LITTLE ROCK – Tobacco settlement funds have been used to leverage more than a quarter of a billion dollars for research funding to Arkansas biomedical researchers in the past eight years, the Arkansas Biosciences Institute (ABI) reports.
Since 2002, funding from outside sources – including the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Agriculture – totaled more than $258 million, or $3.03 for every ABI dollar given to researchers.
The ABI, in a recent report to a subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislature, noted the return on its research investment and other successes toward improving the health of Arkansans through new and expanded agricultural and medical research initiatives.
ABI funds have created new research laboratories, recruited scientists and brought new jobs to the state. The institute, a consortium that includes the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (UAF), the University of Arkansas – Division of Agriculture, Arkansas State University (ASU) and the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI), was created by the voter-approved Tobacco Settlement Proceeds Act of 2000.
The entire ABI Report to the Legislative subcommittee can be found online at www.arbiosciences.org.
“The biomedical research efforts funded through the Arkansas Biosciences Institute have been a success by any measure,” said University of Arkansas System President B. Alan Sugg, Ph.D., who serves as chairman of the ABI Board of Directors. “We’ve been able to take the tobacco settlement funds and use them as a catalyst for research that is improving health care in Arkansas and helping the economy.”
Researchers have used ABI funds to conduct pilot experiments, purchase laboratory equipment and supplies, and support laboratory technicians. This allows scientists to conduct preliminary research that is used to request grants and other funds from outside sources.
ABI funding to researchers in fiscal years 2002-2009 averaged almost $10.7 million annually while attracting an average of $32.3 million in outside funding. In fiscal year 2009, ABI-funded projects received a record $56.18 million in outside funding, or $4.71 in outside funds for every ABI dollar invested.
“The return on our ABI investment has been amazing as our seed funds have empowered our scientists to add resources and data that make their projects more competitive for funding,” said ABI executive director Robert McGehee, Ph.D., who is also dean of the UAMS Graduate School and an associate professor of pediatrics, physiology and biophysics, and pathology, in the UAMS College of Medicine.
ABI funds also have been used to acquire centralized laboratories shared by the institutions. Too costly for an individual scientist, these labs help advance their work and their ability to qualify for more funding.
Examples of shared core laboratories include:
• The DNA Resource Center and Confocal Microscope Facility for the University of Arkansas – Division of Agriculture
• The Center for Protein Structure and Function at UAF
• The Skeletal Analysis and Genotyping cores in the ACHRI
• The Plant Transformation and Propagation and Small Animal facilities at ASU
• The DNA Damage and Toxicology Facility, Transgenic Mouse Facility and Tissue Bank at UAMS
ABI funds also have been used to recruit 85 experienced researchers. McGehee compared it to a small technology business relocating to the state since in many cases the scientists move their entire laboratory, existing research funding and laboratory technicians.
Employment for research support personnel, such as technicians, is funded by federal agencies and foundations. For fiscal year 2009, that funding provided 335 full-time equivalent jobs across the participating ABI institutions.
The institute also measures economic success in terms of research leading to patents and new commercial opportunities such as start-up businesses and research partnerships. Since fiscal year 2003, 46 patents have been filed and eight patents awarded to ABI-supported investigators.
InterveXion, LLC is one of the start-up biotechnology companies that received ABI funding early to support the science leading to a patent for vaccines for drug addiction. The company, which recently received National Institutes for Health funding to conduct clinical trials, was founded by S. Michael Owens, Ph.D., professor in the UAMS College of medicine and director for the Center for Drug and Alcohol Abuse at UAMS, W. Brooks Gentry, M.D., a professor in the UAMS College of Medicine, and Ralph Henry, Ph.D., a professor of biological sciences at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
McGehee said another benefit of the ABI funding was to spur research collaborations among the five member institutions. Since fiscal year 2007, approximately 30 percent of ABI funding has been for collaborative research projects involving researchers from participating institutions.
Examples of ongoing collaborative projects and participating institutions include:
• Screening Disinfection By-products for their Ability to Promote Autoimmunity – ACHRI, UAF, UAMS
• Gold-coated Carbon Nanotube Mediated Nanophotothemolysis as Noninvasive Anticaner Therapeutic – UA-Division of Agriculture, UAF, UAMS
• Alternative Medicine Approaches to Pain and Stress – UAMS, ASU
“These are collaborations that probably would not have happened without the consortium,” McGehee said. “The Arkansas Biosciences Institute has truly been a team effort by the five participating members having a significant impact on the state.”