The emergence of North Carolina as a nanobiotechnology hub

(Nanowerk News) The tools of nanobiotechnology have wide-ranging commercial impact on fields that include pharma, medtech, textiles, agriculture, consumer products and many more. There are many hotbeds of nanobiotech innovation, and North Carolina has emerged as a leader in nanobiotech research, development and commercialization.
North Carolina's rich resources include world-class university research centers, significant emerging and established industry players, and an environment that proactively nurtures entrepreneurial ventures. The rapidly growing NC nanobiotech cluster allows for collaborations with opinion leaders, resource-sharing within a strong supportive infrastructure, momentum that drives commercial impact and improvement of human health through better medical products. The top five reasons North Carolina is a major nanobiotech hub include: a rich support infrastructure in North Carolina, momentum, commercial impact, impact on diagnosing and treating diseases, and world-renowned hotbed of key thought leaders. These reasons are detailed below.
Rich Support Infrastructure in North Carolina
Resources available to nanobiotech start-ups in NC have nurtured a thriving ecosystem for companies to successfully move their products toward commercial markets and achieve success. The North Carolina Department of Commerce (NC Commerce) and the North Carolina Biotechnology Center (NCBC) play vital roles in the development of nanobiotech infrastructure and support. NC Commerce provides funding through their One NC Small Business Program, an SBIR/STTR matching funds programs, as well as other worthy incentives. NCBC provides research and product development grants, small business loans, and many services invaluable to NC-based nanobiotech start-ups. NCBC also launched the Center of Innovation for Nanobiotechnology (COIN) in 2009 to accelerate commercialization of nanobiotechnology in the state.
COIN is catalyzing the growth of the nanobiotech sector and is driving national and international collaborations that are putting North Carolina on the nano map. According to a 2009 survey by the Woodrow Wilson International Centers, NC was ranked 8th in the nation, and the Raleigh metro area ranked 4th for nanotechnology. These rankings are particularly impressive considering that upon further investigation of the raw data, the NC nanobiotech and nanotech companies were underrepresented in this study by half. The NC nanobiotech hub is described in greater detail in the recently-released publication The Pulse of Nanobiotechnology in North Carolina.
  • North Carolina has a positive political-business climate for biotechnology initiatives. It offers a more cost-effective business arena than other states.
  • North Carolina proactively fosters the nanotechnology field; 250 nanotechnology patents were issued to academic and industry innovators in the state between 2003 and 2005. From 1992 to 2010, NC has launched an average of 2 nanobiotech companies each year.
  • With two of only 37 Nanotech PhD programs in the world, as well as 35 university-based nanotech research centers, NC boasts a wealth of distinguished intellectual capital to successfully develop and commercialize nanobiotech innovations.
  • According to the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, research in nanotechnology has reached $9 billion annually and is estimated to be $1 trillion by 2015. Between 2000 and 2005 North Carolina universities have received $98 million in investments. Nanobiotechnology represents a significant portion of these investments. COIN facilitates nanobiotech development and commercialization by coalescing the nanobio community, with constituents ranging from academia, entrepreneurial, large industry, service providers, economic developers and many more. Because North Carolina has a strong infrastructure that has generated significant momentum in the nanobio space, it will continue to be at the leading edge of nanobiotech innovation and commercialization.
    Commercial Impact
    There are almost 40 nanobio companies headquartered in or with significant operations in NC. Nanobio as a whole is an early-stage emerging field, and the majority of products under development have yet to reach commercial markets. NC has a significant queue of products in the preclinical development phase, several companies moving therapeutic candidates through clinical trials, and several companies that have launched nano-enabled biomedical products. Commercial products offered by companies with NC operations are detailed in the table below.
    Commercial nanobiotechnology products offered by companies with North Carolina
    The true commercial impact of these nanobio products being developed and commercialized is yet to be realized, but nanobiotech companies in North Carolina provide hundreds of jobs, creating wealth in the state. These companies routinely raise money from angel investors, venture capitalists, and public markets in addition to successfully competing for federal grant dollars. Together, the commercial and financial activities of nanobiotech endeavors create a critical mass of successful companies and emerging ventures that will drive additional new company formations and technology translation.
    Impact on Diagnosing and Treating Disease
    Nano-enabled delivery platforms are being developed for myriad applications, including enhanced delivery of chemotherapeutic agents, siRNA to treat cancer, and gene delivery to treat muscular dystrophy and heart disease. Nanobiotech is an effective drug delivery solution, representing the greatest area of nanobio R&D and translation activity in NC. Nano-enabled diagnostics platforms are enabling earlier detection and characterization of disease through in vivo contrast agents and imaging platforms and in vitro biomarker detection.
    In addition to NC’s fertile entrepreneurial start-up environment, there are significant resources in the university setting. The Carolina Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence based at UNC Chapel Hill has many projects aimed at diagnosing and treating cancer using nanotechnology such as nanotools for studying particle biodistribution, siRNA for lung cancer treatment, nanosystems for improved lung cancer treatment with small molecules, microbeam radiation therapy for brain cancer treatment, and stationary digital breast tomosynthesis for early breast cancer detection. NANO@NC STATE performs cutting edge nanobiotech research in the areas of nanotoxicology in the Center for Chemical Toxicology Research and Pharmacokinetics as well as in drug delivery and tissue engineering through the Nonwovens Cooperative Research Center. These are only several of the 35 university-based research centers that have active nanobiotech R&D efforts.
