Letters to the Editor: Downtown’s Day

The article: Everyone’s Heading Downtown. The first line: "When Petula Clark belted out these lyrics in 1970 …." Maybe she was still belting out the lyrics in 1970 but the song came out in 1964. New Brunswick had a great downtown in those days. At least two major department stores, three movie theaters, even a ladies hat store, the French Millinery.

I was 12 and that record was the first of hundreds of "45s" I bought at EJ Korvettes in North Brunswick.

Now I’ll read the rest of the article. Thanks for a great paper.

Robin DeGutis

North Brunswick

Second Thoughts for Hospital

After hearing a few conversations yesterday about the University Medical Center I have a question. But first I’d like to preface it by pointing out that – despite its designation – Princeton has become a fully functioning city. Most cities that I am familiar with have a multiple hospital system. These systems are based on proximity to quick service as well as capacity per capita.

I’m not a resident, and maybe I misunderstand the problem, but it seems to me that this whole issue over the medical center boils down to a debate between either having a location that offers fast and easy access or something offering increased capacity. So, all this leads me to my question. Why not leave the current facility intact (in an appropriate capacity, maybe with a new administrative body (if needed), and adjusted function and build a second facility in an area that needs the closer coverage? Having two facilities provides for more possibilities and options (and, as recent global events show, having a slight excess of hospital beds is sometimes a good idea).

If excess beds are a problem, then maybe some thought might be given to creating a specialized center, like Temple or Deborah. Hmmm, maybe the Princeton Center for the Adjustments of Humors?

Michael DeStanko

Jackson

SBIR Grants

Last week’s lead story "Got Games?" by Douglas Dixon identified the critical role that the federal Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) is playing in funding the development of the SoVoz Inc. technology. SBIR is the best source of risk capital available to help fund the development of promising new technologies and can serve entrepreneurs and small businesses as a pathway to equity financing.

Because of the program’s importance, the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology is sponsoring the Fifth Annual New Jersey SBIR/STTR conference on June 15 and 16 at Princeton University. Day 1 will go through a simple four step process for writing a competitive Phase I proposal. Day 2 will cover indirect costs, government audits, and record keeping. (See www.njsbdc.com/scitech.)

Randy Harmon

Foundations Business Development Group, LLC

SBIR Guidelines Need Changes

A Florida-based biotechnology firm developing a breakthrough technology in gene therapy for alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, a genetic disease, was forced to delay its research because of funding problems.

The technology is noteworthy because company officials believe it could have led to a promising new therapy for children, and possibly additional treatments for chronic neurological diseases, cardiac diseases, and others.

Similarly, another small biotechnology firm with promising technology in two disease indications had to put its projects on hold. One was a new vaccine to prevent the West Nile virus, and the other involved treatments for many types of cancers.

What do these two firms have in common? They are both victims of the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) new interpretation of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. Many small businesses, including start- up and emerging biotech firms, rely on SBIR grants for "seed" money to fund early-stage research.

Unfortunately, SBA has altered its interpretation of eligibility standards to exclude companies majority-held (51 percent) by venture capital and other investors. Under this new interpretation, firms are only considered "small" if they record their funding from actual individuals as opposed to investment groups that provide the bulk of early-stage funding in the biotech industry.

We believe this interpretation bears no relationship to how companies are actually funded. Indeed, let’s take a look at the biotechnology industry.

Before most biotechnology products can become commercially available, 10 to 15 years of research and development, and about $800 million are needed to complete testing and win FDA approvals. Nevertheless, the 800 million patients who have benefited from the 200 biotech drugs and vaccines currently marketed likely would attest that the wait is worth it.

While there are many funding strategies, the typical form of investment in early-stage companies that show significant promise is venture capital. Because of the significant funding required to bring biotech products to market, very few firms are capable of commercializing their technologies without significant venture funding.

Illustrating this point, in 2004, biotech firms raised $5 billion in venture capital funding, and already this year, firms have raised $1.3 billion in such funding.

This may seem like more than enough funding, but biotech start-up companies require far more capital investment than any other industry, and SBIR grants are critical in filling the funding gap. Yet under this new rule, SBA is penalizing biotech firms that have the strongest science and likelihood for success – the purpose of the SBIR program – by excluding them from the very program designed to support development of technology that could attract venture investment.

Indeed, the mistaken policy virtually disqualifies the entire biotech industry from this program and further delays the development of new products for patients waiting for new breakthrough medicines. To understand how this interpretation is impacting the start-up biotech industry, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) conducted an informal survey of some of its members that are active in the SBIR community. Of the privately owned firms that responded, 70 percent are majority-owned and controlled by multiple venture capital companies.

As a result of the new interpretation, the applicant pool for grants is downsizing and the unveiling of life saving and enhancing technologies is being postponed. Many companies are not applying for these grants or holding SBIR submissions in hope that this issue will be resolved prior to their submissions.

As the world’s leader in biotechnology, this country has benefited greatly from the SBIR program. However, this interpretation will prevent the most innovative biotech companies from participating in the SBIR program. If this continues, the results could be devastating for the future of the biotech industry and the patients we serve.

– Kenneth Moch

Chairman, Biotechnology Council of New Jersey Inc.

President & CEO, Alteon Inc.

Correction

Thank you for printing the article about my new venture, English For Professionals, but there is a rather important error. At the end of the first paragraph it reads that my new company teaches English to Spanish-speaking business people. My capabilities are to teach English to speakers of other languages, specializing in business professionals.

Dennis Gutierrez

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