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It was exciting to see the creation this week of the New York Digital Health Accelerator in New York. The New York State Department of Health, the New York City Investment Fund and the New York eHealth Collaborative all have partnered to provide funding, mentoring support, development expertise and more to health app startups in the state. 

The group is awarding $300,000 each to 12 startups that are producing apps for care coordination, patient engagement, analytics and messaging. The deadline to apply is June 1. What we'll really be watching for, though, is to see if other states follow suit, and fund health startups in, say, Nebraska or Mississippi. Such localized startup/development support really could be a boon for hospitals trying to develop their own clinical apps. Most incubator programs thus far have been in New York or California, leaving hospitals in the rest of the country out of the running.

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BioHealth Innovation, Inc. (BHI), a regional private-public partnership focusing on commercializing market-relevant biohealth innovations and increasing access to early-stage funding in Central Maryland, announced today the appointment of Douglas Liu, Senior Vice President of Global Operations at Qiagen, to its Board of Directors.

“Doug is an outstanding addition to our board,” said Scott Carmer, BioHealth Innovation, Inc. Chairman of the Board and Executive Vice President of Commercial Operations at MedImmune. “His in-depth experience in strategic planning, operations and R&D in immunodiagnostics, molecular diagnostics, and other healthcare market sectors will prove invaluable as BHI drives biohealth commercialization opportunities in Central Maryland.”

Gate Foundation

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is now accepting nominations for the second annual Gates Vaccine Innovation Award. The award aims to recognize, celebrate, and spur transformative ideas for achieving health impact through the delivery of vaccines. Nominations will be accepted through August 31, 2012.

“Vaccines work to give children a healthy start in life,” said Steve Landry, interim director of vaccine delivery at the Gates Foundation. “New ways of thinking about age old vaccine delivery problems are essential to ensure that all children have access to the vaccines they need.”

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In a move that combines an interest in improving health outcomes with a desire to create jobs and boost the state economy, the New York eHealth Collaborative (NYeC) and the New York State Department of Health (DOH) have partnered with the New York City Investment Fund to launch the New York Digital Health Accelerator (NYDHA). The program will subsidize health IT startups and link them with "senior advisors" from New York healthcare organizations to accelerate the development of useful new products.

Within the next few months, the program will choose 12 "early- and growth-stage companies" that are developing products in the areas of care coordination, patient engagement, data analytics and message alerts for healthcare providers. In addition to the mentoring, each selected company will receive up to $300,000 to help create solutions designed to improve quality of care for the state's Medicaid recipients, according to a NYDHA announcement.

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David Brennan's move to retire as AstraZeneca's (NYSE:AZN) CEO in June did not come as a surprise to those who had been urging for a change at the top over the company's drug development shortcomings. In an industry that walks a tightrope between innovation and regulation and the financial considerations that frame them, there are two critical characteristics that can undermine a CEO:being too bold or not bold enough. Brennan was a bit of both.

His leadership was bookended by two acquisitions -- a $15.2 billion deal for MedImmune, a drug developer with a focus on influenza vaccines and the $1.26 billion purchase of biotechnology business Ardea Biosciences.

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“The world is shifting to an innovation economy and nobody does innovation better than America.”
—President Obama, December 6, 2011

Economic activity that is fueled by research and innovation in the biological sciences, the “bioeconomy,” is a large and rapidly growing segment of the world economy that provides substantial public benefit. The bioeconomy has emerged as an Obama Administration priority because of its tremendous potential for growth as well as the many other societal benefits it offers. It can allow Americans to live longer, healthier lives, reduce our dependence on oil, address key environmental challenges, transform manu- facturing processes, and increase the productivity and scope of the agricultural sector while growing new jobs and industries.

Decades of life-sciences research and the development of increasingly powerful tools for obtaining and using biological data have brought us closer to the threshold of a previously unimaginable future: “ready to burn” liquid fuels produced directly from CO2, biodegradable plastics made not from oil but from renewable biomass, tailored food products to meet specialized dietary requirements, personalized medical treatments based on a patient’s own genomic information, and novel biosensors for real-time monitoring of the environment. Increasingly,scientists and engineers are looking to augment biological research with approaches from other scientific disciplines for solutions to our most demanding scientific and societal challenges and seeing exciting options that will profoundly affect our future.

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IT WAS once only drug firms that developed drugs. But this is changing. Take the case of the Michael J. Fox Foundation, a Parkinson’s disease charity. On April 19th it announced that it would pay for a clinical trial of a drug developed by Sanofi, a French pharmaceutical giant, that might treat the mental symptoms of the disease.

The deal is the latest sign of a broader shift—one that is driven by desperation. Patents on blockbuster drugs are expiring. Research and development (R&D) have grown less productive, with billions of dollars yielding only a trickle of drugs.

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Growing diagnostic test developer Nodality Inc. is losing its first CEO, but the venture capital world is gaining another experienced life sciences entrepreneur.

