Part of plans to build $41 million stem-cell lab; Kovach leads effort

[caption id="attachment_20369" align="alignright" width="313" caption="Rendering of the new stem-cell laboratory and research facility (highlighted in red)."][/caption]

NOVATO -- The Buck Institute for Age Research plans to raise $30 million in tax-exempt bonds toward the construction of its new stem-cell laboratory set to begin this summer.

Buck financial consultant John Greenlee, whose San Francisco-based Greenlee Advisors is working with the institute to make the arrangements, stressed that the sale is in its beginning stages and details remain to be worked out.

However, he said the bonds would represent a continuance of the $55 million in tax-exempt, credit-enhanced bonds raised in 1996 --- and re-funded in 2001 --- to construct the first two buildings on the Buck campus in Novato.

The third building, a $41 million, 65,000-square-foot showcase again designed by I.M. Pei, will be partially funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which put in $20.5 million toward its construction.

According to Buck Institute President Jim Kovach, who has stepped back from his chief operating officer position to concentrate on raising funds and awareness of the project, the building could offer a new revenue stream in the form of a stem-cell repository, supplying California researchers and others with a reliable, consistent supply of customized cells.

"There are other revenue opportunities connected with such a large amount of space," said Dr. Kovach. "We could lease space on a temporary or long-term basis to other research groups, although our agreement with CIRM precludes using it to incubate for-profit startups."

The Buck was selected by CIRM to house one of six stem-cell training facilities for scientists because of its growing reputation for age research and also because the permitting was already in place for two additional buildings on the Novato hillside campus.

Although the current administration in Washington is amenable to stem-cell research, and centers will be stepping up activities in other states, California still has an edge as a result of the 2004 state enactment to put $3 billion toward stem-cell research.

But CIRM would like to see state-of-the-art facilities built as soon as possible to attract the best scientists.

[caption id="attachment_20364" align="alignleft" width="135" caption="John Greenlee of Greenlee Advisors is working with the Buck to arrange the sale of $30 million in bonds for construction at the institute."][/caption]

According to Mr. Greenlee, the bond sale is projected to be complete by June 15.

"All I can say at this time is the bonds will be credit-enhanced and carry a Double A rating," Mr. Greenlee said.

A credit-enhanced bond typically is backed by a bank or insurer. Mr. Greenlee said it was too early in the process to name a partner bank.

Partner financial institutions for the original $55 million bond sale were Bank of New York and the California State Teachers Retirement System. Founded in 1999 with funding from the original bond sale and a grant from the Buck Foundation of Marin County, the 180-employee, nonprofit institute focuses on the diseases and conditions of aging.

Mary McEachron, a partner in the North Bay office of law firm Hanson Bridgett and longtime advocate for the institute, will serve temporarily as COO.