Michigan Touts Biotech

June 27, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Twenty-three Michigan companies and institutions showcased the state’s bio savvy at the BIO 2005 International Convention last week in Philadelphia.

More than 18,000 biotech entrepreneurs, investors, scientists and economic development officials from more than 60 countries attended the June 19-22 convention, which is considered the “premier” event in the life sciences industry.

The Michigan pavilion included more than 30 exhibitors. In addition to 18 biotech company representatives, there were representatives from organizations such as Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC), Southwest Michigan Innovation Center, MichBIO, Wayne State University Tech Town, West Michigan Science & Technology Initiative (WMSTI), Automation Alley, the Core Technology Alliance Corp., and six of the state’s SmartZones.

MEDC representatives were there to distribute information and talk with companies that might be interested in locating in Michigan and future expansion opportunities in the state.

In a phone interview from the convention floor on Tuesday, Tino Breithaupt, vice president of the Michigan Technology Tri Corridor, said the Michigan pavilion was generating a lot of interest.

“We actually just got done talking to a company out of Miami, Fla., that’s developing a drug for malignant brain tumors and they wanted to know about the various programs that Michigan currently had and what the state might be able to offer their company,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to follow up and talk more seriously with them about perhaps bringing their operations into our state.

“Over the last six years since we’ve had the Life Sciences Corridor and Technology Tri Corridor program people know now that we’re in this business for real and we’re serious about it.”

A number of investment bankers and venture capitalists stopped by the Michigan booth Tuesday looking for potential investment opportunities, he said. At the same time, the 18 Michigan biotech companies present worked the show floor and looked for opportunities to partner with companies to do licensing agreements or contract agreements in the near future.

“There are companies that have been here now for the second, third or fourth year in a row because this show has paid off for them in previous years,” Breithaupt noted. “One of them is Kalexsyn from Kalamazoo.”

Ryan Hayes, of Mount Pleasant-based Dendritic NanoTechnologies, attended the convention to spread the word about his company and gain some more exposure for biotech in Michigan

“We’re not looking for investors, we’re looking for partnerships and exposure,” Hayes said. “I’ve been trying to have some meetings with other companies and other business developers. We’re not cutting any deals or anything, we’re just kind of doing some exploratory discussions with other companies.”

Dendritic NanoTechnologies has been named “a startup nanotech company to watch” by both The Economist and Red Herring. The company finalized an agreement with Dow Chemical earlier this year to become one of the world’s leading providers of market-validated nanotechnology with near-term commercial applications.

Jim Vrbanac, a research scientist with PharmOptima LLC of Kalamazoo, felt the Michigan contingent was well represented and drew a steady flow of foot traffic. Several former Upjohn/Pharmacia scientists founded the company two years ago. PharmOptima develops its own intellectual property and is a contract research organization offering services that cover the entire spectrum of the drug discovery and drug development process, from early discovery up through first-in-animal testing.

“We’re here primarily to find partners to work with and to look for contract business with other companies,” Vrbanac said. “We’ve done quite a bit of contract work already, covering the entire gamut from very large pharmaceutical companies to very small companies and everything in between.”

The week before the convention, Gov. Jennifer Granholm announced 24 university and private sector award winners that will share $27.3 million in Michigan Technology Tri-Corridor funding for life sciences research and commercialization.

According to the governor’s office, technology transfer from research and development at Michigan’s universities in 2004 contributed to 30 new startup companies, 560 new invention disclosures and 134 new licensing agreements.

Granholm’s 2006 fiscal budget proposes a Jobs for Michigan Fund financed by a $2 billion bond initiative. The money would fund the development of technologies in life sciences, alternative energies, advanced automotive material and manufacturing, and homeland security.

“The Jobs for Michigan Fund would replace the Technology Tri-Corridor funding mechanism,” said Jeff Mason, MEDC’s senior vice president of technology development. “The $2 billion proposal of the governor would provide up to $200 million each year for competitive edge technology investments, including life sciences activities.”    

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