ceres Nanosciences, Inc. - MANASSAS, VA
Ceres is currently searching for a Research Associate to join our expanding Research and Product Development Team. The Research Associate will perform advanced lab procedures, collect/process/analyze biological fluids (and develop assays), write/amend/implement SOPs and perform tasks to support our current customers. The research associate will contribute to the development of biological sample collection and preparation tools from concept to commercialization.

Senior Scientist
Novozymes Biologicals, Inc. - Salem, VA
We are seeking an energetic, results-oriented Senior Scientist to join our R&D team, to investigate the use of microorganisms for feed and agricultural applications. Activities include developing research plans, isolating and identifying microorganisms, developing laboratory assays to screen for desired properties, and developing methods and techniques for tracking presence and effectiveness of microorganisms in use.

Senior Web & Intranet Content Editor
Janelia Farm Research Campus - Ashburn, VA
Do you desire to work on a cutting edge, non-traditional website that is visually engaging and interactive? This not your usual corporate website. Working at our Janelia campus, interested candidates can expect to join forces with bright, passionate, committed staff and some of the rock stars of the scientific community. An ideal candidate thinks outside-of-the-box by developing strategies to continue evolving the site to best meet the need of its customers, and taking the site to the next level

Special Chemistry Lab Technologist (2nd & 3rd Shift)
Health Diagnostic Laboratory, Inc. - Richmond, VA
As a Laboratory Technologist you will be responsible for performing moderate and high complexity testing with strict adherence to regulatory requirements. All of the duties and responsibilities will be performed according to laboratory guidelines and procedures.

Technical Specialist
Health Diagnostic Laboratory, Inc. - Richmond, VA
This key team player will support the laboratory with technical instrumentation and assay expertise by facilitating the purchase, acquisition, programming, operation, training and troubleshooting of laboratory instruments. This individual may also assist with managing the daily operation of the laboratory.

Medical Sales Territory Manager - Nationwide
Milliken Healthcare Products, LLC - Various US Locations, SC
The Account Manager role is responsible for aggressively defending and rapidly expanding a specific geographic region by driving new business development. This role will be responsible for protecting current business, prospecting new opportunities, delivering intense customer support along with industry networking and education as well as meeting bold year over year business growth objectives. This role reports to the National Sales Manager.

View more jobs at the VABIO Career Center

Thursday, March 01, 2012

New Biopharma Coalition Launched in Virginia


Former State Senator Edd Houck, Virginia Chamber of Commerce
President & CEO Barry DuVal & Virginia BIO Executive Director
Mark Herzog to Co-Chair Effort Highlighting Biopharmaceutical Industry’s
Contributions to Virginia’s Economy and to the Health of Virginians

Feb. 29, 2012; Richmond – Former Virginia State Senator Edd Houck, Virginia Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Barry DuVal, and Virginia Biotechnology Association Executive Director Mark Herzog announced the formation of the We Work for Health Virginia coalition this morning in Richmond. This coalition will highlight the important contributions that the biopharmaceutical sector makes to the Commonwealth’s economy and to the health of Virginians.

(from the left: former Senator Edd Houck, Mark Herzog and Barry DuVal)

We Work for Health is a grassroots initiative that unites health consumers, biopharmaceutical company employees and retirees, vendors, suppliers and other business, academic and community partners to demonstrate how these diverse groups work together to improve Virginia’s health care system and strengthen our economy.

Active in 11 other states, including North Carolina, Maryland, and Delaware, this coalition will highlight the important role that the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry plays to help citizens gain and maintain access to life-saving medicines, fight chronic disease and lead longer, healthier lives. The value of this industry, however, extends beyond the mission of improving health—the sector is also critical to the health of the state economy.

As a vital economic partner, biopharmaceutical companies create and deliver significant benefits to their local communities. By creating high-paying jobs, providing growth opportunities for related industries, fostering higher education in science and math and generating tax revenue, Virginia’s biopharmaceutical companies create a strong foundation from which we can rebuild and grow our state economy—providing stability, and prosperity into the future.

