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Posted: July 8, 2008
Proposed nanomedicine institute hires its first director
(Nanowerk News) A proposed North Carolina Nanomedicine Institute has taken another step with the hiring of a local consultant as its first director.
But several challenges remain for Gina Stewart, foremost developing a self-supporting stream of finances and gaining support from state legislators.
Stewart also is president of Sage Technology Management of Winston-Salem. The specialty of her consulting company intertwines with the institute's goal -- the commercialization of technology, particularly nanotechnology.
"I like to build new initiatives, so being charged with laying the groundwork for the institute fits well for me," Stewart said yesterday.
She has a doctorate degree in organic chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin. "I'm working very closely with the chamber and Wake Forest for the best road map."
Peggy Low, the senior vice president of technology and strategic initiatives for the Greater Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, said that the group feels "fortunate to have attracted someone like Gina because of her skills as a scientist and for business plans."
Nanotechnology is the science of developing materials at the atomic and molecular levels 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 in downtown Winston-Salem 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.
One goal of the institute would be working with the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to "dramatically accelerate nanotherapeutic and nano-engineered medical-technologies development," according to the chamber.
Such an arrangement would help reduce the cost and risk of product development for startup nanomedicine companies in the state, said David Carroll, the director of the Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Medicine at Wake Forest.
A $50,000 grant each from Duke Energy and from the DataMax Foundation provided the money to hire Stewart. Wake Forest has made a $7 million commitment in in-kind contributions, including laboratory space and equipment.
Stewart's first major task is preparing the institute's case for financing from the General Assembly.
A $10 million request was rejected in 2007 because it was made late in the process, Low said. The institute is expected to make a similar financing request in 2009.
"The initial request was well received," Low said. "We also will continue to pursue other funding sources."
Stewart, as well as chamber and Wake Forest officials, said they believe that the institute will serve as another key piece of a growing local biotechnology and nanotechnology cluster.
The chamber projects that the institute will attract and help create as many at 60 technology companies that could represent a combined 6,000 jobs.
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.