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NCBiotech Awards $3.58M in Quarter

By Jeremy Summers, NCBiotech Writer

Life science start-up companies, event sponsors, researchers and educators received $3.58 million in loans and grants from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center during the final quarter of the fiscal year ended June 30, 2013.

The awards, in 14 programs, went to successful applicants across the state to support life science entrepreneurship, technology commercialization and education.

In total, NCBiotech provided 151 awards during fiscal 2013, worth more than $10.7 million. That compared to 127 awards the previous year, valued at just over $8.6 million.

NCBiotech has been awarding this type of funding since it was established in 1984. Such awards have helped North Carolina become the nation’s third-largest biotech cluster. There are now more than 500 life-science companies in the state, with more than 58,000 employees and an average salary exceeding $78,000.

The loans and grants from NCBiotech include:

$200,000 for Company Inception Loans

Four companies each received a $50,000 loan.

Chapel Hill-based agricultural biotechnology company Nova Synthetix will use the loan to help position it for additional financing. Its first product will be a castor variety from which the ricin seed toxin has been eliminated, enabling North American cultivation and increased production worldwide. 

T3D Therapeutics, based in Research Triangle Park, is a startup company that is developing a transformational new therapy to treat Alzheimer's disease and other central nervous system disorders. The company will use the funds to establish company operations and position the company for Series A financing.

bioMASON, which received temporary office space from NCBiotech before moving into RTP’s First Flight Venture Center, uses microorganisms to produce better, cleaner, and more cost effective cement-based building materials. The company will use Company Inception Loan funds for business development activities, prototype development and manufacturing scale-up.

BaseTrace, also based in RTP, is developing DNA tracers to monitor the underground flow of hydraulic fracturing fluid. The company will use the loan to continue development of its technology and to position itself to raise additional private funds.

$647,428 for Small Business Research Loans

Novocor Medical Systems (Chapel Hill) received a $75,000 loan to continue prototype development and to engage with potential customers for its portable device for inducing hypothermia in cardiac arrest patients.

Novametics (Durham) received $72,950 to develop blood coagulation assay kits based on proprietary technology licensed from UNC-Chapel Hill. Funds will be used for clinical testing of the company's two lead diagnostic products.

Oncotide Pharmaceuticals (RTP) received $250,000 to fund preclinical development of its lead compound, a new class of anti-cancer drugs targeting blood-based and solid cancers.

Physcient (Durham) received $249,478 to conduct advanced prototype development of its Differential Dissector, a handheld instrument for blunt dissection for use in a variety of open and endoscopic procedures.

$250,000 for a Strategic Growth Loan

BioKier, based in Chapel Hill, is developing novel therapeutic products for treating type 2 diabetes. The company will use its loan for a clinical trial to test the effectiveness of its lead product in diabetes patients.

$50,000 for a Technology Enhancement Grant

Henry Berger, Ph.D., of Duke University, received this grant to further develop a diagnostic device containing multiple chambers that can be simultaneously seeded with different human cell types to mimic various human organ systems. The funding supports proof-of-principle studies on using the system for drug toxicity testing, as required by several companies with potential interest in licensing the technology.

$495,930 for Biotechnology Research Grants

Dianne Walters, at East Carolina University, received $100,000 for a study that will use inhalation exposure of Carbon nanotubes (CNT) to determine appropriate mouse models and identify susceptibility genes involved in CNT-induced lung disease that may be investigated as therapeutic targets.

Jiahua (Jay) Xie, at North Carolina Central University, was awarded $99,560 for a project aimed at establishing a stable plant-based platform for expressing humanized glycoproteins that can be used as therapeutics. This project is expected to lead to an alternative and inexpensive way to produce humanized therapeutics.

Dennis LaJeunesse, at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, received $100,000 to identify and develop biologically-inspired nanotextured surfaces that prevent fungal adhesion, growth, and/or differentiation. The intent is to augment current drug/fungicide treatments and develop non-chemical methods of fungal control.

Maxwell Scott, at North Carolina State University, received $99,870 to develop an engineered strain of Spotted Wing Drosophila, a serious pest of berries that has recently invaded North Carolina and other states. Current control methods using synthetic insecticides are of limited effectiveness. Scott and his team propose to develop an engineered strain of SWD that could be used for genetic suppression of SWD populations in the field.