Speaking about this new coalition’s work in Virginia, Senator Houck remarked, "During my 28 year career serving in the General Assembly, no issue was more important to me than working with the biopharmaceutical industry and health advocacy groups to promote wellness initiatives and to ensure that Virginians had access to affordable and quality medications. In the coming months, we will tell the stories of the senior who takes medication to improve their quality of life, the manufacturer who goes to the plant making important drugs every day right here in Virginia, the patient who is overcoming mental illness with the help of prescription medication, and those Virginia small businesses who depend on a thriving biopharmaceutical sector."

Virginia Biotechnology Association executive director Mark Herzog added, "This is an important effort that will showcase the vital work the bioscience and technology sector does here in Virginia. Last week, Governor McDonnell named 2012 as the "Year of the Entrepreneur" which is fitting as we are the home to a thriving bioscience industry, first-class research institutions and a strong workforce. We Work for Health is another vehicle to reinforce our commitment to the life sciences community and the important work that they do to keep Virginians healthy."

Virginia Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Barry DuVal noted, "I am proud to be associated with We Work for Health. A recent economic impact study conducted showed that Virginia biopharmaceutical companies support more than 76,000 jobs in Virginia and invest $1.5 billion in research and development for clinical trials to treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s, various cancers, Diabetes Mellitus, and mental and behavioral disorders. We are excited to share the message with federal and state policymakers."

Michele Shuman, Lupus Foundation DC/MD/VA Chapter, remarked, "26 years ago when I was a mother of two small children, I was diagnosed with lupus following a recluse spider bite. I volunteer my time and talents fighting to raise awareness because lupus has ruled my life for the last quarter century, and I believe that by speaking out we can get just one step closer to finding a drug that can make a difference. As a patient who is currently taking 27 different medications every day to fight my symptoms, this cause is very personal for me. LFA has benefitted by joining the We Work for Health coalition in other states and I'm pleased we're launching this coalition in Virginia today."

Members who have joined We Work for Health Virginia include: Virginia Biotechnology Association, Lupus Foundation of America DC/MD/VA Chapter, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and the Neurofibromatosis Mid-Atlantic Chapter and Prevent Blindness Mid-Atlantic. We Work for Health Virginia will be announcing additional partners in the coming weeks and months.

To learn more, visit www.WeWorkforHealth.org or the We Work for Health Virginia page.

To join the coalition, click here for a sign-up form.

Additional news stories:

NBC 29: http://www.nbc29.com/story/17047743/economic-impact-of-biopharmaceutical-industry

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/virginia-politics/post/ed-houck-wont-rule-out-run-for-lieutenant-governor/2012/02/29/gIQAEmaYiR_blog.html

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Please share these 5 new life science jobs

Check out these 5 new life science jobs in Virginia:

Special Chemistry Lab Technologist (2nd & 3rd Shift)
Health Diagnostic Laboratory, Inc. - Richmond, VA
As a Laboratory Technologist you will be responsible for performing moderate and high complexity testing with strict adherence to regulatory requirements. All of the duties and responsibilities will be performed according to laboratory guidelines and procedures. more info...

Molecular Lab Technologist (1st & 3rd Shift)
Health Diagnostic Laboratory, Inc. - Richmond, VA
The Laboratory Technologist in the Molecular Genetics department, is responsible for performing moderate and high complexity testing with strict adherence to regulatory requirements. All of the duties and responsibilities are performed according to laboratory guidelines and procedures. more info...

GC/LC Chromatography Reviewer
Health Diagnostic Laboratory, Inc. - Richmond, VA
This key team member will be responsible for performing chromatography review for LCMSMS, GCFID, GCMS or other advanced technological testing on patient specimens. Essential Functions/ Responsibilities (other duties may be assigned): The GC and LC Chromatography Reviewer is responsible for performing moderate and high complexity data review with strict adherence to regulatory requirements. All of the duties and responsibilities will be performed according to laboratory guidelines and procedures. more info...

Mass Spec Lab Technologist (3rd Shift)
Health Diagnostic Laboratory, Inc. - Richmond, VA
This key team member will be responsible for performing LCMSMS, GCFID, electrophoresis or other advanced technological testing on patient specimens. Essential Functions/ Responsibilities (other duties may be assigned): The Mass Spectrometry Laboratory Technologist is responsible for performing moderate and high complexity testing with strict adherence to regulatory requirements. All of the duties and responsibilities will be performed according to laboratory guidelines and procedures. more info...

Technical Specialist
Health Diagnostic Laboratory, Inc. - Richmond, VA
This key team player will support the laboratory with technical instrumentation and assay expertise by facilitating the purchase, acquisition, programming, operation, training and troubleshooting of laboratory instruments. This individual may also assist with managing the daily operation of the laboratory. more info...

View more jobs at the VABIO Career Center

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

UVA's VABIO Student Chapter Holds V-Day Fundraiser

If you are in Charlottesville, please stop by. The fundraiser is today from 10:30am until 4:00pm at the Bus Stop near the amphitheater. Here's a quick fix for Valentines Day! VABIO's first fundraiser for the spring semester is about to start. We will be selling carnations at the bus stop near the amphitheater on Tuesday, February 14th.

Buy a carnation for your Valentine, for your friend, or to score extra points with your professor!

Prices are:
1 flower for $2
3 flowers for $5
6 flowers for $10

We'll have red, white, and pink so there will be plenty of combinations!

Friday, February 03, 2012

Federal programs provide early-stage money for bio-tech projects

As venture capitalists and angel investors continue to demand increased results and development before handing out cash, biotech startups across the state are looking to federal and state programs to bridge the gap.

That’s where Robert Brooke, director of deferral funding programs at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, enters the picture. CIT is a state-supported non-profit that works to close funding gaps, helping companies with innovative ideas or products reach the stage where they can win federal grants from agencies like the National Institutes of Health or attract outside investment.

Brooke led a panel discussion about winning federal grants at Thursday’s Greater Richmond Bioscience Luncheon, organized by the Virginia Biotechnology Association.

The two largest federal grant areas funnel through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. Both feature grants from numerous agencies, including the NIH, the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation and NASA.

Greg Fralish, president and CEO of iTi Health Inc., helped form the Charlottesville-based company about a year ago. Fralish and his co-founders are developing a product that would help with earlier detection of pancreatic cancer, a disease with a five-year survival rate of just 4 percent.

“We had the product idea but needed money to do clinical trials,” he said during Thursday’s panel discussion. “So we raised angel money and an SBIR grant for a total of about $1.5 million.”
One challenge of using the federal SBIR and STTR programs is that different agencies have different goals. The Defense Department is often searching for a specific solution to a problem; they want to fund a low-risk, high-impact product that could reach the market (and start saving lives) within two or three years.

The NIH, in contrast, is more willing to take on higher-risk, higher-reward projects that may not have an immediate route to commercialization. But a long-term commercial opportunity is usually the key to a grant, according to Crystal Icenhour, president and chief science officer at Phthisis Diagnostics, a biotech research and development company in Charlottesville.

“You must constantly reinforce that this is a commercially viable product,” she said. “Show that you’ve [taken past products to market] and that you can do it with this one. If you don’t include that sort of information you won’t get a good read from proposal reviewers.”

Once the business has the federal grant and is getting good feedback, it can leverage that with private investors. Fralish said his company took positive feedback from the SBIR program and showed it to potential private investors. That feedback from the government review helped smooth the way for private funding.

A leading challenge with the government grants is the uncertain time-frame for approval. If a proposal requires multiple amendments and re-submissions, it can take two or more years from the time work starts to the time the grant money hits a company’s bank account. On the flip side, Icenhour’s company recently got its grant approved far faster than expected, forcing it to scramble to ensure it was ready to begin work.

