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Sep 1, 2011 (Vol. 31, No. 15)

Global Incentives Seek to Buoy Innovation

BIO2011 Highlighted Regional Perks Designed to Rapidly Move Advances from Lab to Market

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    Seeding Labs, an organization devoted to supporting and expanding scientific research in developing countries by providing affordable reclaimed laboratory equipment, recently teamed up with Thermo Fisher Scientific to find new homes for refurbished NanoDrop instruments.

    Global representation at the 2011 BIO meeting was extensive. Countries, regional clusters, individual states, research consortia, and universities each showcased the advantages of its infrastructure, resources, location, economic incentives, workforce, and cultural characteristics that make it attractive to entrepreneurs and young companies as well as established players in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical arenas.

    While many recent initiatives intended to stimulate local biotech innovation and commercialization stem from government initiatives and public monies—a top-down approach—other sources of funding, partnerships, and consortia are industry driven.

    Overall, the emphasis across the globe is on building infrastructure and establishing clusters of technology-based R&D, expertise, and services together with the funding and guidance needed to shepherd promising discoveries to the market.

    An example was the announcement by Montgomery County, Maryland, of a new local initiative intended to supplement state and federal funding resources and attract new biotech companies to the region.

    The county, through its Department of Economic Development, is part of the BioMaryland public/private partnership. It boasts at least 330 entities in its biotech cluster including the NIH, the FDA, the 300-acre Shady Grove Life Sciences R&D Park, several regional innovation centers, and more than 300 life science companies.

    The Maryland Biotechnology Center offers a range of funding and other support programs for companies, including the biotechnology investor tax credit and the biotechnology translational research and commercialization awards. In addition, the state provides funds through the Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO) and the Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund. Of the $71.4 million allocated, more than $50 million has been committed for peer-reviewed stem cell research grants.

    The initiative unveiled by Montgomery County is an additional tax credit opportunity for investors in biotech companies located in the county that have also applied for the state's biotechnology investor tax credit program. The state funding is available to seed and early-stage investors in qualified companies and offers income tax credits equal to 50% of an eligible investment up to $250,000. The state received 180 applications for the $8 million available to fund these tax credits in the current year.

    “Since the process is driven by the company's ability to attract investment, the market is dictating the winners,” said Judith Britz, Ph.D, director of the Maryland Biotechnology Center.

    Investors in later-stage companies will soon be able to apply for $75 million venture funding through the state's new InvestMaryland plan. Both the tax credits and venture funding are part of BioMaryland 2020, a 10-year plan for investing $1.3 billion in Maryland's life science industry, which has been responsible for one-third of the state's job growth during the past eight years.

    A translational research award from the Maryland Biotechnology Center supplied some of the funding to support a stem cell consortium announced earlier this year, a public-private partnership for developing and manufacturing stem cell therapies that was established jointly by the University of Maryland Baltimore's Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (SCBRM) program and Paragon Bioservices.

    Paragon is a contract research and GMP manufacturing organization located in the Baltimore BioPark adjacent to the UMB medical campus. Marco Chacón, Ph.D., president and CEO of Paragon, credits Curt Civin, director of the SCBRM, with the vision behind the consortium. It gives researchers access to a core facility at Paragon that provides stem cell production and cell banking capabilities on a fee-for-service basis.

    “One of our roles is to provide a translational platform,” said Dr. Chacón. Life Technologies has joined the consortium and is providing educational services and training opportunities to researchers.

    Meanwhile, over the past 12 months, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) has provided more than $230 million to support statewide collaborations of scientists working to translate advances in stem cell research to clinical trials by 2014.

    Crossing the so-called “valley of death” from the laboratory to human studies is risky and expensive, noted Ellen Feigal, M.D., vp for R&D at CIRM. “It is this often grant- and fund-free zone between discovery and translation to patients that causes the most researchers to stumble and fail in their quest for novel applied therapies.”

    CIRM's disease targets include diabetes, stroke, HIV, and macular degeneration. Of the $230 million in total funding, $46 million has been given to research teams headed by California biotechnology companies.

    Another organization keen on supporting biotech is Seeding Labs. Since its initiation as a grassroots effort in 2003 and formal founding in 2007, the nonprofit has provided more than $1 million in laboratory equipment to researchers in the developing world.

    Seeding Labs has helped provide resources to scientists in 17 countries to date. It coordinates not only an equipment-transfer program but also a fellows program that brings scientists to the U.S. for training, an ambassadors program that matches U.S. scientists with host institutions in the developing world, and an online network to foster research connections.

    At the BIO conference, Seeding Labs announced a new partnership with Thermo Fisher Scientific, which donated its first instrument, a NanoDrop 1000 microvolume spectrophotometer, to the equipment transfer program.

    The donation is part of Thermo's “Upgrade with Reward$” program in which owners of a NanoDrop 1000 can upgrade to the NanoDrop 2000 or 2000c and receive financial incentives. The company will then refurbish the NanoDrop 1000 instruments and donate them to Seeding Labs. The first instrument is headed to Egerton University in Kenya.

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