Dec. 11, 2015 | The Arkansas Research Alliance named UAMS’ Michael Owens, Ph.D., an ARA Fellow during a news conference Dec. 10 at the state Capitol.
Owens, who has spent more than 30 years researching the development of medicines to treat drug abuse, particularly methamphetamine, was one of five Fellows presented by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
“Arkansas Research Alliance continues to help fuel economic growth in our state,” Hutchinson said. “By investing in distinguished researchers and nurturing innovation, they’re helping us more aggressively advance our economy and position us for the future.”
In its second year, the Fellows program recognizes distinguished university research leaders who are already working at one of the state’s five research universities — UAMS; Arkansas State University; University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; University of Arkansas at Little Rock; and University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
ARA Fellows are nominated by their chancellor and each receives a $75,000 grant to continue their work. Last year’s inaugural Fellow at UAMS was Laura James, M.D., a pediatrician, researcher and director of the UAMS Translational Research Institute.
“Michael Owens is a wonderful example of the world-class researchers that we have at UAMS,” said Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D. “For 30 years, Dr. Owens has been searching for ways to combat drug addiction in Arkansas. This is a well-deserved honor for his dedication.”
Owens is a professor in the UAMS College of Medicine’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, director of the Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Studies, and co-founder and chief scientific officer of InterveXion Therapeutics LLC.
Specifically, Owens’ research has centered on whether antibodies can be used to treat drug abuse. He and his team have developed an antibody that binds to methamphetamine and hampers the drug’s ability to move from the bloodstream into the brain, thus lessening its ability to produce an euphoric high. They also have created a methamphetamine vaccine.
InterveXion is working toward FDA approval for both treatments. Earlier this year, the company was awarded two federal grants totaling $14.5 million to help with needed testing for the FDA. The antibody has already been successfully tested in its first clinical safety trial in healthy adults. More research is underway to show that the antibody is safe for use in methamphetamine users. Research is also ongoing to determine whether the vaccine may be safely advanced into a clinical trial with human participants.
Owens said he was excited to be recognized for his years of work but stressed that none of his breakthroughs could have happened without his team. He praised the contributions of Eric Peterson, Ph.D., an assistant professor in UAMS College of Medicine’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and long-time research assistant Melinda Gunnell as well as his colleagues at InterveXion — Brooks Gentry, M.D., chair of the Department of Anesthesiology in the UAMS College of Medicine; Misty Stevens, Ph.D., M.B.A.; and Ralph Henry, Ph.D., distinguished professor of biological sciences at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
“I may be the one getting the credit, but this is honestly well-deserved for the team,” Owens said.
“We are looking for research excellence with our Fellows program,” said Jerry Adams, ARA president and CEO. “Mike’s demonstrated history of entrepreneurship and continual federal funding for his work made him a great choice for the program.”
The Arkansas Research Alliance (ARA), founded in 2008 as a public-private partnership, invests in research that stimulates innovation, encourages collaboration and strengthens economic opportunity in areas in which Arkansas possesses core competency.
The program now has nine Fellows and is a companion to the ARA Scholars program, which recruits talented researchers to Arkansas. There are currently seven ARA Scholars in the state, including three at UAMS.
“We are proud to welcome these talented researchers to our Fellows program,” said Adams. “They represent the exemplary research talent at Arkansas universities and the powerful potential that exists to positively impact economic development, innovation and advancement in our state.”
The other new fellows are:
- Brandon Kemp, Ph.D., Arkansas State University associate professor, College of Engineering.
- Jessie J. Walker, Ph.D., University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff interim coordinator of computer science.
- Cang Ye, Ph.D., University of Arkansas at Little Rock professor, Department of Systems Engineering.
- Min Zou, Ph. D., University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, professor, Mechanical Engineering.