“I learned you can’t delay or defer the money,” she said. “You either take it then or lose it.”
Nee-Yin Chou has been through the federal grant process dozens of times in her role leading CW Optics, a company based on the Virginia Peninsula. She said that it is sometimes easier to get approval on projects near the end of the federal fiscal year (Sept. 30), but that there are no guarantees.

“As time has gone by, I’ve learned that after submission you should just put the project aside and start on the next one,” she said. “We have lots of ideas, so don’t wait around for just one.”
Though Icenhour and Fralish said they generally stick to products with obvious commercial applications and relatively low development risks, Chou said entrepreneurs shouldn’t shy away from a high-risk project.

Chou said the trick to winning investments — from a federal agency or a venture capital firm — is to start small.

“We ask for a small amount of money in phase 1 [the earliest round of studies] and go to bigger amounts and bigger grants after we can show some results.”

By: Jacob Geiger
Work It, Richmond

Thursday, January 19, 2012

New VP for BIO State Government Relations Announced

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) announced yesterday that Fritz Bittenbender has been hired to serve as Vice President, Alliance Development and State Government Relations. Bittenbender brings extensive experience in government affairs and alliance development, most recently serving as Vice President of Public Affairs at Cephalon and as President of the CephalonCares Foundation.

Bittenbender will spearhead BIO’s engagement in and support of state-level legislative and regulatory issues while promoting the responsible development of the bioscience industry and better understanding of policy issues critical to the industry. He also will lead BIO's engagement with stakeholder organizations, including patient and disease advocacy groups.

“We are extremely excited to welcome Fritz Bittenbender to our team,” said BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood. “His considerable experience in public policy and deep understanding of the biotechnology industry will be a tremendous asset for our members. Fritz's specific experience and expertise with state level public policy and regulatory issues will help us continue to advocate for public policies that enable our members to develop breakthrough technologies to cure disease, protect against bio-terrorism, feed the hungry, and clean our environment.”

Previously, Bittenbender held cabinet level positions in the offices of Pennsylvania Governors Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker. Additionally, Bittenbender served as president of Pennsylvania Bio, an affiliated organization to BIO.

“I have known and respected Fritz as a fellow public servant to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for many years. Furthermore, his leadership and organizational support for the 2005 BIO International Convention, held in Philadelphia, were instrumental to the success and importance of the industry's biggest annual event,” said Greenwood.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

5 Tips From an Accidental Entrepreneur

Nice article in Inc. on Hampton Roads based Joe Hill, President of Aeir BioLogic who spoke at our Biotech at the Beach Luncheon last August.

In 2010 Hill lost his job with a biotech firm, so he took what he calls “the first job available” as a financial planner. “My new boss told me to find a market to focus on,” he says, “and since my two sons were diagnosed with autism, I decided the market I really understood was parents of kids with special needs.”

After a presentation one potential client said, “I really appreciate you talking to me about financial planning, but what I really need are affordable tools that can help my autistic son learn.” Specialized equipment costs thousands of dollars, and software runs $300 or more.
“Her comment really struck a chord,” Hill says. “My boys loved Angry Birds. They like touching objects on the TV to try and make them move, too. I knew if they could tap on words or pictures and hear them, they could learn more easily. Plus they wouldn’t stop playing with my iPhone until the battery ran out, so I knew there was something there, especially since autistic kids typically won’t sit still for long.”

He set out to develop an application that could make learning words simple and fun, and in November launched Aeir Talk, a $19.99 iPad app that lets parents create an unlimited amount of cards customized with personally recorded voices and pictures they take.

So what did Hill, a first-time entrepreneur, learn about starting a business?

