Editor’s note: BioWatch is a regular feature on Fridays in Local Tech Wire.A group charged by Gov. Mike Easley with creating a strategic plan for keeping North Carolina in the forefront as a biotechnology hub submitted a draft of its recommendations to its steering committee Thursday night.

“A confidential draft goes to the steering committee chaired by former Governor’s Jim Hunt and Jim Martin,” says Barry Teater, director of corporate communications at the NC Biotechnology Center, which oversaw the plan.

“It lays out what the state needs to do to continue to grow its biotech industry with specific recommendations in many different areas,” Teater says. “It covers the next decade, roughly.”

Teater says the plan should be finalized within two weeks, but he declined to reveal details, which he says may change.

New funding means

Last week we reported that Don Lo, a founder of Cogent Neuroscience, and Max Wallace, former CEO of Cogent, were seeking a new means to fund drug discovery.

Lo wrote Local Tech Wire to clarify that, “What we are hoping to revive is the scientific mission of Cogent to find new cures for neurological diseases such as Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s disease, but we will not be pursuing anything that was proprietary to Cogent, such as patents, etc.”

Lo, an associate professor of neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center, says, “Max, I and a few of our other former Cogent colleagues are indeed trying to devise a new business architecture for drug discovery to better match the current state of the markets.”

Lo adds, “We hope to have some exciting news to share soon.”

Wallace, his former partner and president of the recently formed Arbor Group, which hopes to provide services such as “just in time management,” to growing companies, told Local Tech Wire that Lo recently visited New Orleans in the hunt for backers.

Wallace has suggested that nonprofit foundations and organizations may offer an alternative to venture capital funding for innovative scientific research.

Save our trees

The Institute of Forest Biotechnology (IFB)is helping organize the Forest biotechnology sessions for the United Nations Industrial Development Organization Conference on Global Biotechnology in Chili, the first week in March, 2004.

The IFB, one of the few organizations worldwide dedicated to forest biotech, is based at the NC Biotech Center.

Project manager Susan McCord tells LTW: “The conference sessions will look not just at the science, but also at how this technology could benefit third world countries environmentally and economically.”

Bob Kellison, IFB president will attend as will IFB board members and experts worldwide.

McCord says IFB is also focusing on its heritage trees program. It wants to find ways companies can donate intellectual property to help restore threatened tree species. “We would like to bring in some companies that could donate intellectual property they’re not using in this way, or one that impinges on their commercial activities. It would be for the good of society.”

The three tree species currently on the want-to-restore list are American Chestnut, the Elm and the Frazier Fur. All three were decimated by diseases. Research aimed at restoring these trees may also help scientists learn to prevent such devastation by disease in the future, says McCord. “It’s opens a door to see how that might be done,”
she says.

The Institute has acquired funding from a variety of sources, including forestry companies, the Weyhauser Foundation, grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Forestry, and support from a company in Chili and NC-based Jordan Lumber.

First RTP BioCom

Thursday marked the first meeting of the new networking group aimed at the Biotech community, RTP BioCom.

The group heard Michael Murphy, Gentris Chief Executive Officer and his scientific team speak at the Triangle Life Science Center (the former EPA Building).

RTP BioCom bills itself as “a discussion group for the RTP Bioscience industry and is primarily a networking event, says Scott Place of Maverick Marketing.

RTP BioCom meetings are held the third Thursday of every other month. They include a social hour. Each meeting showcases a company from the RTP area.

The group is looking for volunteers to help to make the events a success. More information is available on the RTP BioCom web site.

Institute of Forest Biotechnology: www.forestbiotech.org

NC Biotech Center: www.ncbiotech.org

RTP BioCom: www.rtpbiocom.org