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MCG researchers exploring spice and dye as treatment for traumatic brain injury

According to a news release from the Medical College of Georgia, an old Indian spice and a dye whose cousin makes sports drinks blue are pointing scientists toward a better treatment for traumatic brain injuries or TBIs.  These injuries are rampant in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, occur on football fields and roadways and result in brain swelling that causes cell damage and symptoms ranging from headaches and confusion to seizures, slurred speech and death.

Vital research like this has been helped by investments from the Georgia Research Alliance in sophisticated research tools and world-renowned scientists who are part of the MCG Institute of Neuroscience.  The Institute’s director is GRA Eminent Scholar Robert Yu.  Other GRA Eminent Scholars at MCG who focus on the neurosciences are Lin Mei, a neurobiologist who investigates schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, and Joe Tsien, an expert in memory.

For the full TBI story, follow this link.

January 14, 2011 at 3:33 pm Leave a comment

A 200:1 Return

Mike Cassidy is President and CEO of the Georgia Research Alliance.  Lee Herron is GRA’s Vice President of Commercialization.  The GRA VentureLab program fosters the commercialization of university research.

From: Prausnitz, Mark R
Sent: Thursday, September 30, 2010 2:58 PM
To: Mike Cassidy; Lee Herron
Subject: VentureLab grant with a 200-to-1 return on investment

Dear Mike and Lee,

I am writing to let you know how a Phase I VentureLab grant has directly enabled us to receive a $10 million grant from NIH [the National Institutes of Health].  During 2009, we received Phase 1a and Phase 1b support from VentureLab, which we used mostly to generate product development, manufacturing and regulatory strategies for a microneedle patch for influenza vaccination. We also obtained quotes for GMP manufacturing, GLP toxicology studies, regulatory guidance through an IND and other work.

When NIH announced a new major funding opportunity last fall to support development of a novel biomedical technology through a Phase I clinical trial, we were ready to respond. Because we had already done much of the groundwork preparing for commercialization through a clinical trial, we were able to put together a high quality proposal within the few-month timeframe before the due date. We were only able to do this because of the advance work enabled by the VentureLab funding. We would not have been able to respond to the solicitation if we had not already done that work.

The result is that the NIH has awarded us $10 million over five years to develop a novel dissolving microneedle patch, manufacture it under GMP and obtain IND approval from the FDA, and carry out a Phase I clinical trial on influenza vaccination at Emory’s Hope Clinic. It is no exaggeration to say that we could not have even applied, let alone received, this award without the VentureLab funding to prime the pump. (Moreover, if the Global Center for Medical Innovation has suitable capabilities within our timeframe, we may do the GMP manufacturing there.)

We are leveraging this understanding of the pathways to commercialization and to the clinic in other ways too. We recently responded to a significant funding opportunity from the Russian government to develop a microneedle patch for diagnostic purposes through clinical trial and toward forming a company around the technology (in Russia…). We are finalizing a proposal with colleagues at Southern Research Institute that includes commercial scale up of a microneedle vaccine for a clinical trial. We are also in late stages of preparing a proposal with a Korean company for a microneedle device. We are also in on-going discussion with a California collaborator to start a new venture around dissolving microneedles for delivery of a biotherapeutic. We may still even start a company of our own! Our ability to respond to these opportunities has been significantly enhanced by the understanding developed through the VentureLab grants, because they all have commercial manufacturing and regulatory components that most academics do not understand. We now stand out not only as leaders in microneedles research, but also as knowledgeable collaborators on microneedles commercialization.

I thought you might be interested in these developments, and to know that VentureLab’s $50,000 investment directly enabled a $10,000,000 grant award, and we hope will enable even more. Thank you for making this possible.

Mark

Mark R. Prausnitz, PhD
Professor of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering
Cherry L. Emerson Faculty Fellow
Director of the Center for Drug Design, Development and Delivery
School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology

September 30, 2010 at 3:18 pm Leave a comment

Keeping an Eye on the Georgia Coast

Walter Jones of the Morris News Service recently took a look at the influence of the Georgia Research Alliance across the state.   His article below shows how some targeted investments can make a big difference.

Georgia Research Alliance helps keep science funded in the state

By funding research in the state, it helps those efforts find more funds.

Posted: September 19, 2010 – 11:16pm

By Walter C. Jones

ATLANTA – If oil was spewing from an undersea well off the coast of Georgia, the resulting slick would have been tracked by a sophisticated radar system funded by the Georgia Research Alliance.

The money for the high-frequency radar stations on Jekyll Island’s Villas by the Sea condo complex at the north end of the island and on St. Catherines Island is just part of the investment by the Research Alliance in the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, which is based near Savannah. And it’s a fraction of the $2.6 billion the alliance has helped attract to the state in research funding over the last 20 years.

“The GRA has contributed substantially to the development of Skidaway Institute’s high frequency radar capabilities in coastal ocean observations,” said Dana Savidge, the principal scientist on the radar project.

True to the mission of the alliance, the funding is aimed at both practical applications and pure research.

“The ocean continues to be very poorly observed,” Savidge said. “For example, we do not know how material from the land crosses the shelf. It may be organic. It may be man made. It may be pollutants. Where does it go and how does it get there? These measurements will help us find out.”

The Research Alliance also funded molecular biology at Skidaway by purchasing a DNA sequencer and other equipment for a classroom and lab. The lab is being used by scientists studying arctic climate change.

Those funds permitted the establishment of a master of science program at Savannah State University. They also prepared the institute to compete nationally for grants that brought in $6 million from out of state, according to Mac Frischer, principal scientist in the lab.