John Wiley, at ECU, received $96,500 to investigate ways to change tumor cells so that they show a foreign, non-human molecule called alphaGal on their surface. This surface molecule will enable the tumor cells to be detected and destroyed by the patient's own immune responses as a new type of cancer immunotherapy.

$600,000 for Collaborative Funding Grants

NCBiotech’s Collaborative Funding Grant program supports university-company partnerships that advance a company’s technology to the marketplace. Six of the grants were awarded, each for $100,000. They include:

John Michael Ramsey, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will work in partnership with Becton Dickinson and Company to develop a microfluidic device that uses enhanced capillary electrophoresis, a separation technique, to determine the levels of HbA1c, a form of hemoglobin that acts as a long-term indicator of blood glucose levels. This new point of care device provides rapid feedback for the diagnosis or follow-on care of diabetes and could help reduce the health care costs associated with the disease.

Joshua Grieger, also at UNC-Chapel Hill, will work on a project to support the development of a gene therapy program for Hemophilia A. University investigators, working in partnership with Asklepios Biopharmaceuticals, propose to generate and optimize various adeno-associated virus vectors that will safely deliver the therapeutic gene.

Elizabeth Loboa, at NCSU, will assist in developing a novel antimicrobial bandage to promote wound healing. This collaboration with Dow Chemical Company and NCSU-based Leaders in Innovation and Nonwoven Commercialization, LLC (LINC) will result in commercial development of Dow's Silvadur ET into antimicrobial nanofibers optimized to heal wounds.

Sung Woo Kim, also at NCSU, will work on a project that will provide a feeding strategy to increase the use of plant-based feedstuffs in nursery pig diets, thereby reducing the use of animal-based feedstuffs. Researchers will use enzymes, in partnership with BioResource International, to break down compounds in plant-based feedstuffs that impair digestion and metabolism in nursery pigs. This will lead to a reduction in feed cost and meat safety concerns in pig farming.

Tyre Lanier, at NCSU, will work with Shure Foods to provide data needed to produce products of consistent quality despite variability in properties of incoming crabmeat. Shure Foods has patented technology to produce restructured, raw crabmeat products which can revive the N.C. crab fishery by lowering process costs and improving yields.

Kevin Anderson, also at NCSU, will work on a project with Advanced Animal Diagnostics to investigate the use of a rapid method for determining calf health based on a blood leukocyte differential. Calves with three common illnesses will be studied to determine if the method can detect ill animals and effectively improve health management of calves.

$12,000 for the Industrial Internship Program

The NCBiotech Industrial Internship Program provides three months of funding for students or recent graduates from North Carolina-based academic programs in business administration or the life sciences. These internships provide real-world work experience for the interns, critical to helping them transition from academia to careers in biotechnology. Each company was awarded $3,000 to help support its internship.

The following companies participated in this program this quarter:

SciKon Innovation (Chapel Hill) hired Hobie Helbich to support commercial development of the company’s latest product, a systems biology engineered microfluidics chamber, by performing market research and competitive analysis, identifying partnering and funding opportunities, and interacting with potential new clients.

The North Carolina Biosciences Organization (RTP) hired John Thayer to contribute to several initiatives at NCBIO, including development of a life science company database and creation of public company profiles. He will also support membership recruitment and development efforts, as well as meetings and events sponsored by NCBIO.

Shure Foods (Greenville) hired Don Schools to assist with development of Shure Foods' novel technology for producing cold-structured crabmeat by conducting market research, developing commercialization strategy, and supporting the company's participation at industry events.

LipoScience (Raleigh) hired Prerna Pherwani to support new product development at LipoScience by evaluating reference lab customer segments, conducting market assessments, and developing commercialization strategies for new diagnostic assays.

