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Archive for Monday, July 30, 2012

Town Talk: Biotech company locates downtown; library set to host Last Bash of Summer; city offers weatherization grants

July 30, 2012

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News and notes from around town:

• There is much talk about attracting bioscience companies to Kansas University’s West Campus, to the Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa area, and even to the former Farmland Industries location (which will get a new name at some point in the near future).

But there is one area that is quietly having luck in attracting promising biotech companies: Downtown.

Drug development firm Echogen recently has signed a lease to move into downtown office space at 628 Vt., which used to house Bartlett & West Engineers, and for years before that was the corporate headquarters of Gene Fritzel Construction. (If you remember, Bartlett and West moved its Lawrence offices to West Sixth Street.)

Echogen marks at least the second drug development firm to choose downtown as its Lawrence headquarters. Deciphera Pharmaceuticals has both office and laboratory space in the upper floors of the building at 643 Mass. In case you are trying to picture the building, it is the one right near Cold Stone Creamery/The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. (In my house whenever I give directions to my wife, I always try to reference where it is at in relation to a chocolate shop. When she gives me directions, she always tries to reference where it is in relation to a bar. Rarely do either of us ever get to where we are trying to go.)

Allison Vance Moore of Lawrence’s Colliers International brokered the deal for Echogen to locate downtown. She said the downtown area is a good fit for biotech companies that have to work hard to attract and retain highly skilled workers.

“There are just a lot of services that make it attractive for people who work downtown,” Moore said. “The restaurants and the shops are appealing to that type of workforce.”

I don’t believe Echogen has lab space in the building currently, but Deciphera received a special-use permit from the city to have basic laboratory space in its building, and so far there have been no problems to report.

I had hoped to tell you a bit more about Echogen, but Echogen officials and I have played a game of phone tag. But from what I hear, Echogen is a company to keep an eye on. I believe the firm only has a handful of employees at the moment, but it is in the type of business that could allow it to explode: It is working to discover new treatments for cancer.

The company — which was founded and continues to be led by Jennifer Laurence, an associate professor in the department of pharmaceutical chemistry at KU — seeks to use platinum in treating cancer and other diseases. The groundbreaking piece of technology Echogen is working on is a platform that allows platinum and other types of metals to be safely delivered into the bloodstream. According to the company’s Web site, the company’s platform “provides a way to irreversibly bind metals to proteins, allowing them to circulate innocuously in the blood stream, and permitting release only after contact with the intended target.”

Sounds fascinating. Now, if the company could figure out a way to irreversibly bind my wife’s platinum credit card to the deep recesses of her purse — especially at those above-mentioned chocolate shops — that would be a real breakthrough.

• Just up the street on Vermont, another type of development will be taking place this week: A block party.

The Lawrence Public Library will be hosting its Last Bash of Summer event from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Aug. 2. The event will close down the portion of Vermont Street that runs in front of the library at Seventh and Vermont.

The event will feature free music from local bands including Hospital Ships, The Dan Ryan and Danny Pound and the Wild Card Catalog. (If you saw my recent profile on new library director Brad Allen, you’ll note he was once a touring musician, and I believe he’ll be playing in one of these groups.)

The event also will feature Kettle Corn, cotton candy, crafts and games, and free hot dogs from Local Burger. I believe Free State Brewery also will be on hand to sell adult beverages. (Huh, perhaps I can get my hands on the platinum credit card.)

• If the last bash of summer is already on tap that must mean winter is coming up.

The city of Lawrence has begun accepting grants for people who need help winterizing their homes. The city is accepting applications through the end of the month for its Weatherization Grant Program.

Each year the city uses grant money it receives from the federal government to fund a program to help lower-income homeowners improve the energy efficiency of their homes. The grant money is most commonly used for improvements such as attic insulation, storm windows and entry door weather-stripping.

There are some guidelines applicants must meet. They include:

— The home can’t have receive weatherization assistance from the city since January 1, 1993.

— The home must be owner-occupied, and must not have more than two dwelling units.

— Mobile homes are not eligible for the program.

— Applicants must meet certain family income guidelines. A family of four, for instance, can’t have an income above $57,200.

To apply for the grants, contact the city’s Planning and Development Services division at 1 Riverfront Plaza (the east end of the old Riverfront Mall) or click here to find information on the city's Web site.

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