Archive for September, 2010

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 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., (404) 589-8424

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

Commentary: GRA Pioneers New Paradigm

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, the public policy research arm of the State University of New York, recently published a study of how higher education institutions are working to revitalize state economies.  Titled A New Paradigm for Economic Development, the report states:

“For much of the twentieth century, states’ economic development efforts centered on incentives, financial packages, cost comparisons, labor policy, permitting requirements, roads and water systems, and so on – things that state governments are comfortable working with, but that do not suffice to meet key challenges for the new economy.

The twenty-first century paradigm, in contrast, is shifting toward putting knowledge first.  For states, increasingly, that means connecting their higher education systems more closely to their economic development strategies.”

As the report goes on to describe (p. 14-17), Georgia, through the Georgia Research Alliance, is a pioneer of this “new paradigm.”  Throughout its 20 year history, GRA has brought together the state’s academic, business and government leaders to capture and leverage the enormous economic development impact of our research universities.  Its strategic investments in top scientific talent (GRA Eminent Scholars), research infrastructure, and research commercialization (GRA VentureLab), have helped to bring some 2.6 billion new dollars in private and public funding into Georgia’s economy, generated more than 175 new, high-value companies from university research and created nearly 5,500 knowledge-economy jobs.

With continued investment and aggressive new initiatives, GRA offers the promise of remaining, as the Rockefeller Institute concludes, “perhaps the most comprehensive research-to-implementation strategy in any state.”

September 16, 2010 at 8:00 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:

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