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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

  • International Collaboration

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    The Australian Synchrotron, a key centerpiece of Victoria’s biotech infrastructure, accelerates electrons to near the speed of light and deflects them through magnetic fields to create extremely bright light. The light is then channeled down beamlines to where research scientists can work out the structure of matter by looking at the patterns of light.

    At BIO, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Israel's Office of the Chief Scientist, and the U.S.-Israel Science and Technology Foundation together with three Massachusetts economic development agencies unveiled a $2 million collaboration to support commercialization of technology in the life sciences, clean energy, and technology industries.

    The new Massachusetts-Israel Innovation Partnership (MIIP) centers around a joint solicitation for industrial R&D collaborations between Massachusetts and Israeli companies, with parallel funding for R&D expenses for each participating company derived from its own state.

    The Israeli government has historically taken an active role in supporting life science R&D in the country, including the establishment of a dedicated government-based biotechnology venture capital fund to accelerate the growth of the industry.

    David Miron-Wapner, executive director of the U.S.-Israel Science & Technology Commission, also highlighted the Kamin program launched earlier this year by the Office of the Chief Scientist, which provided research grants to scientists at academic and research institutions and hospitals to support applied R&D with promise for commercialization.

    “That's where the pipeline starts,” said Miron-Wapner, and that is a period between basic research and industry involvement traditionally plagued by a shortage of funding.

    Attracting top researchers, established and startup biotech companies, technical services providers, and venture funding and international investors to a region requires piecing together not only a host of tangible factors—including a robust infrastructure of academic institutions and public and private research organizations, state and local government incentives, policy, and funding support, as well as bioparks, incubators, and hospitals to support translational and clinical R&D, but also intangible factors.

    Among these, Victor Perton, Commissioner to the Americas of the State Government of Victoria (Australia), highlights quality of living, collegiality, and the café (not to mention pub) culture that defines Melbourne, Victoria's capital city. The café culture “builds relationships and trust,” said Perton.

    Stella Clark, Ph.D., CEO of The Bio21 Cluster, a collaborative network of biomedical and biotech research organizations in Victoria, cites the physical proximity factor in Melbourne as a key advantage for young scientists and entrepreneurs, who do not have far to go to link up with a colleague or have a chance encounter with a potential collaborator or investor.

    The network of academic institutions, hospitals, research centers, and companies contributes to approximately 15,000 researchers within a 1.5 square kilometer area that is situated about a half mile from the financial center of Melbourne, according to Dr. Clark.

    Furthermore, the tax burden in Melbourne is about 88% lower compared to the U.S. in general, Perton noted. He also pointed to a “friendly visa system” that makes it easy for scientists to visit and participate in research programs as another benefit of doing business in Australia. Additionally, “we have solved the problem of informed consent across state borders.”

    During the first quarter of 2011, biotechnology companies across Australia achieved their highest-ever market capitalization, totaling A$25.8 billion ($28 billion)—a 5% increase for the quarter—according to government statistics.

    Although the state of Victoria's population accounts for about 25% of Australia's total, it receives about 40% of government R&D funding. Perton attributes much of the successful growth of the biotech industry in the region to the Melbourne government's long-standing support of infrastructure development.

    Its “if you build it they will come” mentality has been a success. Key elements of the infrastructure in place to support biotech and life science innovation in Victoria include the Victorian Platform Technologies Network, the Victorian Life Sciences Computation Initiative (a life science supercomputing center supported in part by IBM) located at the University of Melbourne, the Melbourne Center for Nanofabrication, and the Victorian Centre for Advanced Materials Manufacturing.

    Effective July 1, Melbourne adopted a new $1.8 billion R&D tax credit system intended to benefit primarily subsidiaries of foreign-owned firms, small-to-medium sized entities, startups, and incubator companies.

    Under the new system, companies with turnover of less than A$20 million ($21.7 million) will be eligible for a 45% refundable tax credit. For companies posting a tax loss, the government will provide an up-front cash refund of 45% for eligible R&D activities. Large companies can also qualify for a nonrefundable tax credit.

    In July, the Victorian government announced a 33% funding increase to support the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund over the next four years, a venture fund that invests in early-stage medical research with demonstrated commercial potential.

    Additionally, under construction in Melbourne is a billion dollar cancer center funded jointly by the Victorian and Australian governments.

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