RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – The North Carolina Biotechnology Center awarded 22 grants and loans totaling $2,050,778 to universities, bioscience companies and other organizations in the fourth quarter of its fiscal year.

The awards, made from April 1 to June 30, will support life science research and technology commercialization throughout North Carolina. The funding will also help universities and companies attract follow-on funding from other sources.

Company loans

Four companies received Small Business Research Loans totaling $700,000. The loan program supports business inception and research leading to the development of products, processes or tools with clear commercial potential.

  • BioAesthetics Corp. of Research Triangle Park received $100,000 to develop a manufacturing facility for acellular tissue grafts for patients undergoing breast reconstruction following breast cancer-related mastectomy.
  • Deep Blue Medical Advances of Durham received $200,000 to develop a hernia mesh designed to improve outcomes over existing technology.
  • Enzerna Biosciences of Raleigh received $150,000 to develop a patented adeno-associated virus gene therapy for disorders such as myotonic dystrophy.
  • TRPblue of Durham received $250,000 for the development of a small-molecule drug to potentially treat peripheral neuropathy pain and, secondarily, atopic dermatitis.
University grants

Six universities received 13 grants totaling $820,778 to advance bioscience research. The awards were given through four programs: Flash Grants, Translational Research Grants, Institutional Development Grants and Biotechnology Innovation Grants.

Six Flash Grants totaling $143,903 were awarded to support creative ideas that exhibit early indications of commercial potential as life science technologies.

  • Appalachian State University received $24,000 to develop blockchain-enabled software that will provide a secure honey authentication and traceability system, helping beekeepers with new markets for authentic honey and safeguarding consumers.
  • East Carolina University received $24,000 to test whether a novel tumor-selective agent can inhibit the growth of cancer cells in high-risk cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma with minimal side effects.
  • Duke University Medical Center received $24,000 to develop a mobile health tool app enabling terminally ill patients to learn about the benefits of hospice and to remotely monitor how they are feeling.
  • Duke University Medical Center received $23,903 to develop a text-messaging app asking people about their current health, allowing government agencies and health systems to improve community health and save lives through rapid, flexible and accurate assessment of population health.
  • North Carolina State University received $24,000 to develop a novel therapeutic peptide that inactivates the toxin released by Clostridioides difficile, a bacterium that causes hospital-acquired infection of the gastrointestinal tract.
  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill received $24,000 to develop leads for targeted cancer therapies by determining genome-wide mutations involved in cancer signaling.

Five Translational Research Grants totaling $539,689 were awarded to support projects that explore potential commercial applications or initiate the early commercial development of university-held life science inventions.

  • Duke University Medical Center received $110,000 for development of a hospital toilet device to improve the accuracy and ease of tracking patients’ stool and urine output.
  • East Carolina University received $110,000 to test an alternative to narcotic analgesics for controlling pain while avoiding the unwanted side effects and complications of standard opioid treatments.
  • NCSU received $109,689 to develop the next generation of non-toxic biotracers for use as contrast agents in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), potentially increasing the specificity and sensitivity of MRI scanners and avoiding the use of radiopharmaceuticals.
  • NCSU received $110,000 to develop potential therapeutics derived from human lung spheroid cells for treating serious lung diseases such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, COPD and silicosis.
  • UNC received $100,000 to evaluate the efficacy and possible toxicity of a potential drug that targets the cancer gene KRAS for treating KRAS-driven cancers.

One Institutional Development Grant for $37,186 was awarded to North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University to support the purchase of a fast protein liquid chromatography system for separation and purification of proteins.

One Biotechnology Innovation Grant for $100,000 was awarded to NCSU for the identification of novel, metabolically superior yeast strains for the baking, food-flavoring and yeast-manufacturing industries.

Other awards

Four Economic Development Awards totaling $480,000 were awarded to help communities attract life science jobs and investments and promote the growth of life science companies.

  • The City of Kannapolis received $80,000 EDA to support the spin-out of SNP Therapeutics, a gene-based nutrition company from the North Carolina Research Campus, encouraging collaborations with North Carolina universities and future investment.
  • Durham County received $200,000 to purchase critical equipment for Pairwise’s research activities, and to enable the company to host interns from Durham Public Schools and explore curriculum development and outreach opportunities with local educators to encourage programming with an ag/food/nutrition focus.
  • Durham County received $100,000 to purchase essential equipment for Locus Biosciences’ new manufacturing facility for antibacterial products, and to support the company’s addition of high school interns.
  • Johnston County Economic Development Corporation received $100,000 for upgrades to the county’s 30,000-square-foot workforce training and education center that will support the skills needs of Novo Nordisk, a major drug manufacturer in the county.
  • In addition, a $50,000 Presidential Initiative Award was granted to First Flight Venture Center in Research Triangle Park to support LiftOff, a program that helps science-based startup companies with funding strategies and grant proposal preparation.
Portfolio companies raise $250 million

Fourteen bioscience companies that previously received loans from the Biotech Center raised nearly $250 million in follow-on funding from other sources in the fourth quarter, according to research by the Biotech Center’s Life Science Intelligence staff.

Accounting for most of that total was Asklêpios BioPharmaceutical (AskBio), a developer and manufacturer of Adeno-Associated Virus (AAV) gene therapy treatments for underserved patient populations with rare and generally untreatable genetic disorders. AskBio, based in Research Triangle Park, raised $225 million in venture capital and another $10 million from founders and board members. The deal is the largest single round of venture capital financing for a bioscience company in North Carolina history.

One of the founders of AskBio is Richard Jude Samulski, Ph.D., the first scientist to clone AAV and a global pioneer in the field. He was recruited to the University of North Carolina School of Medicine from the University of Pittsburgh in 1993 with the help of about $250,000 in grant funding from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

AskBio has subsequently spun out numerous gene therapy companies, including NanoCor Therapeutics, Chatham Therapeutics, Bamboo Therapeutics and Actus Therapeutics.

Several grants and loans from the Biotech Center have supported the development of Samulski’s academic research and commercial technologies respectively.

(C) N.C. Biotech Center