COVID-19 breakthrough, large-scale personal medicine and thousands of quality jobs in Birmingham: Southern Research prepares for next 80 years – News
COVID-19 breakthrough, large-scale personal medicine and thousands of quality jobs in Birmingham: Southern Research prepares for next 80 years – News

COVID-19 breakthrough, large-scale personal medicine and thousands of quality jobs in Birmingham: Southern Research prepares for next 80 years – News

Southern Research has 400 full-time employees, brings in $ 80 million in revenue and has an annual economic impact of $ 150 million.

Written by: Matt Windsor
Media contact: Alicia Rohan

Southern Research has 400 full-time employees, brings in $ 80 million in revenue and has an annual economic impact of $ 150 million.Before coronavirus vaccines and treatments proved their worth in clinics around the world, they had to prove their worth in Birmingham’s Southside. Researchers know Southern researchworking under contracts with major pharmaceutical companies and federal agencies, received nearly $ 40 million in COVID-related test and other research contracts after the pandemic began.

In their Biosafety Level 3, or BSL-3, laboratory where highly pathogenic viruses such as those causing COVID-19, tuberculosis and yellow fever can be safely studied, Southern Research researchers continue to study the effects of treatments against COVID-19 variants . The robotic arms of the High-Throughput Screening Center have cut through tens of thousands of drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration and helped identify dozens of potentials to slow down SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus. A COVID-19 vaccine developed jointly by Southern Research and Tonix Pharmaceuticals is now in clinical trials in humans. Researchers at Southern Research are also collaborating with Tonix on a treatment that has been shown to be 65 times more potent in early tests than remdesivir – another antiviral drug refined by Southern Research, now used worldwide to treat coronavirus.

How research creates great economic impact

But this is only the beginning, says Josh Carpenter, Ph.D., who was named CEO and President of Southern Research in May 2021. Carpenter’s vision is to expand the institute’s facilities and leverage its successful partnerships with University of Alabama at Birmingham to create a national center of expertise in pandemic preparedness in Birmingham. The same facilities will expand the work of developing cancer drugs, Carpenter says.

The project is expected to provide not only scientific progress but also economic gains for Birmingham and Alabama.

“Southern Research was founded as an economic development institute to create jobs through research and produce new discoveries and innovations,” Carpenter said. “The original driving force from 80 years ago is what we want to return to now.”

Southern Research has 400 full-time employees, brings in $ 80 million in revenue and has an annual economic impact of $ 150 million. One of Carpenter’s first moves as CEO was to sell the Southern Research facility in Frederick, Maryland, to its strategic research partner Tonix Pharmaceuticals and relocate those activities to Birmingham. The sale brought in $ 17.5 million in capital investment in Birmingham, nearly 50 new jobs in Alabama with an average salary of $ 100,000 a year and $ 45 million in recurring direct and indirect economic consequences.

Prior to joining Southern Research, Carpenter served as Director of Innovation and Economic Opportunities for the City of Birmingham.

“During the pandemic, about 85,000 Jefferson County workers applied for unemployment,” Carpenter said. “I knew that in my next role I would focus on quality jobs that provide sustainable family pay and benefits. What economic development research tells us is that the development and maintenance of high quality institutions is directly correlated with and perhaps even a driving force for economic growth.”

Carpenter is in talks with state and local executives to support a new $ 84 million facility on the Southern Research campus in Southside that will double its BSL-3 lab space. The new facility could create nearly 200 new permanent scientific jobs, $ 26.2 million in new annual salary and $ 84.7 million in new expenses and other economic output, Carpenter said. It will also expand the institute’s drug discovery and drug development partnerships with UAB in key areas of infectious diseases and cancer immunotherapy.

“We have a state-of-the-art facility where we can handle COVID-19 and any other highly pathogenic virus,” said Subash Das, DVM, Ph.D., who joined Southern Research as director of Infectious Disease Research in July. 2021. “Many of our studies need BSL-3 containment laboratories. We have so much work done and could do more with more space.”

Das is among several important hires at Southern Research, made possible through the sale of the department’s Frederick facility, and whose expertise will enable Southern Research to aggressively expand research related to coronavirus and influenza.

