Celebration Honors Success of 15-year Kenan Institute, Biotech Center Collaboration

More than 150 business, academic and civic leaders gathered Tuesday at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center to celebrate the power of partnering.

The event marked the 15th anniversary of the Collaborative Funding Grant (CFG) program, a partnership of the Biotechnology Center and the William R. Kenan, Jr. Institute for Engineering, Technology and Science at North Carolina State University.

The CFG program leverages money from the Biotechnology Center and the Kenan Institute to put specialists in academic labs to help develop homegrown life science technologies for the commercial marketplace.

Since its inception, the CFG program has:

  • Provided $5 million in 85 awards
  • Involved 11 nonprofit and university research partners and 42 companies
  • Brought about $205 million in follow-on funding to the grant recipients
  • That’s a return of about $41 on every dollar put in
  • Resulted in 27 patents, four new companies and 150 scientific publications

Though the program has so far helped boost start-up companies, established life science and agricultural biotechnology companies in the state are also encouraged to apply for the chance to create new products from their research labs.

Examples of the CFG program’s influence on North Carolina’s life science economy include:

  • Duke’s Richard Fair received a $50,000 CFG in 2003 and hired postdoc Vamsee Pamula to work on commercializing his tiny lab-on-a-chip, or microfluidics, devices. Dr. Pamula spun it out as Advanced Liquid Logic the following year. He says the grant kept the research program alive and led to subsequent grants from the National Science Foundation and NIH. Biotech Center loans also helped. Advanced Liquid Logic now employs more than 50 North Carolinians and besides the millions of dollars in federal funding it has raised, it holds hundreds of patents, and is about to start launching its first products into the marketplace.
  • N.C. State biochemist Dr. John Cavanagh received a $50,000 CFG in 2002 to hire lab support to help him commercialize disease-fighting therapies based on his discovery that the sea sponge has a unique way to keep bacteria from growing into harmful clusters called biofilms. He and a colleague at N.C. State, Dr. Christian Melander, co-founded Raleigh-based Agile Sciences in 2007. Dr. Melander received a $100,000 CFG in 2009 to propel the technology to market. They also had several Biotechnology Center loans. Last year Agile secured a major investment from an Indiana-based agricultural company, SePRO, to leverage Agile’s biofilm dispersion technology for use in the Turf & Ornamental and Aquatic segments of the agro-chemical markets.
  • Morrisville-based BioResource International is helping poultry and swine producers around the world reduce feed costs and environmental impact while achieving higher yields faster. Dr. Giles Shih, President of BRI, says the company owes its success to leveraging a 2001 grant that hired a post-doctoral fellow to work on a collaborative project between BRI and N.C. State, looking into commercializing a new enzyme for animal feed. It led to a successful patent application for N.C. State, allowed BRI to get more than $300,000 in SBIR grants from the USDA, and helped lay the foundation for a business that is now generating significant income and royalties for BRI and N.C. State, respectively. The company develops and commercializes enzymes for animal nutrition, based on research by Giles’ father, Dr. Jason Shih, who recently retired after a distinguished career as an N.C. State poultry scientist. BRI now has 15 employees in the Triangle. Triangle Business Journal named it one of the 10 fastest-growing companies in the Triangle. And Giles says he plans this year to create even more new biotech jobs in North Carolina.

Since its founding in 1984 the Biotechnology Center has helped forge partnerships, such as that with the Kenan Institute, that have established North Carolina as the third largest biotech state in the nation, with 538 companies. It means 226,000 jobs for North Carolina, including 58,000 directly in biotechnology. These are jobs with an average salary of almost $75,000, for a total payroll of more than $12 billion. One biotech job creates 4.62 additional jobs. That’s $64.6 billion in economic activity for North Carolina, $1.9 billion in state and local tax revenue. And the sector grew across North Carolina more than 2.5 percent in 2010.

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Wed, 01/26/2011 - 05:00