North Carolina Biotech Center Grants Link Science to Marketplace
Research Triangle Park, N.C. -- Technology transfer officials at three University of North Carolina System campuses are dividing $250,000 in North Carolina Biotechnology Center grant funding to advance the commercial development of discoveries made at their universities.
Technology Enhancement Grants of $50,000 each will support the advancement of five inventions with significant market potential. The recipients include:
- Rob Whitehead, Ph.D. (North Carolina State University) – formulation and characterization of a new class of fluorescent dyes to use in labeling molecules and diagnosing diseases (Jon Lindsey, Ph.D., inventor)
- Jackie Quay, Ph.D. (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) – studies relating to the safety and effectiveness of using a novel, biodegradable, extremely small carrier – a nanoparticle – to deliver genetic “off switches” – and therapies – called siRNAs (Leaf Huang, Ph.D., inventor)
- Kelly Sexton, Ph.D. (NC State) – development and validation of a live Salmonella vaccine to protect poultry (Hosni Hassan, Ph.D., inventor)
- Brad Fach (University of North Carolina Charlotte) – proof-of-concept studies to demonstrate the utility of a novel microwave drying procedure for the preservation and long-term storage of vaccines (Gloria Elliott, Ph.D., inventor)
- Henry Nowak (UNC at Chapel Hill) – preclinical development and characterization of a new class of therapies, called neuroamides, for the treatment of epilepsy and diabetic neuropathy (Harold Kohn, Ph.D., inventor)
Technology Enhancement Grants provide a maximum of $50,000 to a technology transfer specialist at a North Carolina university or other research institution. The grants fund research studies that are designed to achieve commercial milestones as defined by businesses interested in licensing the resulting technologies.
These awards differ from typical academic research grants in that they support commercially driven studies and are awarded to technology transfer officers responsible for licensing the invention rights, rather than to the inventors themselves.
“There are very few funding sources available to clarify the commercial potential of an unlicensed academic invention,” said Rob Lindberg, Ph.D., R.A.C., senior director of the Center’s BATON Program. Lindberg also oversees the Technology Enhancement Grant program.
“These sorts of commercialization-focused studies are usually not funded by potential licensees and typically don’t qualify for grants from traditional sources of academic research funding,” he added. “But our program helps tech transfer professionals acquire the license-enabling data to establish early commercial milestones of interest to licensees.”
The grant furthering Huang’s technology at UNC demonstrates how well the program works. Positive preliminary data obtained through the grant funding earlier this year has resulted in the licensing of the technology to a spinout company in Chapel Hill, Qualiber, Inc.
The company will develop Huang’s technology as a means to harness the heretofore elusive, though potentially highly useful, capabilities of siRNAs - man-made particles created from a class of biochemical molecules called nucleic acids. Nucleic acids, also components of DNA, are the basic genetic material found in the cells of all living creatures.
Qualiber is developing an important new nano-scale technology to encapsulate and accurately deliver siRNAs for use as molecular "off switches" to temporarily silence, or stop, genes from producing targeted proteins. That lets company researchers study those genes' functions more clearly -- and it may lead to new targeted therapies for disease treatment.
Docking the right piece of siRNA onto a specific "sweet spot" of a gene in a cancerous tumor, for example, may silence that gene so it couldn't send out its usual signals attracting blood vessels to the tumor. So the tumor would starve and the cancer would disappear.
The Biotech Center, whose fundamental mission is to create life-science jobs in North Carolina, accepts submissions and approves funding for Technology Enhancement Grants throughout the year.
The Center is a private, non-profit corporation supported by the N.C. General Assembly. Its mission is to provide long-term economic and societal benefits to North Carolina by supporting biotechnology research, business, education and strategic policy statewide.
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