NCBiotech Awards $2.1 Million in Grants, Loans

The North Carolina Biotechnology Center has awarded 23 grants and loans totaling $2.1 million during the past fiscal quarter to bioscience companies, universities and non-profit organizations.

The awards, made in the second quarter of the Biotech Center’s fiscal year, from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, will support life science research and technology commercialization throughout North Carolina and help companies attract follow-on funding from other sources.

Company loans awarded

Four companies received Small Business Research Loans totaling $450,000. The loan program supports business inception and research leading to the development of products, processes or tools with clear commercial potential.

  • MicroElastic Ultrasound Systems of Durham received $150,000 to advance prototype development of a handheld ultrasound device for measuring skin elasticity as an indicator of chronic graft versus host disease, a devastating complication of hematopoietic stem cell transplants. 
  • CasTag Biosciences of Durham received $100,000 for the commercial launch of its novel CRISPR-based research reagents for the study of protein function.  
  • PhosphoGam of Durham received $100,000 to conduct preclinical studies of its allogeneic adoptive cell therapy in solid tumor models and to support initial manufacturing. 
  • InGateyGen of Elizabeth City received $100,000 to develop a gene-edited peanut with reduced expression of the three genes associated with the three most allergenic peanut proteins.

Portfolio companies raise $22 million

Five bioscience companies that previously received loans from the Biotech Center raised $22.1 million in follow-on funding from other sources in the second quarter, according to research by the Biotech Center’s Life Science Intelligence staff.

Accounting for most of that total was Research Triangle Park-based T3D Therapeutics, which raised $15 million in venture capital to advance development of its potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

Durham-based bioMASON raised about $5 million in venture capital. The company uses microorganisms to produce “biocement” as a more environmentally sustainable building material than traditional concrete.

Other NCBiotech portfolio companies that raised funding in the quarter were KindHeart of Chapel Hill, and Baebies and EpiCypher of Durham.

Overall, North Carolina’s life science companies raised $211.1 million in the second quarter.

University grants awarded

Three universities received four Translational Research Grants totaling $429,999 to explore potential commercial applications or initiate early commercial development of university-held life science inventions. 

  • East Carolina University received $109,999 to investigate a synthetic sugar that may be used with, or replace, current blood preservatives in order to extend the shelf life of stored blood products.
  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill received $100,000 to evaluate a gene therapy approach to preventing or reversing vision loss due to corneal clouding in patients with mucopolysaccharidosis VI. 
  • UNC-CH received $110,000 to develop a new method of delivering gene therapy solutions to the lungs for treating cystic fibrosis. 
  • Wake Forest University Health Sciences received $110,000 to improve the production process for making sufficient quantities of small adenovirus proteins used in gene therapy. 

Four universities received Flash Grants totaling $80,000 to pursue research projects that show early indications of commercial potential. 

  • Appalachian State University received $20,000 to develop a new method of stabilizing insulin using a protein from tardigrades, allowing insulin to be shipped and stored at room temperature rather than refrigerated, reducing its cost. 
  • The University of North Carolina Charlotte received $20,000 to apply novel genetic sources to wild soybean plants for the development of new and diverse varieties that are resistant to soybean cyst nematode, a pest that causes drastic crop losses. 
  • The University of North Carolina Greensboro received $20,000 to use targeted genetic modification tools to increase the number of crop variants through precision breeding techniques. These tools will be especially potent for important North Carolina crops such as sweet potatoes, soybeans, tomatoes, cereals and tobacco.
  • Wake Forest University Health Sciences received $20,000 to produce healthful omega-3 fatty acids in blue-green algae, a renewable resource, instead of deriving them from unsustainable marine resources.

Event, meeting grants awarded

The Biotech Center awarded five grants totaling $18,001 to universities and non-profit organizations to support biotechnology events and meetings in the state. 

Four grants totaling $9,217 were made through the Biotechnology Event Sponsorships program, which provides up to $3,000 for life science-focused events held primarily for a North Carolina audience.  

  • Lenoir-Rhyne University received $1,120 for the 117th Annual Meeting of the North Carolina Academy of Science, where undergraduates, graduate students, and professional scientists will share their research through symposia and poster sessions and discuss scientifically sound solutions to relevant problems.
  • The North Carolina Arboretum Society received $2,097 for its third Growing Color Symposium, which will bring together farmers, growers, business people, artists and experts in the field of natural textile dyeing. 
  • North Carolina State University received $3,000 for the North Carolina Coastal Conference, highlighting research, projects and results generated by the UNC system to tackle the grand coastal issues facing the state. 
  • UNC-CH received $3,000 for the Integrative Vascular Biology/UNC McAllister Heart Institute Annual Research Symposium, featuring two keynote addresses by leading faculty in the cardiovascular field, along with short talks presented by graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and medical residents from the IVB training program, MHI affiliated laboratories, and guests from neighboring institutions and research organizations.

One grant was made through the Biotechnology Meeting Grants Program, which provides up to $10,000 for national or international meetings being held in North Carolina. 

UNC-CH received $8,784 for PharmSci 2020, a meeting that will explore how open science adds value and accelerates discovery throughout the biomedical research continuum with a focus on three areas: basic research, translation and value creation.

Gene therapy fellowships awarded

Six postdoctoral researchers – three at UNC-CH and three at Duke University – were named as fellows in the latest cycle of the Pfizer NCBiotech Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellowship in Gene Therapy Program with grants totaling more than $1.1 million.  

The universities received $190,340 for each fellow to research different aspects of adeno-associated virus (AAV) gene therapy during their two-year fellowships. 

  • Victor Tse of UNC will test whether AAV can be used to deliver antivirals that protect against lethal emerging coronavirus infections, such as MERS and SARS, to the airway.
  • Tierra Bobo of UNC will develop new gene therapies for treating devastating genetic diseases such as Mucopolysaccharidosis IIIC.
  • Kai Wang of UNC will develop a nanomaterials-based delivery system to reduce the immune response associated with high dose AAV gene therapy.
  • Josephine Bodle of Duke will evaluate the use of an epigenome editing gene therapy approach to promote tissue regeneration.
  • Martin Bohlen of Duke will optimize delivery of AAV gene therapy vectors to the brain.
  • Angela McCall of Duke will develop a novel vector to treat smooth muscle pathology in Pompe disease.
Barry Teater, NCBiotech Writer
Wed, 02/05/2020 - 17:06