Dr. David Parkinson will join New Enterprise Associates as a venture partner. He initially will be interim chief medical officer of NEA-backed Zyngenia Inc., a young Gaithersburg, Md., company targeting cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Parkinson leaves Nodality -- named “Most Promising Company” at the Personalized Medicine World Conference last year -- as the 40-person South San Francisco company forges ahead with a hybrid strategy of selling its tests into clinics and striking deals with drug developers. In the face of changes in the medical diagnostics industry, it’s a model that just might be used by more companies.

Zyngenia

Zyngenia, Inc., a biopharmaceutical company developing Zybodies(TM), next-generation multi-specific antibody-based drugs in oncology and immunology, announced today that it has appointed David Parkinson, M.D. as a member of its Board of Directors and head of its Clinical Advisory Board. Dr. Parkinson will also serve as Interim Chief Medical Officer (CMO).

"Since our start in September 2009, we at Zyngenia have validated our technology platform and developed a suite of novel multi-specific biological drug candidates. We have also built an outstanding drug discovery and development team," said Zyngenia President and CEO Peter A. Kiener, D.Phil. "We have been working with David Parkinson as a member of our scientific advisory group for some time now and, as we head toward clinical testing of our Zybodies, are thrilled to be able to get such an accomplished drug developer, company builder and leader in oncology and immunology more directly involved with Zyngenia.

BioPARK University of Maryland

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND, April 24, 2012 – The University of Maryland BioPark announced today thatBahija Jallal, Ph.D., Executive Vice President of Research and Development at MedImmune, has been appointed as the newest member of the UM Health Sciences Research Park Corporation (RPC) Board of Directors.

“The BioPark leadership team is thrilled to welcome Dr. Jallal – a seasoned life science research and development leader ¬– to the Research Park Corporation’s board of directors,” said RPC President James Hughes, who also serves as the Vice President and Chief Enterprise & Economic Development Officer for the University of Maryland. “Her experience within leading biopharmaceutical companies will bring additional industry perspective to our project. It’s a privilege to have Dr. Jallal on our board.”

Dr. Jallal is a member of both MedImmune’s executive team as well as the R&D leadership team of parent company AstraZeneca. She joined MedImmune as Vice President, Translational Sciences, in March 2006 and has since held positions of increasing responsibility. Dr. Jallal now oversees research, development, regulatory and clinical activities conducted by a team of more than 2,500 employees based at MedImmune’s Maryland, California, and Cambridge, UK sites. Dr. Jallal has guided the MedImmune R&D organization through unprecedented growth and expansion of its biologics pipeline from 40 drugs to more than 140. Dr. Jallal is passionate about leading and shaping MedImmune’s rich pipeline of drugs targeting cancer, infections, respiratory and inflammatory diseases, cardio-vascular and gastrointestinal disorders and pain to ultimately develop new medicines for patients.

Human Genome

Rockville-based Human Genome Sciences Inc., which last week rejected an unsolicited $2.6 billion acquisition offer by GlaxoSmithKline PLC, reported higher revenue and cut losses on sales of its new lupus drug.

Human Genome Sciences had first-quarter revenue of $47.1 million, compared with $26.6 million a year earlier. Benlysta sales accounted for $32.1 million in revenue. Sales of its anthrax treatment to the U.S. government stockpile contributed $6.1 million.

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Venture capital dollars flowing to Maryland companies were down almost 30 percent last quarter compared to a year ago, and 16 percent less than the prior quarter, according to Money Tree stats.

Maryland ranked 12th overall in venture capital dollars in Q1 2012, behind Minnesota and Illinois with $71 million and $87 million respectively.

California took is customary place atop all states with a mountainous $3 billion in venture capital. Massachusetts followed with $628 million.

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The state and five universities are spending upwards of $5.8 million to help startups move from a concept to a company.  

Senate Bill 239/House Bill 442 establishes the Maryland Innovation Initiative Fund under the aegis of the Maryland Technology Development Corporation, or TEDCO. The bill passed the Maryland House and Senate and awaits the signature of Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is expected to sign it. 

“Maryland has premiere research universities but it ranks low on technology transfer,” Brian Levine, vice president, government relations, Tech Council of Maryland, says of the fund, which is intended to remedy that situation.

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The cost of sequencing the human genome continues to fall, reaching a low of $1,000 this year due to a new microchip and machine designed by genetics company Life Technologies Corp. And unleashed by those lower costs, a small cadre of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley is exploring ways to harness this data to enable us to live longer and healthier lives.

Dr. Dietrich Stephan, a human geneticist, has spent the better part of a decade trying to achieve that goal. Until recently, it has been costly and time-consuming to map the 3 billion units of DNA, known as base-pairs, which make up the human genetic code. But now, he said, with the low cost of gene sequencing technologies, we are on the brink of banishing a one-size-fits-all approach to medicine.

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Supernus Pharmaceuticals Inc. is slated to go public this week, more than a year after first filing paperwork to list its stock on the Nasdaq. The Rockville biotech is expected to start trading on Wednesday.

When we wrote about the planned public offering two days before Christmas 2010, we noted that Supernus would be the region’s first biotech IPO since 2007. That’s still true today.