Editor’s note: BioWatch is a regular feature on Fridays.Retired Raleigh business professor Everett Nichols woke one morning in 1998 with numb fingers and toes, and by afternoon he could not walk.

By the following morning, he lay in a hospital bed, weak, mute and in great pain. Diagnosed with the mysterious inflammatory disease, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, the former North Carolina State University professor had to communicate by fluttering his eyelids.

Doctors gave Nichols Gamimune N, a mixture of antibodies purified from blood plasma made at Bayer Biological Products Clayton, NC plant. The medication helped Nichols, 74, who calls it “a wonder drug,” recover and return to an active life.

The “New Jobs for North Carolina” plan to grow the economy through biotechnology submitted to Gov. Easley six weeks ago includes this true story among others aimed at showing that biotechnology affects more than the state’s economic health and range statewide.

Dr. Leslie Alexandre, president of the Biotechnology Center, tells Local Tech Wire, “We believe these biotechnology products are improving the quality of our lives.”

Biotech everywhere

Alexandre notes that one of the greatest aspects drawing people into biotech careers is that “they’re delighted with the opportunity to improve human health, to create more robust products, to help feed the world. I think many people are not aware of how ubiquitous biotech has become.”

Alexandre suggests looking at the many products manufactured using industrial enzymes. “It’s not all glamorous, but many are important in our day to day lives,” she says. “The blue crystals in laundry soap, for instance.”

Novozymes plant in Franklin, NC, which makes both food-grade and industrial enzymes, is the largest in the United States.

King Cotton

Agriculture in North Carolina means more than food crops, too. The biotech plan cites the case of Beaufort County cotton farmer Milton Prince. Weeds nearly strangled his cotton crops and his farm until he planted cotton varieties genetically engineered to resist the herbicides necessary to slay the weeds. Today, 50,000 acres of biotech cotton grows in Beaufort County, compared to 1,000 acres in 1991.

Alexandre says the biotech strategic plan has stimulated healthy debate pro and con.

One argument leveled by opponents of spending more than $600 million on the plans recommendations over the next five years say that’s too much money to bet on one industry.

“When you think of biotech,” counters Dr. Alexandre, “it’s not so much an industry as tools using living cells and their molecules with applications to most of the industries in the state.”

Alexandre says no one expects everything in the strategic plan to get a rubber stamp by the Governor or the state legislature. “We wouldn’t expect everyone to love every strategy. But there seems to be a general recognition of the contribution biotech makes to our economy.

“We’re delighted with the response we’re getting in the media and from legislators. This is a plan and it’s going to evolve over time. We don’t expect all 54 recommendations to be endorsed and funded, but we’re optimistic some will move forward.”

Update on Ag

The Council for Entrepreneurial Development and NC State University are co-hosting a special luncheon for industry executives, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs April 30.

The luncheon at NCSU’s Lake Wheeler Road Field Lab in Raleigh, features updates from its scientists and researchers on the universities’ leading edge work in agriculture and life sciences.

Topics include: commercial applications in proteomics; developments in bioinformatics; advances in crop performance that will enhance commodity value; and the application of functional genomics in guaranteeing food safety industry-wide.

NC Biotechnology Center: www.ncbiotech.org

Register for CED/NCSU Luncheon: secure.cednc.org/programs/ncsu_event/register.htmls