Zen-Bio’s research into means of fighting obesity-related diseases has shown enough promise to win a second round of federal support.

The RTP-based biotechnology firm has received a Phase II grant from the National Institutes of Health for its human omental adipocyte, or fat, cell system research. The grant is worth $961,000 over two years. It is a follow-on to a Phase I grant worth $100,000.

“The human omental cell system is a novel research tool invaluable to human metabolic disease researchers,” said Renee Lea-Currie, Zen- Bio’s director of cell biology and the principal investigator for the grant. “Customers will be able to use our human cell system to evaluate potential new drugs and therapies as well as elucidate some of the basic functions of this highly metabolically active endocrine organ.”

The funding will have significant impact on Zen-Bio and its research efforts, added Chief Operating Officer Richard Giersch.

“We are a small company that bootstrapped ourselves into existence with no venture financing and up until now, had to rely on our product revenues to drive research and other large projects,” he explained in a statement. “With this funding, Zen-Bio is plotting an exciting growth path over the coming years with plans to launch over two dozen innovative products that will provide the next generation of research tools for diabetes and obesity research.”

Zen-Bio’s research is focused in part on the link between type 2 diabetes and what it calls “deep body fat deposits” such as omental fat. The company’s goal is to develop diagnostics as well as potential pre-clinical drug targets.

Zen-Bio received a $150,000 grant from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center in 2004.

The firm also sells a cultured human fat cell system to companies seeking drug candidates to treat obesity and diabetes. It has more than 1,000 customers.

Zen-Bio also performs contract research for pharmaceutical and biotech clients.

Zen-Bio: www.zen-bio.com