Archive for May, 2012

The Hard Facts about Soft Money

For years, the economic development community has debated whether the influx of federal funding for academic research into a state’s economy is a true economic development “win.”  This so-called soft money is said by some to be less desirable than the economic activity of private industry since it is not sustainable over time – federal funding is cyclical and often fickle.

A recent report on the economic benefit of academic research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) does not settle the issue, but does make a strong case that this funding itself has an enormous, immediate impact in a state’s and region’s economy.  Perhaps more importantly, the research outcomes this funding generates are directly linked to the growth and vitality of a region’s life sciences and health care industries.

According to the report, in 2010, NIH funding led to the creation of 484,939 jobs and produced nearly $70 billion in new economic activity across the country.  In addition, since NIH primarily funds basic research, these figures – while impressive – don’t tell the complete story.  The study reports that the NIH research portfolio expands the life sciences knowledge base, which in turn allows private industry to develop new drugs, new diagnostic tools, new medical technologies, and a myriad of other innovations that save lives and grow the economy.

In Georgia, our universities and academic medical centers have been increasingly successful in capturing NIH funds.  In 2010, Georgia was one of 15 states creating more than 10,000 jobs as a result of NIH support.  And from 2000 to 2010, Georgia increased its NIH research funding by nearly 85 percent – from $236 million in 2000 to $433 million in 2010.  This represents a higher percentage increase than any of the other states in the top 1/3.

In addition, the innovations the research generates have become the basis for the majority of new Georgia-based drug, vaccine, medical device and diagnostics startup companies.  Three examples:

  • Clearside Biomedical is based on technology developed from NIH-funded research at Georgia Tech and Emory.  The company is developing tissue specific, microneedle injected products for treating eye diseases.  Clearside recently completed its $4.7 million Series A financing with investments from Hatteras Venture Fund and the GRA Venture Fund.
  • NeurOp, housed in the Georgia State University bioscience company incubator, is a biopharmaceutical company developing new medicines to treat central nervous system disorders, including major depression, neuropathic pain and ischemia.  NIH funds supported the basic research that led to the development of the company’s key intellectual property.
  • Camellix, a company based on NIH-funded research in the laboratories of Georgia Health Sciences University, has developed a chewing gum that combines green tea’s potent anti-oxidant component with Jaborandi leaf to stimulate saliva production.  The gum holds great promise for the 50 million Americans who suffer from dry mouth.

These successes for Georgia have not been accidental.  Twenty years ago, the business, academic and political leadership of the state launched the Georgia Research Alliance in part to give Georgia’s universities a distinct advantage in competing for federal research dollars.  By recruiting top scientists and investing in the tools they need for breakthrough research, GRA has helped Georgia’s universities – often collaboratively – win the race among the 3,000 universities, medical schools and other research institutes that compete for NIH funding.

Competition among states for limited federal funding is likely to become even more intense.  To keep up, Georgia must continue to invest in organizations like the Georgia Research Alliance that help our research universities attract the soft money that leads to real, sustainable economic growth and opportunity for the state.

May 31, 2012 at 2:10 pm Leave a comment

Progress made toward universal flu vaccine

Researchers at the Emory Vaccine Center in collaboration with the scientists at the University of Chicago and the National Institutes of Health have found that the pandemic 2009 H1N1 vaccine can generate antibodies in vaccinated individuals not only against the H1N1 virus but against other influenza strains as well.

“Our new finding is a key step in the development of a vaccine that can produce high levels of antibodies that protect against multiple flu strains, including challenging mutations that have the potential for widespread illness and death,” said Rafi Ahmed, GRA Eminent Scholar and director of the Emory Vaccine Center.

The next steps:  Improve the research results and develop an actual vaccine with multi-strain protection.  Read more here>

May 23, 2012 at 3:14 pm 1 comment

GRA Eminent Scholar Joe Tsien honored

GRA Eminent Scholar Joe Tsien, a neuroscientist at the Medical College of Georgia of Georgia Health Sciences University, has received the 2012 International Behavioural and Neural Genetics Society’s Distinguished Scientists Award.  In presenting the award, the Society lauded Tsien as a prominent leader in elucidating the molecular and neural mechanisms of learning and memory.  He was noted as a pioneer in the development of techniques for developing disease-specific animal models widely used to study divergent medical problems.  Read about Tsien’s work here>

May 23, 2012 at 2:42 pm 1 comment

GRA VentureLab companies advance

The past several months have brought new investment and renewed direction for a number of GRA VentureLab companies.

  • Axion BioSystems Inc. raised $3.2 million from investors toward commercializing technology that allows measurement of the electrical activity of neural and cardiac cells in response to chemicals.  The product improves drug screening and toxicity analysis.
  • Innovolt Inc., a power technology startup, closed a $3.87 million offering of shares.  Innovolt designs electronics power protection systems that guard devices from damage caused by power interruptions, including infinite voltage and current variations.
  • The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued broader claims for Aruna Biomedical‘s proprietary stem cell technology.  The company has developed manufacturing techniques that allow for consistent propagation of billions of neural stem cells in a single production run.  According to company co-founder and GRA Eminent Scholar Steve Stice, the broadened claims will enhance Aruna’s position as a leader in the rapidly expanding of stem cell research tools market.
  • REACH Health, Inc., the winner of the first GRA/TAG Business Launch Competition, secured $4 million in Series B funding to support its new, multidisciplinary telemedicine platform.  Commenting on the new investment, company CEO Richard Otto said, “This funding will enable REACH to continue our expansion into additional markets by providing hospitals with the most advanced specialized telemedicine technology to address their strategic initiatives and extend their reach.” 

May 23, 2012 at 2:21 pm Leave a comment

Gene delivery system may lead to new arthritis treatment

In 1998, GRA Eminent Scholar Andrew Mellor and Georgia Health Sciences University colleague David Munn first reported on their landmark research into the role of the enzyme IDO in regulating the immune system.  Their earliest finding was that the expression of IDO helps avoid rejection of a fetus by the mother’s immune system.  Subsequent studies found that tumors also use IDO to protect themselves and that increasing IDO expression can protect transplanted organs and fight autoimmune disease.

Most recently, Mellor and researcher Lei Huang found that DNA-covered submicroscopic beads usually used to deliver genes or drugs directly to cells triggered IDO expression just be showing up.  In an animal model of rheumatoid arthritis, within a few hours of insertion,  the DNA “blanks” set off the calming effect of IDO on the immune system, and the joint swelling and inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis, a debilitating auotimmune disease, dramatically decreased.   

The researchers plan more studies to document the effect and to develop beads that degrade safely in the body.  Read more>

May 15, 2012 at 2:55 pm 3 comments

New research suggests low oxygen levels may drive cancer cell growth

GRA Eminent Scholar Ying Xu and his colleagues at the University of Georgia have found that low oxygen levels in cells may be the primary cause of tumor growth in some cancers, rather than genetic mutations.  According to Xu, their findings could change how malignant growths are treated. 

“Cancer drugs try to get at the root — at the molecular level — of a particular mutation, but the cancer often bypasses it,” Xu said. “So we think that possibly genetic mutations may not be the main driver of cancer.”  In conducting the research, the scientists used bioinformatics techniques to analyze samples of RNA messenger data from seven different cancer types.  Read more>

May 4, 2012 at 4:45 pm Leave a comment