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Posted: March 31, 2008

Universities are trying to build statewide support for the North Carolina Translational NanoMedicine Institute

(Nanowerk News) Researchers exploring the molecular aspects of medicine are thinking big about its potential economic impact on North Carolina, including providing incentives to startup companies.
Officials at several research universities are trying to build statewide support for the N.C. Translational NanoMedicine Institute.
Organizers are planning meetings for this summer and fall in Charlotte, the Triad, the Triangle and Eastern North Carolina. They also are identifying industry and academic leaders for a board of governors.
Nanotechnology is the science of developing materials at the atomic and molecular level and then using those materials to develop products and devices. The proposed not-for-profit institute would serve as a clearinghouse for handling the needs of startup companies involved in such sectors as therapeutics and pharmacology.
Supporters say that the Piedmont Triad Research Park could serve as the home of the institute, relying on the resources of Wake Forest and Winston-Salem State universities and Forsyth Technical Community College.
“We have widespread support for this,” said David Carroll, the director of the Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Medicine at Wake Forest. Carroll submitted a proposal for the institute.
Carroll said that the institute would enable “researchers in academia, industry and government to transition their nanotechnology strategies to clinical applications. We anticipate this facility becoming the gateway through which the next generation of startups will gain access to a nationwide marketplace.”
Carroll said that a goal is providing incentives beyond “access to research universities, venture capital, a reasonable governmental climate and favorable incubation and environmental support.”
“In order to build a vibrant biotech sector within North Carolina, we must provide the incentives necessary to enhance growth and retention of early stage or startup ventures,” he said.
Carroll said that though focusing on the needs of startup companies carries risk, it is necessary “to be truly competitive for sector growth without bankrupting the North Carolina tax base.”
Carroll said that North Carolina not only faces fierce competition from major biotechnology research areas in Boston, Houston, Philadelphia, San Diego and San Francisco, but also growing centers in Dallas, Minneapolis, Orlando, Fla., and Pittsburgh.
Proponents of the institute say that the time is right for recruiting nanotechnology companies.
Five out of every 10 biotech startups in 2007 had a nanotechnology component compared with just one out of 10 in 2002. Carroll said that the institute could spur the creation or relocation of up to 60 nanomedicine companies in North Carolina within 10 years, including the domestic operations of international companies.
“Nanotechnology is still relatively unknown outside of academics,” said Tony Plath, a finance professor at UNC Charlotte.
“As nanotechnology increasingly passes out of the academic sector into the commercial sector with the development of new and marketable technologies, I’ll bet we’ll start hearing about more recruiting incentives to get nanotech companies to locate in North Carolina,” Plath said. “At least that’s what the UNC system is hoping for.”
Economists said that there is little track record in North Carolina for incentives for biotech and nanotech companies.
By far, the biggest effort has been aimed at the proposed $1.5 billion N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis. David Murdock, the owner of Dole Food Co., has pledged about $1 billion of his own money to develop the public-private research campus in collaboration with several N.C. universities, including UNC Chapel Hill, N.C. State and Duke.
The state’s public universities are considering spending more than $48 million there over the next two fiscal years, according to The Charlotte Observer. Local officials plan to borrow $168.4 million for infrastructure needs that range from road improvements to water lines.
Carroll said that another goal of the institute would be working with the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration to “dramatically accelerate nanotherapeutic and nano-engineered medical-technologies development.” Such an arrangement would help reduce the cost and risk of product development for startup nanomedicine companies in the state, Carroll said.
“There currently exists no way of addressing possible regulatory issues in emerging medical technologies that use nano-engineering, such as regenerative medicine,” Carroll said.
The institute is not the only nanotechnology effort currently going on in the Triad.
The Piedmont Triad Partnership is working with N.C. A&T State University, UNC Greensboro and Wake Forest to create a business plan to develop the N.C. Center of Innovation in Nanobiotechnology.
Wake Forest’s nanotechnology and molecular-medicine center will have a conference on hyperthermia April 6-9 in downtown Winston-Salem. In this instance, hyperthermia is defined as “the use of heat to trigger the release of drugs being transported inside nanomaterials.”
The conference will be open to the public, but registration is required at www.nanomedicineworkshop.com.
Carroll said that the institute “will be transformative in much the same way as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were to Georgia, allowing North Carolina to retain its traditional lead in the biotech industry by aggressively pursuing the next stage in medical evolution.”
“The natural evolution of medicine is through the development of therapeutics and treatment regiments based on personalized need, such as regenerative medicine and smart therapeutics.
“By bringing together the academic infrastructure of North Carolina with other traditional strengths in North Carolina’s biotechnology sector, N.C. NanoMed will be instrumental in capturing a rapidly expanding medical-nanotechnologies industrial marketplace.”
Source: Winston-Salem Journal (Richard Craver)