If your idea doesn’t provide long-term benefits, you need a new idea. Everyone downloads what seem like cool apps they only end up using for a day. Hill changed his product a number of times during the development stage to avoid that. For example, the decision to make the app fully customizable was especially tough to make, but he realized that if a kid sees his mom’s picture he expects to hear his mom’s voice. Hill did what was necessary to ensure the app has lasting value, allowing parents and kids to really make it their own. The development cycle would absolutely have been a lot faster and a lot less expensive, but the app would also have been far less beneficial.

Think about solving broader problems. Children with special needs don’t just speak English and live in the U.S. Hill made the app language independent so if a parent wants her child to learn Spanish they simply record Spanish words. The app doesn’t care. In the end Hill built an app to help kids with special needs, but it can help any child learn. Definitely focus on a specific audience, says Hill, but never stop thinking about broader applications and markets for your product.

Always look for serendipitous relationships. Hill pitched his idea to everyone. Most people loved it but no one wanted to become an investor. Then he talked to Zack Miller at We Are Titans, a product development and consulting firm, and we struck an equity deal. Not only are they great developers but Miller is also great at making contacts and leveraging relationships. Good teams are made up of people who are different. Be open and don’t look in the normal places for partners.

You don’t know what you don’t know, and that’s okay. If you need help, the best thing you can say to someone is, “I don’t know what I’m doing. Can you help me?” People naturally like to help people. Be honest, be humble, and ask for help. When you’re willing to admit you don’t have all the answers, people respond.

No matter what you’re doing, never be ashamed of it. Hill took a job in the morning scrubbing warehouse floors and another at night carrying bags and scrubbing floors at a hotel. (He wanted jobs that allowed flexible hours so he could start his company.) Every chance he got he told people about what he was doing. Many had relatives with kids with needs. Do whatever you have to do to keep rolling, and never be ashamed of what you do. The end justifies the humble means.

By: Jeff Haden

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Washington Times: McDonnell aims to lure biotech jobs to Virginia

RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said Wednesday he is seeking nearly $37 million in his biennial budget to lure businesses and jobs to the commonwealth, putting much of the focus on life sciences and biotechnology — sectors that are staples of the economy of neighboring Maryland.

Some $10 million will fund a life-sciences package that could go toward supporting research at colleges or businesses.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, the state's chief jobs-creation officer, said Virginia has completed 671 business deals since the start of the administration. But life sciences and biotechnology — Maryland's bread and butter — are areas where the state intends to step up its efforts.

"There, frankly, are a lot of states around the country over the course of the past several years who have been a lot more aggressive in the area of biotechnology and life sciences than we've been," he said. "Places like Massachusetts and Texas and Pennsylvania, even Maryland has been much more — well, I shouldn't say 'even' Maryland."

"Maryland," the governor chimed in.

"Maryland has been much more aggressive in some of these biotechnology, life sciences areas," Mr. Bolling said.

The quality of Virginia's health care facilities, its universities and pharmaceutical companies make it primed to expand in those field, Mr. Bolling said.

"We believe this is a sector we can compete in more effectively than we have in the past," he said. "Some of these new and emerging biotechnology and life-sciences companies that we've had a hard time tracking, frankly, we're going to get in the game on those, because it is a growing area of the economy."

Mr. McDonnell, who has consistently said he wants Virginia to be the "Energy Capital of the East Coast," also proposed $500,000 to go toward offshore wind-energy development — another of Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's legislative priorities in the coming General Assembly session.

The largely friendly regional rivalry between Maryland and Virginia took a sharper political edge last year, when Mr. McDonnell and Mr. O'Malley took the reins as chairmen of their parties' respective governors associations.

Virginia famously beat out Maryland, as well as the District, to lure defense contractor Northrop Grumman's headquarters in 2010, thanks in part to an incentives package worth between $12 million and $14 million. Last year, engineering giant Bechtel announced it was moving its corporate headquarters from Frederick to Fairfax, bringing with it 625 jobs and an $18 million investment.

