Biotech Center Grant to Build Marine Program


The N.C. Biotechnology Center has given a grant worth as much as $2.5 million for a new center designed to foster commercial development and jobs based on the state's ocean life.

The four-year grant will help get the Marine Biotechnology Center of Innovation off the ground. The money will be based on organizers meeting various milestones. The goal will be to have the center find other sources of funding within four years to become self-sustaining.

One of the first tasks will be to find a CEO to run the center. That executive will choose where to open the center, and begin hiring a small staff, said Biotech Center spokesman Jim Shamp.

The grant comes as the General Assembly recently cut the Biotech Center's state funding by 10 percent. The center, based in Research Triangle Park, is a nonprofit that depends on the state for the bulk of its annual budget.

Lawmakers approved $17.5 million for the center this year, down $2 million from last year. But the center will work with a $21.7 million budget, using money held from last year by keeping tight control of costs, said CEO Norris Tolson.

"We're always conscious of the fact that we're spending taxpayer money," Tolson said in a phone interview today. "We will continue to watch our pennies. Our mission is to hold as much money in our budget as we can to fund technology that creates jobs."

The Biotech Center is developing the marine program with partners that include regional economic development groups from the state’s Eastern and Southeastern regions as well as representatives from UNC Wilmington and MARBIONC, UNC Chapel Hill’s Institute for Marine Science, N.C. State's Center for Marine Science and Technology, and the Duke Marine Lab.

“North Carolina is a national leader in the life sciences, and we’re seeing our coastal marine labs contributing more to that base every year,” John Chaffee, CEO of North Carolina’s Eastern Region, an economic development group, said in a prepared statement. “This is especially true in the areas of health, energy, aquatic foods and diagnostics.”
“Ultimately, successful commercialization of marine biotech innovations will grow the sector and lead to valuable North Carolina jobs," he added.