    World-Renowned Hotbed of Key Thought Leaders
    North Carolina has many key thought leaders heralding from several of the top institutions for nanobiotech research and development. According to Small Times, North Carolina State University (NCSU) is 3rd in the nation for nanotech commercialization and 10th in the nation for nanotech research. Nancy Monteiro-Riviere, Professor of Investigative Dermatology and Toxicology in the NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine, literally wrote the book on nanotoxicology, and is a world-leading expert on dermal exposures to nanomaterials. Gregory Parsons, Alcoa Professor and NC State Nanotechnology Initiative Director at NANO@NC STATE, is an expert in nano energy and the environment, nanoelectronics, and nanomaterials synthesis, assembly, and characterization.
    UNC-Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) was ranked 5th in the nation for nanotech research according to Small Times. William Zamboni, Associate Professor of the Department of Pharmacotherapy and Experimental Therapeutics and Director of the GLP Analytical Facility at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy and UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center; Joseph DeSimone Chancellor’s Eminent Professor of Chemistry at UNC-CH and William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished professor of Chemical Engineering at NCSU; and Russ Mumper Vice Dean, John A. McNeill Distinguished Professor, and Director of the Center for Nanotechnology in Drug Delivery of UNC-CH are working on nanopharmacology, drug delivery, particle manufacturing, and nano-enabled cancer therapeutics. Joseph DeSimone and Joel Tepper (Hector McLean Distinguished Professor of Cancer Research at UNC-CH) are administrators of the Carolina Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence (C-CCNE), an National Cancer Institute (NCI)-funded center to design and test nanodevices for cancer therapeutics. Dr. DeSimone and Dr. Tepper are also involved in the Institutes for Advanced Materials, Nanoscience and Technology at UNC-CH, an institute for collaboration of materials and space needed for nanoscience research that has partnered with the UNC spin-out nanobiotech companies Liquidia, Qualiber, XinRay Systems, and Xintek.
    James G. Ryan, founding Dean of the Joint School of Nanoscience & Nanoengineering of North Carolina A&T State University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, is responsible for academic and administrative leadership of JSNN. He is also developing partnerships with industry and government organizations to help bolster the education the students received in JSNN.  The research conducted under Dr. Ryan at JSNN focuses on film deposition, interconnect technology, semiconductor manufacturing technology and radiation hardened nanoelectronics.
    Duke University’s Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology (CEINT) is home to several nanobiotech opinion leaders. Mark Wiesner, a James L. Meriam Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering and the Director of CEINT; Kam Leong, a James B. Duke Professor; and Ashutosh Chilkoti, a Theo Pilkington Professor of Biomedical Engineering are working in CEINT on microfluidics-mediated synthesis of nanoparticles for drug and gene delivery and tissue engineering, ultraflat nanosphere lithography, and nano environmental health and safety, respectively.
    David Carroll, Director of the Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials at Wake Forest University, is researching nanomanufacturing, nanoengineered cancer therapeutics, nanocomposite-based display and lighting technologies, and high-efficiency nanocomposite photovoltaics. Anthony Atala, the Director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine and Chair and Professor of Urology at Wake Forest University, is a world-leading expert in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine that explores nanofibers and nanotubes for tissue engineering scaffolds and compound delivery platforms.
    Chris Wingard, Associate Professor for the Department of Physiology at East Carolina University, is an expert in the cardiopulmonary effects of nanomaterial exposures. In 2010 Dr. Wingard and Dr. Jared Brown an Assistant Professor of ECU were awarded $3.75 million for a 5 year grant funded by NIH to examine the effects of nanotechnology on human health. North Carolina A&T (NCAT) University’s Jagannathan Sankar, Director of Center for Advanced Materials and Smart Structures (CAMSS), is researching novel bioresorbable nanometallic materials for medical devices, as well as novel composite and ceramic materials.
    Kevin Conley, Program Coordinator for the Forsyth Tech Community College Nanotech Training Program, provides training in nanotechnology skill set for both students and industry. In 2004, Dr. Conley wrote the North Carolina College System’s state standard for the Applied Science in Nanotechnology Associates degree, officially launching NC’s first technician-level training program for nanotech in the state. This program remains a model for other states.
    The Research Triangle Institute is also a powerhouse full of thought leaders. Michele Ostraat, Director of the Center for Aerosol Technology, is working on inhalation toxicity and nanotoxicity. Dr. Ostraat is developing a web-based registry (Nanomaterial Registry project) on the interactions of nanomaterials. These key thought leaders are advancing nanobiotech through technology transfers and collaborations with industry to commercialize nanobiotech in North Carolina.
    Source: Center of Innovation for Nanobiotechnology (COIN)