Note: The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of WRAL Tech Wire and business editor of WRAL.com.
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Just as the late Jim Graham was called the “sodfather” for agriculture in North Carolina, so too should Dr. Charles Hamner be nicknamed the “biofather” of the biotech industry across the state.
Hamner, longtime director of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center who is retired yet still very active in the biotech industry, brushes off such praise. Instead, he seeks to share credit with others.
But last week, Hamner did receive formal recognition for helping build the state’s life science and biotech industry when he received a “North Carolina Award” for public service. It’s one of the top awards the state can offer.
“I was shocked up front, but extremely proud that I was awarded such a prestigious honor,” Hamner said. “There are so many important people that have been given this honor, tried and true North Carolinians helping us become a great state for education. I am proud to be included in the company of such people as former Rep. Martin Lancaster in receiving this award. I was lucky enough to come along at the right time when the biotechnology industry was being developed here.”
Hamner also dismisses talk that he deserves credit for the state’s success as a biotech center.
“I deeply appreciate being mentioned in the same breath as Secretary Graham,” Hamner said. “Certainly he was a wonderful person. But I cannot take all the credit for biotech in North Carolina.
“Dr. Stuart Bondurant, now Emeritus Dean and Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the School of Medicine of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, state Rep. Bob Etheridge, Lt. Gov. Bob Jordan, state Sen. Gerry Hancock and others worked on setting up the N.C. Board of Science of Technology that Gov. Jim Hunt had the vision to establish.
“I probably get more credit than I deserve because there were very inspired people who helped get running and going in place for years. I will take credit for having set the strategic plan in place.”
Now 76, Hamner is still known as an avid tennis player, although he only says that he tries to play.
“For some reason the ball keeps getting hit away from me,”
He also doesn’t look at his age as a hinderance.
“I was blessed to have been born [in 1935] that year because I learned early in life how to work, be frugal and get the job done.”
14 Years of Growth
And get the job done he did in North Carolina. The biotech industry across the state ranks as the third largest hub in the country with 262,000 direct and affiliated jobs and doing $65 billion a year in commerce, according to the Biotech Center.
Hamner took over as director of the four-year-old Center in 1988 after working on technology transfer efforts in Virginia. He says his background trained him for the job.
“I was very fortunate in my early career, when I worked with the University of Virginia, the World Health Organization, the Ford Foundation and other organizations, that I had the chance to become a research biochemical developer,” Hamner recalled.
“I got the opportunity to learn the business procedures of the marketplace, and at the University of Virginia, I worked with the legislature, so when I came to North Carolina to help set up the biotechnology business model here in the 1980s, I had experience in the industry, academics, financial management and working with legislators. The latter was important to have. I felt very comfortable doing the job of fitting a new industry in North Carolina, and doing it in a way that encompassed industry, academics, the financial sector and state legislators.”
Hamner retired from the biotech post in 2002 and now serves as chairman of the board of The Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences, which was renamed in his honor. It formerly was known as the Chemical Institute for Industrial Toxicology.
So who are some of the people who deserve credit for North Carolina’s biotech success?
What does he see in the future for the biotech industry?
The “biofather” answers those questions on Tuesday.
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