A Boost For Life Sciences?

May 20, 2005
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LANSING —The state Senate has passed a pair of bills designed to spur life science investment, research, development and commercialization in Michigan

The bills now await House approval.

The two-bill package would authorize the Bioscience Research and Commercialization Center (BRCC) at WesternMichiganUniversity to disburse a life sciences seed fund of $10 million for the commercialization of new drugs, diagnostics and medical devices.

Under the proposed legislation, the BRCC would establish and operate the Michigan Life Science Pipeline, an affiliation of Michigan-based life sciences companies and institutions willing to offer "favorably priced" research, biotechnology testing and commercialization services to biotech startups in the state. The legislation directs the BRCC to create a listing and registry of pipeline companies by April 2006.

The legislation specifies that no startup or gap funding could be used for embryonic stem cell research and human cloning.

Senator Bill Hardiman, R-Kentwood, who sponsored SB 358, said the legislation would make Michigan a national leader in the area of life sciences investment.

"Michigan took a very good step — a very important step — toward building its new economy when we established the Life Sciences Corridor a few years ago," Hardiman told his fellow senators prior to the vote. "That action moved us to the forefront of states.

"Senate Bill No. 358 would help close an important gap in our life sciences effort. It would hopefully provide a funding mechanism that helps to move research into practical and commercial enterprises. Michigan would provide a portion of the funds entrepreneurs and scientists need to move their ideas into the marketplace. We would use the returns on those investments for future efforts. I know in my district that the Life Sciences Corridor is yielding benefits to the community."

The BRCC was established with $10 million authorized by the Michigan Legislature in August 2003. WMU provided $2.5 million in matching funds. 

The funding was intended to be an investment in the center that will be repaid as it begins to generate royalties or profits. The BRCC was set up to make seed investments in qualified businesses that create life science products. Under the original appropriation, 10 percent of royalties or investment return must be paid into the Life Sciences Commercial Development Fund until the initial appropriation is repaid. For each qualified business seeking startup or gap funding, the BRCC would have to submit a proposal and detailed business plan to the Life Science and Technology Tri-Corridor Steering Committee.

The center offers a range of services that startups can draw upon, from scientific assistance, use of laboratory facilities, and intellectual property consulting services to the purchase of pharmaceutical services, help with FDA regulatory issues, clinical testing and referrals.

Activities at the center can include basic research in a particular area, or taking a product in an early stage of discovery to the next level through clinical trials, or taking a product that's been through clinical trials and making the adjustments necessary to commercialize it.

"I think we're on the same page with the Legislature that we need new companies and need new jobs, and we're just looking for the best way to do that," said BRCC Executive Director Jack Luderer. "Our goal is to advance the life sciences in Michigan and do anything we can with those funds entrusted to us to do that."

Luderer, who had served as WMU's vice president for research since 2002, was appointed executive director Monday. He was a key figure in securing state funding for the center two years ago and developing the center's business plan.

Luderer said the state wants the seed funding spent "as much as possible" on companies in Michigan.

"If the state is funding the development of a new company, for example, and that company has the option of buying a service out of Boston or buying a service out of Michigan, they would like as much as possible to discourage the company from purchasing services outside of Michigan. The basic premise is to spend as much money that can be spent at home."    

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