UNCP receives grant to begin biotechnology project


By Scott Bigelow

The University of North Carolina at Pembroke was recently notified by the National Science Foundation (NSF) it would receive a federal Partnership for Innovation grant to startup a biotechnology project.

allen_meadors.jpgChancellor Allen C. Meadors   len_holmes.jpgDr. Len Holmes  

UNCP was granted $324,369 for the first year of a proposed $600,000, three-year program. Faculty and administration at the University have worked for more than two years on the program with the goal of construct a bio-processing laboratory.

Entitled, Project BIO (Building Innovative Opportunities for Southeast N.C.), it will provide workshops, courses, seminars and conferences for educators, industry and others involved with economic development through the creation of a Biotechnology Business and Industrial Training Center.

The next phase of the program is to obtain funding for the actual construction of a building to house the center. A 4,800 square-foot facility, estimated to cost $1 million, is planned for COMtech industry park near Pembroke.

Chancellor Allen C. Meadors said the grant is a step forward for the University's growing biotechnology program and for the region's economy.

"The University of North Carolina at Pembroke's biotechnology initiatives will distinguish our University, our people and our region as having the vision to prepare for the coming technological landscape," said Chancellor Meadors. "Biotechnology is just only beginning to bear fruit for a more healthy and prosperous North Carolina."

The purpose of the Biotechnology Center would be to train UNCP and community college students for jobs in the biotechnology industry, to conduct research and to manufacture products for the biotechnology industry. The ultimate goal is to attract the growing biotechnology industry to Southeastern North Carolina.

Partners in the grant proposal come from education, business and government sectors, including Robeson, Richmond, Southeastern, Fayetteville Technical and Central Carolina community colleges; Wyeth Vaccines of Sanford, N.C., Embrex, Inc., of Laurinburg and the Research Triangle Park, Kelly Scientific Resources of Raleigh, New Brunswick Scientific Corp., Inc., of New Jersey and COMtech; Robeson County Office of Economic Development, Scotland County Board of Commissioners, and the Council of Government's Lumber River Workforce Development Corp.

The NSF grant will be administered by UNCP's Regional Center for Economic, Community and Professional Development, but many individuals and departments of the University worked on the proposal, said Dr. Roger Brown, Provost and Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs.

"We have waited for a long time for this confirmation," Dr. Brown said. "My warmest thanks to Dr. Len Holmes (chemistry professor), Lynda Parlett (interim director of the Center for Sponsored Research and Programs) and Sylvia Pate (Director of the Regional Center) for their work on the proposal."

"We also are indebted to Robeson Community College (RCC) and our other community college partners," he said. "Together with last week's historic news of RCC's nomination to be a regional lead biotechnology center, this is the beginning of a major new chapter in higher education collaboration for the good of Southeastern North Carolina's economy."

UNCP was a partner in RCC's successful bid to win a recommendation for major portion of a $4.4 million grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation. Both RCC and UNCP have buildings nearing completion at COMtech.

Efforts to win funding for construction and laboratory equipment are underway, and the NSF grant is a great boost. About $75,000 of the initial grant will go to fund staffing and $188,000 for equipment.

As a condition of the award, the University agreed to provide $60,000 in matching funds.

Dr. Holmes, who provided much of the initial research for the program, said the program's impact would be widespread.

"UNCP has been in the field of biotechnology for 10 years thanks to $1 million in investments from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, and we are ready to take this most important next step," Dr. Holmes said. "We have the staff, the students and resources to make this vision a reality."

A vocal supporter of RCC's and UNCP's biotechnology initiative, state Sen. David Weinstein said the grant is good news for workforce development.

"Hallelujah!" Sen. Weinstein said. "This coupled with RCC's grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation gives us a chance to create a workforce that can attract a biotechnology industry that pays decent wages."

"A program like this takes teamwork," Sen. Weinstein said. "My hat is off to Chancellor Meadors, (RCC) President Charles Chrestman and Superintendent Colin Armstrong (Public Schools of Robeson County), who have worked so well together and with the legislature and the Golden LEAF Foundation."

"Everyone has worked long and hard, and the payoff is that it helps everyone," he said.