$98,238 for Summer Biotechnology Workshops for Educators

Dennis Kubasko received $25,220 for the “Introductory Biotechnology Workshop for High School Teachers” at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. This five-day introductory biotechnology workshop showed North Carolina high school teachers how to effectively implement hands-on biotechnology activities into their classrooms. Teachers learned fundamental scientific content, classroom lab management and laboratory safety practices while  conducting hands-on lab experiments and classroom activities that reinforce important science concepts. They also learned about the significant contribution of biotechnology to North Carolina's economy, and the diverse fields that employ it. The role of teachers in preparing North Carolina's future biotechnology workforce was also emphasized. Teachers left the workshop prepared to incorporate biotechnology activities into their classrooms and eligible to enroll in future NCBiotech Advanced Topic workshops.

Jennifer Rhode Ward received $24,768 for her “Stem Cells: Their Sources, Therapeutic Uses, and Societal Issues” workshop at the University of North Carolina Asheville. This Advanced Topic four-day workshop for high school and college instructors focused on the sources and therapeutic uses of stem cells. It built on the content presented in the Introductory Biotechnology workshop. Lectures, discussions and laboratories explained what stem cells are, where they are found in humans (and other organisms), and the capabilities of different kinds of stem cells to treat disease. Concepts like gene expression and cellular differentiation were explored in the context of stem cells and their differentiation into cells, tissues and organs with specialized functions. Participating teachers reviewed case studies that examine the use of stem cells under different scenarios and the issues raised.

Jennifer Warner received $16,486 for a “Biotechnology Basics” workshop at UNC Charlotte. This workshop is an abbreviated (three-day) form of the standard five-day Introductory Biotechnology workshop. Teacher participants had the opportunity to conduct hands-on experiments using most of the same technologies covered in the introductory workshops. Participants also learned low-cost, hands-on activities designed for educators with tightly scheduled courses. The workshop was designed for teachers who might otherwise not be able to attend a full week introductory workshop during the summer but still want to incorporate biotechnology into their classrooms.

Jennifer Warner also received $20,295 for a “Microbial Magic” workshop at UNC Charlotte. This four-day workshop for middle school teachers centered around the connections between microbiology, genetics and biotechnology. Lectures and lab activities integrated these disciplines and instructors provided teachers with activities that they can implement in their classrooms quickly, easily and at low cost. These activities are aligned with both science and Career and Technical Education standards. Instructors model inquiry-based pedagogy in the workshop activities. Teachers are able to return to their own classrooms with a host of activities, complete lesson plans and teacher preparation notes.

Emily Bloom received $11,469 for her workshop at Campbell University, “Gear Up! The Global Explosion of Antibiotic Resistance, How It Affects Public Health and How We Can Change It.” This workshop explored the impact of antibiotic resistance globally. Teachers learned how antibiotics work, how bacteria become resistant, and explored the field of public health. Attendees learned how medical and agriculture systems contribute to the spread of antibiotic resistance and discussed how changes in some existing practices can help mitigate this serious threat to human health.

$350,000 for a Center of Innovation Planning Grant

The award provides continued Phase II funding for the Center of Innovation for Nanobiotechnology (COIN). COIN, a valuable innovation management and commercialization agent for the nanobiotechnology community and state, fosters collaboration among universities statewide, creating a “one-stop” resource for industry-academic interactions in nanobiotechnology in North Carolina.

$75,000 for a Regional Development Grant

BioNetwork at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College was awarded this grant to establish the Western North Carolina Craft-Beverage Quality Control Initiative, a suite of affordable analytical services and laboratory resources to support quality control programs in the Western North Carolina craft-beverage industry. This effort represents a unique opportunity to create a regional resource with the potential to benefit all current and future North Carolina breweries.

$200,000 for an Institutional Development Grant

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Victoria Bautch, Ph.D., led a group of scientists awarded this grant for the purchase of a new confocal microscope system, which allows investigators studying the mechanisms of multiple diseases to image live cell and tissue behavior in both normal and diseased cells. This equipment will help researchers understand how cell and tissue behaviors are regulated and coordinated with cell cycle and cell signaling, leading to a better understanding of diseases such as cancer and polycystic kidney disease, and ultimately to the identification of new therapeutic targets.

$560,056 for Multidisciplinary Research Grants

Corbin Jones, of UNC-Chapel Hill, received $260,056 for research aimed at producing software to assemble the large amounts of DNA sequence data produced by high-throughput technology. This software will lead to a deeper understanding of the biology of disease and genetic disorders.

