Archive for February, 2009

SBIR Program in Danger of Dissolution

By a process of stealth evasion of detection, a sentence was inserted by yet unknown congress persons, SBIR & STTR were expressly stricken from the NIH portion of the stimulus bill just signed into law by President Obama, effectively removing almost $250 million in SBIR/STTR award funding that is badly needed by hundreds or even thousands of companies.

There has been a sentiment among academic colleagues that removing the SBIR/STTR programs will give 2.5% more money to university labs. That is probably a shared view by most professors; exceptions may include those who also function as PIs on STTR projects (STTR was created to allow for such cases) or consultants on SBIR projects through companies they often co-founded. For graduate students and postdocs, who may agree with such view because they too want more grant money to the labs, it is also important to know that a majority of the students and postdocs will work for SBIR supported or eligible companies. Biotech industry has never been a labor-intensive industry and therefore, even more than the 80% of general US population who are employed by small businesses, workers in this industry are likely to have a small business as their job provider. And there is nothing wrong with that—small companies are still the engine for innovation and model for efficiency and flexibility.

On March 20, just a few weeks from now, the SBIR program may stop to exist if a law that created it is not renewed. There are strong head winds for its renewal from special interest groups that want the money to be spent on large companies or venture-backed companies, because they are in need of cash infusion these days. SBIR is at risk. Considering the thousands upon thousands of layoff by the big pharma players in just the last few weeks, it is not difficult to understand their difficulties. The question is how effective the money can be used to provide jobs and create new areas for development.

If you want to have your voice heard, you can look up your congress representative or senators to tell them what you think. If you are going to do it, do it now.

1. Call your Senators, both their local and DC offices.

http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

2. Call your Representative, both their local and DC offices.

http://www.house.gov/house/MemberWWW.shtml

3. Go to their web sites and use the email or webmail links to send them your message.

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Reprogramming Life

President Obama is expected to lift the ban on federal fund for embryonic stem cell research soon. However, that does not seem to be the hottest topic these days concerning stem cell research. In 2006, Shinya Yamanaka showed that mouse skin cells could be reprogrammed back into something called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells by introducing a handful of cDNAs using retroviral vectors. The process was later repeated in human cells and by other groups including those of Thomson and Melton, sometimes with a slightly different set of inducing cDNAs, or with chemicals or shRNA repressing the repressors of the inducer genes.

The iPS cells are not exactly the same as ES cells, and no animals have been created using iPS cells, but they are close enough to be of great interest to lots of people, particularly for basic research purposes. The method to create iPS by reversing chromosomal changes along differentiation pathways appears to be surprisingly simple, like erasing an old audio tape, there may still be acoustic information left if analyzed by the right equipment, but to most people it is as clean as new. You’d wish a few things in life could be reversed that easily!

For labs that are not already in the stem cell field but feel a need to get their feet wet, then they want reagents that are pre-assembled and pre-tested. Such reagents may include: iPS cultures, iPS inducing viral particles, antibodies to stem cell specific markers, cell assays, and even PCR primer sets (synthesizing hundreds of oligos used in the Yamanaka papers alone will take a lot time and unnecessary costs). That’s where a fast-moving, research-oriented company like Allele comes in. We will bring what we think as starter sets for you, and listen to what you think as needed as we along. The new iPS product line will be launched within weeks, hopefully coinciding with our brand new webpages for all our current product lines!

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Monday, February 23rd, 2009 iPSCs and other stem cells No Comments

What’s In It for Us?

$10 billion will be used to support research projects under the National Institutes of Health over two years, with approximately $1 billion earmarked for cancer research. $7.4 billion will be spent on R01 by the NIH before September 30th, 2010. In the mean time, NSF gets $3 billion for the same period of time.

What do these numbers mean? They would translate into approximately 14,000 RO1 grants at the NIH and nearly double the funding percentage at the NSF. If your lab has grant application(s) that is being hung up on uncertainty, now you have some certainty that they should be funded. If you have been having trouble gathering inner strength to go through the grant writing process, maybe it is time to feel good and potentially rewarding about coming back to the writing table.

Good luck!

P.S. Come back to check Allele Biotech’s new iPS product line, and blogs on induced stem cell research.

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Wednesday, February 18th, 2009 NIH Budget and You No Comments

Effective Use of Resources in Difficult Times

In scientific research, there is a tendency to have everything done in our own lab just so that you can say so, after all, scientific credit is the core criterion researchers are evaluated on. You say wait a minute, don’t we always encourage exchange of materials and COLLABORATION on projects? Sure, but not often enough to make “encouragement” unnecessary. Many “collaborations” are more like sharing of materials with conditions.

In business, collaboration is more in the form of OUTSOURCING or CO-DEVELOPMENT (sometimes through licensing), because doing everything by one’s own employees just doesn’t make much financial sense even for the mega-sized, we-have-everything type of companies. One friend of ours working at a Johnson & Johnson site once told us that a line of research using gene silencing technologies was debated but never moved forward because the lack of confidence in expertise: we are not expert on RNAi, how do we trust our own data? For most biotech and early-stage pharma companies, hiring an expert to do a task brings about too much uncertainty, not to mention cost efficiency.

“Having the expert do it” by outsourcing is somewhat more acceptable to the industry than the academia because the “We are the experts” mentality is more dominant in the latter. Heck, if we don’t believe “We are the experts” in our own field of research, then why do we even do it in the first place? In business though, who is the expert is not something one fights for if the end product or contribution to profit is not made.

The current economic conditions caused many large biotech and pharma companies to lay off thousands upon thousands of employees, in one case of Pfizer layoff, scientist positions were particularly targeted for elimination. Life goes on. Economic downturns are also opportunities for becoming lean and mean, using ways of doing things with much improved efficiency and productivity such as outsourcing, and finding new areas for long term growth.

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Monday, February 9th, 2009 State of Research No Comments

$6.5 billion more to the NIH

On Feb 3rd the U.S. Senate agreed to an amendment that would provide an additional $6.5 billion to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for biomedical research as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Last week, the House of Representatives and the Senate Appropriations Committee voted for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which included $3.5 billion in supplemental funding for the NIH. The total stimulus package, still being amended in the Senate, is now over $900 billion.

The Senate is still debating the bill and being encouraged to finish it as early as this Friday.

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Thursday, February 5th, 2009 NIH Budget and You No Comments