Monday, May 19, 2008

Cashing in on California: Opportunities for Non-State Businesses

The California stem cell agency is offering another round of grants that is open to firms headquartered outside the state – a $20 million program aimed at developing tools and technology for stem cell research.

And this time, a non-California firm can submit up to four applications for grants.

The latest proposal comes as some in the California biotech industry and state lawmakers are attempting to compel CIRM to follow through on the Prop. 71 requirement to give preferential treatment to California businesses.

The grant program and the California supplier issue are operating on different tracks but both affect state businesses by either restricting or increasing competition from non-state firms.

First the new tools and tech proposal. It is open to both education and research institutions in California as well as businesses.

The key catch for businesses is that a research site must exist in California at the time the grant application is submitted, which may or may not be on application deadline July 10.

If CIRM holds to past practice, it will not check on whether the research site exists until after the grants are approved, in this case next December or even later. Nor does CIRM define what it means by research site. So there is plenty of time to pick up some likely property in California and prepare it for use.

The application does, however, require a short description of facilities in which the work will be done and the major equipment and resources available.

The grant proposal came up after CIRM was pressured in March to follow through on the Prop. 71 requirement to give preferential treatment to California firms.

Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-San Mateo, is carrying a bill to define the term "California supplier" as it applies to CIRM. His legislation, AB 2381, has already passed the Assembly 75-0 and is now before the Senate Health Committee.

Under the push from legislators and industry, CIRM directors have moved ahead on their own regulatory definition of California supplier. It is more open than Mullin's proposed law to enterprises from out-of-state and declares that a California supplier is any that employs at least one-third of its employees, with a minimum of 100, in the state.

Or, a California supplier could also be one that "produces, builds, or manufactures a product or products in California for the specific product or products which are used by CIRM grantees."

At the CIRM directors meeting earlier this month, Duane Roth, one of the directors who helped draw up the language, said that the wording is intended to deal "with a product that's manufactured in California, but the headquarters of the company who owns them is not in California. That product would qualify as a, quote, California supplier, just that product, not the company, but the product."

Tony Lakavage of Beckman Dickinson, a global medical technology company with operations in San Jose, Ca., spoke on the supplier issue at the directors meeting. He said the firm has 1,500 employees in the state but 30,000 worldwide. He said that products made in California by his firm would apparently qualify for purchase but other global companies might have difficulty qualifying.

He urged a definition that relied on the economic impact of a company in California, according to the transcript of the meeting.

James Harrison, outside counsel to CIRM, presented the California supplier issue to the directors. Alan Trounson, who is in his fifth month as president of CIRM, told directors that neither he or the CIRM staff had seen the definition proposed by Harrison and that "there are issues we would have with this." CIRM Chairman Robert Klein apologized to Trounson for not bringing the matter to him.

CIRM directors indicated that more work needed to be done on the definition as it moves through the regulatory process.

While the application deadline for the tools and tech grants is July 10, potential applicants must file letters of intent by June 11. Otherwise, they will not be considered. Actual funding is scheduled for no sooner than March of next year.

The first round of grants open to out-of-state firms was a $25 million offering on new cell line proposals. Those grants are scheduled to be approved late in June.

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