The Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences
“We are the interface of academe, industry and government. We’ve focused on opportunities to create global gateway partnerships.”
-- William F. Greenlee, PhD, The Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences President & CEO
The Hamner Institutes: Taking Life Science to the Next Level
The Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences traces its roots to 1974, when it was a non-profit toxicology institute founded and funded by the chemical industry. “The Environmental Protection Agency was only a fledgling and laws regulating toxic materials were brand new,” recalls William F. Greenlee, PhD, the Research Triangle Park-based organization’s president and CEO. “Our goal was to do the science that would help the EPA and other regulatory bodies make the policies.”
Known through much of its history as the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology (CIIT), the Hamner Institutes gained international recognition for its leadership in science and education. In the past 41 years, the organization has trained more than 400 post-doctoral fellows – including Greenlee himself, who was a member of the institute’s first class of post-docs in the 1970s. The Silicon Valley native worked in life sciences at Harvard and Purdue universities before returning to RTP to head up the institute in 1999.
Greenlee refocused the institute’s vision on “translational” research -- helping move innovation in the form of new products and technologies and medicines from the lab into the marketplace in a manner that is safe and scientifically sound. Hamner research produces a greater understanding of human health – precisely how, for example, exposure to environmental chemicals or adverse reactions from prescription drugs initiate various disease processes.
Re-named in 2007 to honor its chairman, North Carolina biotechnology pioneer Charles Hamner, the institute embodies the “Triple Helix” collaborative model for which the Research Triangle Region is internationally known. “We are the interface of academe, industry and government,” Greenlee says.
The Hamner partners closely with the area’s research universities. Its fellows hold faculty positions, for instance. Moreover, the Biosciences Accelerator at the Hamner houses promising start-up companies that have spun out of Duke University, North Carolina State University and UNC Chapel Hill, as well as one firm that emerged from GlaxoSmithKline.
Accelerator tenants include Genetron Health, a world-leading patient oriented healthcare company specialized in cancer prevision diagnostics with close ties to Duke University. Also there is BindusChem, a chemistry-based contract research service provider spun out of N.C. State, and UNC spin-out Couragen Biopharmaceutics, whose mission is to development gene therapy and protein therapy products for clinical and pre-clinical use.
In all, 14 companies now call the Hamner’s Biosciences Accelerator home. They enjoy access to state-of-the-art research equipment, scientific support and business development expertise.
But the Hamner’s higher education partnerships don’t end there. In 2009, it launched a drug science partnership with UNC Chapel Hill to develop technology that predicts drug-induced liver injuries. Fourteen pharmaceutical companies are providing funding for the partnership. The Hamner also has worked with North Carolina Central University’s Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise (BRITE) program, and is now talking to potential partners at Wake Forest University and East Carolina University.
The Hamner’s reach is global. “We have a joint institute for health sciences with the Shanghai Center for Disease Control in China,” says Greenlee. Much of the staff at the Hamner maintains networks of research and training partners in Europe and the United Kingdom. “We’ve focused on opportunities to create global gateway partnerships,” says Greenlee.
Closer to home, officials at the Hamner have had ongoing initiatives with the North Carolina Department of Commerce, which helps facilitate its international outreach, and works with the North Carolina Biotechnology Center to support and advance emerging biotech companies.
The Hamner also works with Research Triangle Regional Partnership in facilitating the growth of the region’s life sciences cluster. Along with Alexander Real Estate Equities, its real estate partner, the Hamner sponsors the annual State of the Research Triangle Region breakfast. “We’ve had a presence there that allows us to tell people about what we’re doing,” Greenlee says. For him, the value of the annual gathering is in its networking opportunities. “There are people there I would never see anywhere else,” he says.
Greenlee and his colleagues have now developed a master plan for a 1,000,000 square-foot translational research and technology development campus. They strongly believe that this campus would go far in propelling the region’s life sciences cluster on a par with those of Boston or San Diego, with the goal to grow it as a North Carolina enterprise.
“There have to be places where people can come together around their science,” Greenlee says. “You have to lead with your science.”