by Mark Carter
Posted 6/17/2014 11:09 am
Updated 2 months ago
A new group representing Arkansas' biotech and nanotech firms hopes to raise statewide awareness of its member companies and drive commercialization of their technology.
Brian Umberson, spokesman for Bio+Nano+Arkansas, said Arkansas boasts a "surprising assortment" of biotech and nanotech companies that provide research-based services related to cell lines, diagnostics and raw materials.
"We have a blend of companies and institutions to support the product development of new diagnostic platforms and assay kits, but it is very unique in that it can also provide things like bio-conjugated nano particles and quantum dots," he said. "We can provide revolutionary nano particle-based assays with higher performance to propel the growth of smart drug delivery, improved bio sensors and bio-nano biological material."
Umberson has worked with Arkansas tech firms and helped found Innovate Arkansas client firm Vivione Biosciences of Pine Bluff, where he secured grants and funding. He believes the state has yet to fully capitalize on its most distinguishing characterisitc in the biotech industry: The National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) at Jefferson, the national research facility of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.
Bio+Nano+Arkansas, he said, was formed to establish a networking structure for the industry in Arkansas and potentially create public-private research collaborations based on NCTR research. The state's biotech cluster can collaborate to provide contract research services; develop market assays and diagnostic tests; collaborate on federal SBIR and NIH grants; and create cell lines, bio-conjugated nanoparticles and raw materials for reagents.
The group's goals are to create awareness of the Arkansas biotech cluster across the region and drive commercialization partnerships with the animal health corridor in Kansas City and the biotech clusters in Oklahoma City, St. Louis, Austin and Memphis. Access to NCTR research makes such collaborations possible.
"That ability for advanced collaborations differentiates Arkansas," Umberson said. "NCTR offers possible research collaboration and access to world class researchers, facilities and equipment. It plays a critical role in the missions of FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services to promote and protect public health. Regulatory science researchers, academia and other regulatory science research organizations and groups from around the world investigate, learn, and train at NCTR. Arkansas is the beneficiary of NCTR’s inherent transfer of technology and an infusion of a technology culture."
In 2011, the state of Arkansas and the FDA officially established a collaboration between NCTR and the state's five research-based universities, and last year the FDA partnered with the Arkansas Research Alliance. Umberson hopes his group can help spur collaboration with the state's growing roster of biotech companies.
Umberson said another effort to bolster the biotech and nano industries in the state was the establishment of the nanoscale research-focused Institute for Nanoscience & Engineering at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
"Its capabilities include materials growth and characterization, protein transportation, nano-bio photonics, theoretical modeling, tribology and materials manufacturing," he said. "It's at the forefront of research in nanoscience and nanotechnology."
The institute's Arkansas Nano-Bio Materials Characterization Facility provides analytical services covering disciplines such as physics and bio-engineering. Services include high-resolution imaging, spectroscopy and sample preparation capabilities, Umberson said.
All this research has a natural, homegrown commercial outlet in the state's growing roster of biotech and nanotech firms, he said.
Sample Bio+Nano+Arkansas member firms include Boston Mountain Biotech (another Innovate Arkansas firm), Pel-Freez Biologicals, Zystein, ImmunoVision and AC Diagnostics. Joining Umberson as group founders are Zoraida Aguilar of Zystein, Ellen Brune of Boston Mountain Biotech and Beverly Graham of Pel-Freez.