Robert Tarran, also of UNC-Chapel Hill, received $300,000 for the development of novel peptides to treat diseases of salt absorption. As a result of a gene defect, patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) have thick mucus in their airways that is hard to clear, leaving their lungs prone to mucus plugging and infections. The thick mucus results from an imbalance in salt and water transport in their lungs. Investigators propose to develop novel peptides that can inhibit excessive salt absorption in CF airways to improve CF mucus hydration and prevent infection.

$15,169 for Biotechnology Event Sponsorships

One of the most valuable services from NCBiotech is its unique ability to make connections and bring people across the state together to spur research, its commercialization, and ultimately companies providing excellent jobs. NCBiotech sponsored 8 events across the state during the quarter:

The North Carolina Academy of Science received $2,470 for its 110th annual meeting. Highlights of the meeting include a plenary address on the human genome landscape, a keynote address on eugenics, and a series of workshops and special sessions. It will be a significant gathering of scientists, graduate students, and undergraduates from all over the state.

$3,000 was awarded to the North Carolina DNA Day 2013, an annual event in which high school students learn about genetics, genomics and biotechnology. Scientists from the state’s leading research universities and institutions will visit more than 100 high schools statewide to present engaging hands-on activities, which reinforce the North Carolina Standard Course of Study.

The North Carolina State University Undergraduate Research Symposium received $990. The event showcases the hands-on scholarship of students at the university who have worked with mentors both on and off campus to create new knowledge in their field. Approximately 80 percent of the students are in disciplines linked to biotechnology and are interested in admission to graduate and professional schools or in seeking employment in those fields.

The UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center received $3,000 for its 37th Annual Symposium, which will bring together internationally recognized researchers to focus on a topic significant to cancer research, prevention and treatment: The Tumor Microenvironment.

The Wake Forest University Charlotte Center received $1,800 for a meeting on regenerative medicine featuring Tony Atala, M.D., director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. At this meeting, recent advances that have occurred in regenerative medicine will be reviewed and applications of these new technologies that may offer novel therapies for patients with end-stage tissue and organ failure will be described.

Appalachian State University received $409 for a science expo, which invites teachers to bring their 6th-12th graders on a field trip to ASU. The Expo floor features booths representing astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology, health sciences, physics, psychology and more. The expo will also include science demo shows, hands-on learning events, and tours of research facilities available for booking.

NCSU received $2,500 for the 7th Annual Biomedical Engineering Symposium, which will consist of poster and oral presentations covering the medical devices designed by the biomedical engineering senior design students from NCSU and UNC.  The symposium will also provide the opportunity for networking during the poster sessions and the concluding reception.

Duke University Medical Center received $1,000 for the Inaugural RTP NeuroInnovations Symposium.  At this event, student and faculty teams from Duke, NCSU and UNC will present their work in areas related to the identification, invention, and implementation of new medical technologies affecting the nervous system.

$30,570 for Biotechnology Meeting Grants

COIN was awarded $10,000 for the 2013 Nanotechnology Commercialization Conference (NCC), which focused on the strengths of the state in nanotechnology, with an emphasis on nanobiotechnology and nanomedicine, as a showcase to national and international attendees.

Stanley Ahalt, of UNC-Chapel Hill, received $3,000 for the National Consortium for Data Science Leadership Summit: Genomes to Health. The Summit will bring together leading data and genomic scientists to discuss what needs to be done to harness the power of genomic data to revolutionize healthcare and improve public health.

The North Carolina Association for Biomedical Research received $8,600 for its 2013 Media Training & Communications Program, which will connect biotechnology and biomedical researchers involved with laboratory animal research to professional development and training for outreach to the news media and various other lay audiences.

Cynthia Gibas, of UNC Charlotte, received $8,970 for the 9th Annual International Symposium on Bioinformatics Research and Applications (ISBRA). The symposium, a recurring international meeting that travels to a different institution each year, provides a forum for the exchange of ideas and results among researchers, developers, and practitioners working on all aspects of bioinformatics and computational biology and their applications.

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