And in a now-infamous series of events, Montgomery County backed off a nonbinding resolution calling for Congress to spend less on defense and more on social programs. The county council got pushback from defense giant Lockheed Martin, which is based in Bethesda, as well as Mr. O'Malley's office. Virginia officials reportedly contacted Lockheed in the interim to gauge its interest in moving south of the Potomac River.

Maryland officials responded Wednesday by saying that, even with competition from Virginia, the state will remain a national leader in the biotech and life-sciences industries. They also disputed the perception that Virginia is the more business-friendly state, contending Maryland created more than twice as many jobs as Virginia last year.

"It's always nice to have competitive neighbors to strengthen our abilities," said Takirra Winfield, spokeswoman for Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat. "But there is no concern with Maryland's ability to compete and win in the new economy."

Maryland's life-sciences industry employs more than 71,000 people and each year drives $17.6 billion in direct and indirect economic activity, while generating about $500 million in income- and sales-tax revenue, according to the state.

The Virginia Biotechnology Association lauded Mr. McDonnell for his efforts in promoting the business sector. The VBA estimated that, all told, the governor's proposed budget includes more than $47 million in economic-development money that will directly boost the state's bioscience and advanced-technology industries. That includes $15 million for a refundable research-and-development tax credit, $12 million for the Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund, which goes toward science and technology-based development, and $10 million for an "angel" investor tax credit.

"Governor McDonnell and Lieutenant Governor Bolling are to be commended for their strong support of these proven technology-based economic-development programs," VBA Executive Director Mark A. Herzog said in a statement. "Bioscience jobs pay approximately $40,000 above the average annual salary. These initiatives will create more job opportunities in many regions across Virginia."


Wednesday, January 04, 2012

McDonnell outlines Va job creation initiatives; biotech funding

From the Washington Examiner:

McDonnell outlines Va job creation initiatives
By: MICHAEL FELBERBAUM | 01/04/12 12:37 PM
AP Business Writer
Gov. Bob McDonnell on Wednesday outlined several initiatives totaling nearly $37 million in additional funding in his proposed two-year state budget aimed at spurring economic development and creating jobs in Virginia.

McDonnell's legislative agenda for the upcoming General Assembly session includes tax credits for small businesses and increased coordination between state departments that work in economic development in hopes of attracting new businesses and growing existing ones.

"Jobs is still job one for our administration," McDonnell said during a news conference in Richmond. "We believe the more people we have working, and contributing and innovating and taking care of their families through the private sector, the less cost and expense and burden there is on the taxpayer. ... The more that we can do at the state level to advocate the support of free enterprise and economic development, the better off Virginia is going to be."

McDonnell said the legislative and budget initiatives build on previous programs aimed at economic development, including opening international trade offices, business tax incentives and funding to promote Virginia industries. Since taking office, the state's unemployment rate has dropped from 7.2 percent to 6.2 percent.

The governor's top proposals for his biennial spending blueprint include $10 million for life sciences initiatives to develop Virginia's biotechnology industry by partnering public education with the private sector, as well as $4 million for improvements at the Wallops Island launch site on the Eastern Shore to support the growing commercial space industry. There's also additional funding of $2 million for workforce training programs at community colleges.

"This is Virginia's future — investing in those things where we tie university and academic research with the commercialization process and the job creating process," McDonnell said.

Additional allocations also are being proposed for growing advanced manufacturing, tourism, film, agriculture, technology and offshore wind energy.

McDonnell's proposed budget takes millions largely from inflation adjustments for health care and school support programs; guts the prekindergarten program established by McDonnell's predecessor; and reassigns money to Virginia's underfunded public pension plan, higher education and economic development.

The spending blueprint for the 24 months beginning July 1 prescribes no tax increases. It totals nearly $85 billion in combined appropriations, up from about $80.7 billion for the biennium that ends June 30.

Read more at the Washington Examiner: http://washingtonexaminer.com/news/2012/01/mcdonnell-outlines-va-job-creation-initiatives/2060961#ixzz1iWGYxNdu