Sunday, June 21, 2009

A better mouse trap, pt 3

In part 1 of this series, we saw how Texas A&M seized a great opportunity to work with Lexicon Genetics. In part 2, we saw how the NIH didn't recognize TIGM's potential greatness, and chose to put the knockout mouse project elsewhere.

At least one critic is publicly saying "I told you so", but what did smarty-pants Loren Steffy actually say at the time?
If you're like me, you may be feeling a little snookered. Something doesn't seem quite right.
The first problem is my own skepticism. We've been hearing the economic siren song of biotech for decades, yet the grand designs have never attracted the investment they promised. It has gone to Boston and California, but not here.

That's nothing more than a hunch. If you based decisions on this argument, we'd never invest in anything that hadn't been done before.
The second problem stems from the financial round-robin among Gov. Rick Perry and a handful of Lexicon's biggest investors.

As detailed in a Chronicle story Monday, investors who as of March held 16.5 percent of Lexicon's shares have contributed some $275,000 to Perry's campaign. One of them, William McMinn, also helped guarantee a $1.1 million loan for Perry's campaign for lieutenant governor in 1998.

Perry's spokeswoman, Kathy Walt, noted in the story that Lexicon's shares had fallen since the grant was announced, and therefore investors haven't benefited from the deal.
But if the projections of jobs and a subsequent biotech boomlet pan out, those investors are going to reap the benefits.

After all, Lexicon went public at $22 a share in 2000, and it's now trading for less than $5.
The idea that campaign contributors would benefit looks even worse now. Lexicon (LXRX) closed at $1.62 when Steffy wrote his "I told you so"; it closed at $1.19 on Friday.

And in 2005, critics like Steffy couldn't have known the information in the 2008 audit report:
A business plan was requested "as soon as possible" by the TIGM Board of Directors in December 2005 and was discussed in several subsequent Board meetings as "under development." The business plan was reported as "under discussion" as late as June 2006. Two business plans were obtained by the auditors, dated November 2006 and December 2007, indicating the first formal plan was not drafted for a year after it was requested.

Interviews with A&M System Offices, TAMU and HSC employees indicate that a $50 million NIH Knock Out Mouse Project (KOMP) grant proposal that was submitted in December 2005/January 2006 was essentially the business plan for the TIGM partnership and no contingency plans were considered.
operating covenants were never agreed upon as required by an Economic Development agreement between the State of Texas, the A&M System, and the biotechnology company. Additionally, the biotechnology company has not provided services at each location to install bioinformatics software, load databases, and train TIGM staff as provided in the Economic Development agreement.
A joint management committee consisting of one senior manager and one technical staff from each party to the contract (the A&M System, TIGM and the biotechnology company) was never formed and project coordinators from these three entities were never assigned

Who could have predicted these things?

In 2006, after learning that they weren't going to get the grant, TIGM could have folded. Instead, they showed Fightin' Texas Aggie Spirit:
"Taking us on would have made it easy for [NIH] to fulfill its mission," says TIGM President Richard Finnell. Instead, he says, NIH has rejected his institute's application, potentially forcing NIH's Knockout Mouse Project (KOMP) to start from scratch and positioning TIGM as a possible competitor.
Despite the NIH setback, TIGM is planning to make its mark in the mouse world. "It will cost more now, but we're going to get these lines out to researchers," says Finnell. "When people think about knockout mice, they'll think about TIGM."
That's the spirit that makes Texas A&M the fine institution that it is and will alway be. In honor of the boys at TIGM, we've written a new verse for the Spirit of Aggieland:
We are the Aggies - the Aggies are we
True to our gene traps as Aggies can be
We've got to FIGHT boys
We've got to fight!
To get our biotech future right!
After they've boosted all the rest
They'll get their transgenics from the best
For we are the Aggies - the Aggies are we
We're from Texas A.M.C.

TIGM, Aggies!

To be continued...

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