Los Angeles biomedical entrepreneur Alfred Mann has finally gotten a second major research university to sign on to his vision of creating a life sciences/biomedical engineering research institute that takes a more focused approach to commercializing academic research.

After two years of talks, Mann signed an agreement this month to establish a second Mann Institute, this time at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Israel's leading science and technology university.

Mann will provide initial funding of $4 million for the institute's operating expenses over the next two years as a bridge to creation of a $100 million endowment. In addition, a multi-year agreement would provide millions of dollars annually for the institute's operating budget as the endowment is established. The gift would be one of the largest ever to an Israeli institution.

"The Technion's true interdisciplinary nature allows for the melding of biomedicine and science with engineering and technology not possible at most universities," Mann said in a statement. "I'm confident this unique focus will make the institute a world leader, and a place that will help cure the diseases that plague mankind."

Technion is the first university outside of the United States to agree to participate in Mann's goal of establishing 12 Alfred Mann Institutes as top research centers. The first such institute was established at the University of Southern California in 1998, and two other sites are in later stage discussions. The USC institute is known for providing opportunities for academic researchers to commercialize their inventions or clinical research.

But the serial entrepreneur has had challenges getting more universities to sign on to his vision, reportedly because of the strings attached. Mann wants the institute to be able to screen and pick the inventions it will incubate, rather than relying on a university-selected committee. Some academics consider Mann's approach interfering with academic freedom.

Mann, who has an extensive record of commercializing medical devices, currently is chairman and chief executive of Valencia-based MannKind Corp. and Sylmar-based Advanced Bionics Corp., and chairman of Valencia-based Second Sight LLC.

Acquisition Roundup

Three publicly traded health-focused companies have snapped up competitors this month to grow market share or fill a niche in their product offerings.

Chatsworth-based nutritional supplement maker Natrol Inc. has acquired the Nu Hair and Shen Min natural hair growth lines for an undisclosed sum from Biotech Corp. in Connecticut. The strategic acquisition enables Natrol to offer products both in mass market and health food store channels.

Los Angeles-based nutritional supplement maker Health Sciences Group Inc., which markets the zero-calorie sugar substitute Shugr, has signed a non-binding letter of intent to acquire Kalahari Limited, a specialty tea and food company that is a leading provider of Rooibos red tea products.

The acquisition, expected to close Nov. 30, would be the first under the leadership of new Chief Executive Stuart Gold, who helped popularize the specialty tea business when he was an executive at Republic of Tea. The value of the deal, which will be paid for in Health Sciences stock, was not disclosed. Health Science shares are trading at around 7 cents on the Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board.

Cord Blood America Inc. said it has acquired Philadelphia-based competitor CorCell Inc. in a deal that likely will make the Los Angeles-based umbilical cord blood stem cell preservation company the fourth largest of its type in the country. It's part of a national growth strategy to grow the company via accretive acquisitions, according to Chief Executive Matthew Schissler, noting that 26 such U.S. companies, many of them regional, are involved in banking.

Cord blood stem cell banks enable families to have umbilical cord blood of newborns stored for potential future use in treating ailments such as cancer, leukemia, blood, and immune disorders. Critics of the industry say that companies build false hopes among families because the technology is unproven.

More Data Requested

Thousand Oaks-based Amgen Inc. hopes to convince U.S. regulators to consider expanded data from existing clinical trials when deciding whether to approve a monthly dose of its anemia drug Aranesp for patients with chronic kidney disease who are not on dialysis.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requested the additional data this month. In lieu of a new trial, Amgen is asking the agency to accept additional data gathered since the application was first submitted in December 2005.

Amgen reported combined sales of Aranesp and its predecessor Epogen of $6 billion last year. For patients with kidney disease the cost of Aranesp, typically on twice-monthly dosing, can range from $4,000 to $5,000 a year, according to the company.

Stronger Pill at Iris

In a year when large local companies such as Amgen and Hilton Hotels Corp. have chucked their poison pills, Iris International Inc., a small Chatsworth-based medical device company, is strengthening its dose. The board of the automated urinalysis equipment maker amended its stockholders' rights agreement to strengthen the company's anti-takeover provisions. It drastically raises the cost of purchasing large blocks of stock when someone attempts to purchase 20 percent or more of outstanding shares without board approval. Iris, whose stock took a hit earlier this year on lackluster earnings and delay in signing contracts, has been on the rise since announcement of a major new customer in September.

Staff Reporter Deborah Crowe can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 232, or at dcrowe@labusinessjournal.com .

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