Finding the “one big thing” that unites North Carolina as a state on developing biotechnology initiatives may help it cross the divide that now separate its research and banking centers, says the director of the new Emerging Issues Institute at North Carolina State University.

“We want to build bridges across the regional and institutional divides that exist across the state,” Noah Pickus tells Local Tech Wire.

The gap that separate North Carolina’s banking center in Charlotte, home to two of the nation’s largest banks, and the Research Triangle, a center of biotechnology research and commerce, surfaced again at the Emerging Issues Forum on biotechnology at North Carolina State University last week.

There, industry leaders such as James Mullen, head of Biogen, and Max Wallace, president and chief executive officer of Cogent Neuroscience, noted the lack of a statewide focus on biotechnology efforts. Mullen pointed to the State’s need to acquire statewide “depth” as well as the “quality” it already has in the Research Triangle in biotech infrastructure.

“It sometimes seems closer to London, Zurich, or Boston than to Charlotte,” Wallace said, referring to the obtaining funding for Triangle-based start-ups.

“Ignorance and arrogance on both sides”

RTP can’t go it alone, says one influential observer.

The Dean of the College of Information Technology at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, Mirsad Hadzikadic, says, “No matter how good the Research Triangle is, without support from throughout the State it will get nowhere.”

Hadzikadic says that if more Research Triangle biotechnology firms had a presence in Charlotte, it might be easier for them to attract greater interest and understanding of what they’re doing from Charlotte banks.

“I see ignorance and arrogance on both sides,” he says.

Hadzikadic says, “North Carolina, as a state, has to have the image of begin dynamic and progressive. The Research Triangle cannot live in isolation from the rest of the state. You always hear, ‘go with what your strengths are, where your infrastructure is in place’ (in the Triangle).

“Decades ago there was no Research Triangle and if people had thought like that, we wouldn’t be in the position we are now in biotechnology.”

Hadzikadic points to areas in which UNC-Charlotte is advancing it information technology programs as one area where cooperation might be greater. He says UNC-Charlotte’s IT program has expertise in security and privacy, intelligent data analysis, and pervasive computing and networking, all areas of vital interest to biotechnology research today.

Pick one big thing and do it

In addition, Hadzikadic says, Bank of America and Wachovia have committed funds to establish an E-business technical institute, which will deal with financial services and other areas.

Pickus responds, “If the Forum helped bring these concerns to the fore, then we want to be on the forefront of helping turn those concerns into a set of working programs that make it easier for funding, ideas, and progress to flow back and forth.”

State officials at the Emerging Issues Forum often stressed their awareness of a need to expand the state’s biotechnology infrastructure and resources statewide.

“I think Gov. Hunt hit the right note when he said we need ‘one big thing’ to get everyone working together,” Pickus says.

Hadzikadic agrees.

“We need a framework in place to take one particular initiative and establish that as a guideline. I don’t know if it will be a forum or an institute, but right now a dialog is not taking place. None of us benefit from a divided state.

“We need to focus on one thing,” says Hadzikadic. “Take one item in biotechnology, materials science, information technology, set the goal, say we want to be number one in five years. Set up a task force, give it the resources, and do it.”

Pickus says that’s exactly what the Emerging Issues Institute at NSU wants to do.

“I’m from Northern California,” he says. “What I saw work there was an informal infrastructure, the way people from all the different sectors, government, entrepreneurs, banks, community groups, all have easy access to each other’s ideas. That makes for an entrepreneurial culture. Some of what needs to be done is to build this informal infrastructure.”

Pickus says the Emerging Issues Institute hopes to unite not only government, institutions, and academics in the state, but also its citizens. “We also need to consider the moral and ethical issues in biotechnology that are of real concern to many people,” he adds.

Other Emerging Issues Forum stories:

Bridging the gap between RTP and Charlotte possible? Click here:

Industry leaders challenge North Carolina to improve biotech environment. Click here:

Thompson talks tough on bioterror. Click here:

NCSU creates new institute. Click here:

Scientists must address ethical concerns, too. Click here:

Glaxo exec defends high drug prices. Click here:

A preview: Opportunties and obstacles state faces. Click here: