Arkansas, FDA to Partner on Nanotechnology Research

by Mark Carter  on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2011 11:19 am  

Margaret Hamburg

The state of Arkansas will sign an agreement on Friday with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration setting up a nanotechnology research program between the FDA's National Center for Toxicological Research in Jefferson and the state's five research universities.

Gov. Mike Beebe and FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg will sign a memorandum of understanding creating a Virtual Center of Excellence in regulatory science pertaining to nanotechnology. Hamburg will be in Little Rock on Thursday to address the NCTR's Global Summit on Regulatory Science & Innovation at the Peabody Hotel, and on Friday will join Beebe, U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., at NCTR's 40th anniversary celebration where the MOU will be signed.

Under the agreement, the state's five research universities -- the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences; the University of Arkansas at Little Rock; the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, and Arkansas State University -- will work with NCTR to establish a nanotechnology collaborative research program dealing specifically with toxicity. In addition, UAMS will offer a Master's degree and a certification program in regulatory science.

Art Norris, former NCTR deputy director, said lots of folks are working with nanotechnology, but hardly anyone is looking at toxicity issues associated with it. The world-class toxicity labs at NCTR create an opportunity for collaboration between Arkansas and the FDA to have a real impact, he said.

Located at FDA's Jefferson Labs just north of White Hall, NCTR serves as the agency's primary research facility, supporting all FDA product centers nationwide and collaborating with scientists from across the world. Scientists from 14 countries are swcheduled to attend NCTR's global summit on Thursday.

Under the agreement with FDA, Beebe will select a working group of advisors to coordinate the research activities. According to Norris, who authored the MOU, the group's function will be to review policies associated with the collaborative research and look at barriers that prevent products created by the research from being commercialized.

"We could become a proving ground for new ideas in regulatory science with a national impact," he told ArkansasBusiness.com.

Norris said the agreement authorizes Beebe to appoint two group co-chairs, one of which must represent NCTR. Otherwise, group membership and term duration will rely on Beebe's discretion. The group will provide the state with annual assessments on research progress.

FDA has many existing MOUs with individual universities, but Norris believes Friday's signing will be the first time it has partnered in this way with an entire state.

"The commercilaization of NCTR research has not traditionally been supported by Washington," he said. "I think we have an opportunity to do something now because this commissioner, Dr. Hamburg, is more open to innovation."

NCTR sits on roughly 500 acres of what was once Pine Bluff Arsenal land and next to land given by the Department of Defense to the Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County. That 1,500 acres is being developed into the Bioplex, which local officials hope one day will be a thriving research park housing startup firms spawned from commercialized NCTR technology.

Local officials aren't ready to say so officially, but many expect more NCTR technology to begin coming down the commercilaization pipeline, potentially creating high-paying jobs for local residents.

 

 

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