“Skidaway Institute has also built a reputation in marine molecular studies that has attracted many national and international visiting scientists to visit Georgia and the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography,” he said.

Enhancing the reputation of the state’s academic-research institutions like Skidaway, Georgia Tech and Emory University is a major reason the Research Alliance was created.

Boost for the state

Twenty years ago, 17 of the state’s most prominent businessmen agreed to raise money for academic research. Their goal was to boost the state economy by building up intellectual capital and fostering the transfer of breakthroughs from the campus lab to the market place.

The businessmen shared their idea with the candidates for governor that year, and the winner, Zell Miller, made it the centerpiece of his economic-recovery strategy in office.

What resulted became the Georgia Research Alliance. In partnership with the state, it has recruited to Georgia campuses 60 of the country’s most eminent scholars, who have won $2.6 billion in federal and private grants. Their discoveries have benefited more than 100 companies and led to the creation of at least 150 start-up companies and 5,500 high-tech jobs, according to the alliance’s own tally.

By funding early research and young startups, the alliance helps those efforts attract other funding, according to alliance President Michael Cassidy.

“We’re trying to work with each of the universities,” he said. “No. 1, we’re trying to leverage with each other … looking at some glowing embers and throwing some gas on them.”

Looking forward, the alliance is developing videoconferencing for researchers across the state to talk with one another, an online database of their discoveries and a research campus on the site of an abandoned military base near Atlanta’s airport.

walter.jones@morris.com, (404) 589-8424

September 21, 2010 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

New name for MCG

ATLANTA – (Sept. 15) – What’s in a name? When it comes to telling the full story of the missions of its 35 colleges and universities, plenty, according to the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia (USG). The board approved today a request from the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) to change its name to Georgia Health Sciences University (GHSU).

“The new name more accurately reflects and encompasses the broad and growing health sciences teaching and research mission we have, not just in Augusta, but statewide,” said USG Chancellor Erroll B. Davis Jr.

Board Chair Willis Potts said, “Georgia Health Sciences University truly indicates the institution’s status as a comprehensive health sciences university that benefits the citizens of this state and nation as a whole and the board’s approval is a testament to our commitment to its mission.”

The name change will take effect February 1, 2011.

The regents’ action today, while changing the name of the broader institution, will allow MCG President Ricardo Azziz to retain the historic name Medical College of Georgia for the university’s School of Medicine. MCG’s other four schools will change their designations to colleges.

“Georgia Health Sciences University better defines our institution as what it is – a comprehensive health sciences university and a modern academic health center,” said Azziz. “In this competitive world of rankings and reputation, we believe the new change will allow us to achieve the national prominence and recognition that this university community so richly deserves.”

The name change will not affect the MCG Health System or MCG Health. Both entities will retain their names, a reflection of their strong connection to the university’s medical school.

The board’s action today follows three independent studies conducted since 2007, all of which supported the renaming. Earlier this year, the possibility of a name change resurfaced during a MCG Health System retreat. Azziz and other MCG officials have engaged the university’s many constituent groups, including alumni, students, faculty, staff, corporate and community leaders, in the dialogue leading up to today’s board approval.

Founded in 1828 as the Medical Academy of Georgia, the university has been renamed five times in its 182-year history. It was first named Medical College of Georgia in 1833 and has been called MCG continuously since 1950.

A website featuring frequently asked questions is available at: http://name.mcg.edu

September 15, 2010 at 2:45 pm Leave a comment

From Science Project to Commercial Success

In 2001 when University of Georgia graduate student James Atwood began working with professors Ron Orlando and Rick Tarleton on a research project, he had no inkling that just eight years later he would be the General Manager of U.S. operations for an Australian biotech company.

The project focused on unraveling the proteomics of Chagas, a tropical parasitic disease that can cause serious stomach and heart problems.  “The research generated lots of data, but we didn’t know what to do with it,” said Atwood.  The solution:  hiring computer professional Brent Weatherly, who helped to develop software to analyze the data.  This led to a publication in 2005 in Science and a starring role at the publisher’s 100th anniversary news conference.

What followed was a suggestion from the UGA technology transfer office to form a company to refine and market the software.  With the agreement of Dr. Orlando and Dr. Tarleton, and the expert advice of Margaret Wagner Dahl, director of the Georgia Research Alliance VentureLab program at UGA, BioInquire was formed. 

“With Phase Ia and Phase Ib VentureLab grants totaling $50,000, we were able to develop a prototype and do some market research,” said Atwood.  “Phase II grants allowed us to go from prototype to marketing and selling our product, ProteoIQ software, which catalogues, analyzes and mines the products of mass spectrometric analysis”

The company’s first sale was to a researcher at the University of North Carolina, and 75% of its market remains academic researchers.

Then, in 2009, BioInquire caught the eye of NuSep, an Australian bioseparations products company.  “NuSep markets the devices to separate proteins; we have the software to analyze the data,” said Atwood.  In December that year, NuSep signed a letter of intent to acquire BioInquire for more than $3 million in three phases over the next 18 months.  “We strongly believe that sales for the ProteomeSep MF10 [bioseparations instrument] will be boosted by providing a complete solution to our mass spectrometry customers,” said NuSep Managing Director and CEO Hari Nair.

The rest of the good news:  NuSep intends to grow operations in Athens, has established its U.S. headquarters in Lawrenceville and has named Atwood its General Manager.

“The whole process has changed my life – and those of many of us involved with BioInquire.  GRA VentureLab put us on the fast track.  They wanted us to succeed,” Atwood said.

July 1, 2010 at 2:30 pm Leave a comment

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