Tom Henderson
Crain's Detroit

Randal Charlton, executive director of TechTown, will hit the ground running this week as he tries to lure stem cell researchers and companies from around the world to establish a presence in the Stem Cell Commercialization Center that Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano announced in his State of the County speech last Thursday.
The center, which will be housed in TechTown's Tech One building on Burroughs Street just north of Wayne State University, is an outgrowth of the passage of Proposal 2 by Michigan voters last November.
The proposal allows embryonic stem cell research in the state. President Barack Obama's efforts to end former President George W. Bush's restrictions on the number of stem cell lines could be supported by increased federal funding through the economic stimulus package.
Charlton told Crain's Friday he will meet this week with executives of a Boston company that has asked about locating in TechTown to pursue its stem-cell-based product development.
And he said he hoped to — “in weeks, rather than months” — begin visiting university researchers and for-profit companies he has identified that are involved in stem cell research throughout Europe and the Middle East, including Sweden, Great Britain, Spain, France and Israel.
“Over the last two or three years I have been quietly talking to companies. Even when I was at Asterand,” said Charlton, referring to his stint as CEO of Asterand plc, a tissue-bank company traded on the London Stock Exchange that is headquartered in TechTown.
“I'd say to them, "I can't do anything now, we have these laws on the books, but one day I want you to think of partnering with us,” he said. “I'm going to reach out now and say, "Look, you want to be in the U.S. market, the biggest health care market in the world. Here's an opportunity.' “
Charlton met Friday with Wayne County economic development officials to discuss details of getting the center, which will involve both embryonic and adult stem cell research, up and running.
The county will offer tax incentives for companies that move here and the center could provide seed capital for startups. Deputy Wayne County Executive Azzam Elder said Friday the county will provide up to $10 million in funding for the center over the next two years and will try to raise at least several million more from foundations and nonprofits. Elder said the county hopes to have the center up and running within six months.
As it expands, it could evolve into a collaboration that includes the state, the University of Michigan and area hospitals.
Charlton said there is room on the third floor of the Tech One building to provide space immediately, with 20,000 square feet available on the second floor as soon as funds are found to complete that floor's build-out, possibly from money that comes to Michigan from the economic stimulus package. Gloria Heppner, Wayne State University's associate vice president of research, said half a dozen university researchers from a wide range of academic disciplines — including biologists, geneticists, an obstetrician and an engineer, four of whom have formed startup companies to commercialize research — are ready to move into the center.
“We're really excited to work with Wayne County and TechTown on this commercialization center. It's a great day,” she said Friday. She said the school has budgeted $1.5 million to recruit and supply stem cell researchers.
“This commercialization lab is an opportunity for our area to go from the back of the pack to the front of the pack. The best scientists around the world are engaged in this and billions are being spent on stem-cell research, but very few are thinking about getting it out of the lab and making it a commercial success,” Charlton said.


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