  • Das came to Southern Research from Takeda Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he worked on the development of vaccines against dengue, Zika, chikungunya, foot-and-mouth disease and other viruses, and took them “from basic research with the vaccine to the clinical trial stage, where they could be marketed, “he said. In addition to coronavirus research, Das said,” we want to develop a universal influenza vaccine that does not need to be changed every year in response to the type of influenza virus circulating in the population. “
  • Senior researcher Kempaiah Rayavara, Ph.D., joined Southern Research from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, where he was working on a NIAID-funded project to establish small animal models for screening medical countermeasures against SARS-CoV-2. He established a transgenic mouse model that is highly resilient and lethal to SARS-CoV-2 infection, which is essential for testing potential vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. “Many vaccine candidates and therapeutics have been successfully tested in this mouse model, and the model will be used at Southern Research to screen more vaccines and therapeutics,” Rayavara said.
  • Researcher Arathy Nair, Ph.D., was also attracted to Southern Research by the possibility of moving promising therapies into the clinic. Prior to coming to Birmingham, Nair studied bird virus in India and then worked with tick-borne diseases and vaccines at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. “We were the first to develop vaccines against rickettsia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever,” Nair said. At Southern Research, she will lead preclinical tests for the development of coronavirus and influenza vaccine.

Carpenter says strategic hires like these create incredible potential for Southern Research, especially in collaboration with partners like UAB.

“UAB leads more than $ 600 million in external research each year, and Southern Research makes $ 40 million on the Southside campus,” he said. “That’s a total of almost three-quarters of a billion dollars in biological research within a radius of 25 blocks. Expand it to 40 blocks, and you have UAB Medicine, Children’s of Alabama, VA Medical Center and St. Vincent’s, which sees nearly 3.5 million patients a year. Concentrated patient care and research and development expertise mean more effective clinical trials and opportunities to create many quality jobs. “

Joint ventures create powerhouse ROI

Southern Research collaborates with UAB in three main ways, Carpenter says: joint ventures, sponsored research collaborations and organic research collaborations.

The prototype joint venture is Alabama Drug Discovery Alliancewhich was launched in 2009 with the aim of translating innovative research into UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine laboratories in new treatments by leveraging the expertise in drug discovery and development at Southern Research. In the last 12 years, 38 projects have been initiated through ADDA, and there are currently six drugs in the alliance pipeline, including potential treatments for cancer, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes.

“I think we’re the only major academic medical center with a partner specializing in drug discovery, located right up the block,” said Richard Whitley, MD, Distinguished Professor at UAB. “Southern Research has high-throughput screening, medical chemists and structural biologists with extensive experience working with the FDA to get drugs approved. They have a great history, and with Carpenter as CEO, the close partnership between UAB and Southern Research is clear. to become stronger. “

ADDA builds teams of specialists from UAB and Southern Research around each new potential drug project with funding of $ 50,000 per year for two years. As in the pharmaceutical industry, projects are kept to tight timelines and regular go / no-go decisions at each major test milestone. Working with Southern Research allows UAB researchers to carry innovative ideas from their laboratories across the so-called Death Valley, where projects are too commercially focused to receive federal research funding but not yet promising enough to attract significant pharmaceutical or biotechnological investments. . “UAB specializes in basic research and clinical trials, and Southern Research specializes in drug discovery and drug development,” said Stephanie Moore, Ph.D., associate director of ADDA. “These partnerships make sense.” The translational research opportunities in ADDA are an essential recruitment tool when UAB recruits promising investigators to Birmingham, Whitley adds.

Whitley has built on the ADDA model to successfully compete for large grants from the National Institutes of Health. In 2019, his Center for the Discovery and Development of Antiviral Drugs was awarded a five-year grant of $ 37.5 million from NIAID to study and develop treatments for high priority infections, including influenza, dengue, Zika and coronavirus SARS and MERS. Initial test that led to approval of the antiviral drug remdesivir as treatment for COVID-19 was conducted by AD3C at Southern Research, Whitley says. Another UAB-Southern Research-sponsored research partnership is the UAB Research Center of Excellence in Arsenicals. It was awarded $ 18.9 million in 2018 to develop countermeasures against threats of chemical warfare.

Through the efforts of UAB and its partners, philanthropic support, internal funding from Southern Research and state support, ADDA has received approximately $ 15 million in investments. Thanks to that investment, UAB has received more than $ 100 million in grants, and Southern Research has received more than $ 60 million, Carpenter says. “It’s a 20-to-1 investment return for UAB and a 12-to-1 investment return for Southern Research,” he said. “We can jointly combine efforts on these hugely competitive grants.”

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