Biowatch appears every Friday on Localtechwire.

RALEIGH–The North Carolina Association for BioMedical Research (NCABR) is in the planning stages of presenting its next media seminar on the topic of obesity research.

Suzanne C. Wood, director of programs and communications tells Local Tech Wire the seminar plans are just forming and neither speakers nor a date has been set yet.

Wood says the media seminars began in 2000 when the first was held on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus with the School of Journalism and Mass Communication participating. That event covered a few too many topics for attending journalists who asked for more focus in future events, she says.

So, the following forums covered single topics such as stem cells, cloning, and new vaccine technologies.

NCABR is a statewide non-profit organization with a mission to increase science literacy and encourage North Carolinians to enter biotech careers, says Wood.

In addition to the media forums, NCABR holds programs throughout the year to “tackle” biotech issues for various audiences such as teachers, students, and the public. The programs include, she says, “a lot of things to get students involved in careers and give them direction early.”

“We see the media as the gatekeeper for all this audiences,” Wood says about the annual forums. So much research on obesity, its causes, effects and prevention is underway in the Research Triangle alone that the NCABR is still considering the program, Wood says.

Obesity, which often leads to a slew of other ills from heart trouble to diabetes, is a target of research at the Triangle’s major universities and numerous biotech companies at all stages.

The K-12 workshop programs for teachers at all grade levels take the educators to biotech sites such as the GlaxoSmithKline facility. “We take them to a research site with their peers,” Wood says. “We’ve been doing that since 1994. Then each teacher who tours those labs and interacts with scientists talks about it to students. If each teacher has 100 students a year, you can imagine the impact.”

Wood says the program has reached more than 2,000 teachers, may of whom have requested return engagements which had to be turned down until a program was developed two years ago to allow a repeat program. “We have between 200 and 300 who came back to continue the process,” Wood notes.

“One of the benefits to the biotech community is the positive experience the teachers take back to their students,” says Wood. “I’ve heard some say they had negative perceptions about the pharmaceutical industry, but after seeing Glaxo, came away with a positive perception. It’s the best PR these companies could have and helps foster tomorrow’s workforce.”

Wood says NCABR asks companies interested in hosting a K-12 workshop to contact it.

Strategy Report Due

Governor Easley, accompanied by former NC governors and Leslie Alexander, CEO of the NC Biotech Center, among other dignitaries, will release the state’s biotech strategy plan next Wednesday.

The plan was developed by a Blue Ribbon committee of state leaders and biotech experts assembled and coordinated by the Biotech Center at Gov. Easley’s request.

It outlines in detail what the committee members believe the state should do to maintain and build upon its status as a biotech hub. The January snow storm delayed earlier release of the report, which was submitted to the Governor’s office in late December last year.

Biotech Center Report

One item that may be in the strategy outline is a recommendation to increase certain Biotech Center funding to previous levels in real dollars.

If you want to get an idea of the Biotech Center’s financial position, cashflow, and where it spends its money, check out the 2003 annual report available online (see link at end of article). The Center receives annual funding from the legislature.

The report says the Center has total net assets of $21.98 million, $18.76 million of it in investments. The Center ended 2003 with $1.57 million in cash, compared with $796,775 in 2002. Investment activities provided $2.68 million in cash during the year.

The report shows that the Center spent $1.19 million on science and technology development programs, $2.85 million on program management, and $1.79 million on general and administrative costs.

Biotech Center Annual Report:

North Carolina Association of Biomedical Research: