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A Drury University undergraduate research proram led by Rabindra Roy is using about $230,000 in grant funds from the National Institutes of Health for blood chemistry research. Future proposals may face steeper competition for funding.
A Drury University undergraduate research proram led by Rabindra Roy is using about $230,000 in grant funds from the National Institutes of Health for blood chemistry research. Future proposals may face steeper competition for funding.

Run for research money heats up

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Drury University’s Rabindra Roy said he’s been lucky for the last 40 years, having applied for and received approximately $3.8 million in federal government research grants during his career.

Roy is the Walter H. Hoffman Distinguished Research Professor of Chemistry at Drury, and his research proposals already face stiff competition. There were 30,000 applicants for his latest grant, $229,184 from the National Institutes of Health, he said.

Officials with other entities that rely on grant funding for research and development say they expect the competition to intensify as budget cuts and lower tax revenues trim government dollars and more companies enter the funding fray.

That may hold especially true for groups within Missouri, where budget cuts have dried up state funding sources.

In 2003, the state created the Life Sciences Research Trust Fund to distribute tobacco settlement money to organizations statewide.

Approximately $13 million was appropriated in fiscal 2010, but the money was never released as state revenues plunged during the recession, said Kelly Gillespie, executive director for the Missouri Biotechnology Association, MOBIO. An attempt to resuscitate the trust fund was made during the fiscal 2011 budget talks but never made it out of the state Senate, Gillespie said. (See sidebar)

“Essentially, that $13 million or so that was out there … was a real stimulus for research companies to try to grow,” said Jim Baker, vice president for research and economic development at Missouri State University. He noted that JVIC is actively seeking other grants.

Possible funding sources include federal agencies such as rhe U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

NIH awarded $470.4 million to Missouri organizations in 2009, and NSF handed out another $79.4 million, according to the agencies’ Web sites, and that has academic and private institutions on the lookout for project funding.

Aggressive hunts
Roy and his student researchers comb through Web sites to find grants and deadlines, he said, noting that his team applies for one or two grants every couple of years and currently is working on two grant proposals.

The Jordan Valley Innovation Center is currently involved in 16 research grants, contracts and professional service agreements, according to Allen Kunkel, Missouri State University associate vice president for economic development and JVIC director. Of those, he said eight are supported by government funds – including $825,000 in fiscal 2009 from the Life Sciences Research Trust Fund – and eight are supported by private money.

The pursuit of funding is intense and can be a full-time job, said MSU’s Baker.
“Generally speaking, if you put in a proposal to one of these agencies, you have less than a 20 percent chance of getting it funded,” he said.

Still, research entities at JVIC have been somewhat successful up to this point at securing funding.

The Center for Biomedical and Life Sciences – one of three centers that fall under the JVIC umbrella – has between 15 and 20 projects in the works, according to Director Paul Durham, who said about half of the funding for those projects comes from government grants. He noted that the Center for Biomedical and Life Sciences has applied for 43 grants in the last three years.

St. John’s Medical Research Institute currently is working on 24 projects, said executive director Pete Miles. During the prototype stage, Miles said, most projects are funded internally, but once they progress, the institute looks to outside sources.

That internal funding can be an advantage in terms of additional funding for St. John’s research, said institute director Dr. Roger Huckfeldt.

“Even at the industry level, they’re not really wanting to invest until the research has been verified,” he said.

Grant leverage
JVIC’s goal is to be as diverse as possible when seeking funding, Kunkel said.

“We try to do a mixture of different sources,” Kunkel said. “We also try to find private partners.”

Durham said the Center for Biomedical and Life Sciences has found funding in the pharmaceutical sector, routinely working with grants from about eight companies.

Not all of the grants are high-dollar windfalls, he said, but the smaller ones can put a project on track for more money.

“We use the little-money grants to generate data to use as a launching pad for larger grants,” Durham said.

JVIC projects also leverage their affiliation with the center’s private partnerships to share grant funds, he said.

For example, according to previous SBJ coverage, Durham received a $1.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of the Army via JVIC affiliate Crosslink for the development of a coating that will repel chemical and biological agents.

Huckfeldt said once St. John’s projects move beyond the prototype phase, the institute looks for outside opportunities.

“We look at federal opportunities, essentially, any place that we can look at that still has a viable grant program,” he said.

Inveno Health LLC, a St. John’s-owned entity responsible for commercializing products that come out of the research institute also is exploring new funding options. Inveno Operations Manager Matt Price said talks with the Springfield Angel Network  – which matches private investors with entities seeking capital – are in the beginning stages.

St. John’s also has another possible funding source as Inveno takes products to market. One product, Hands First hand sanitizer, is set to hit the market in August, and Huckfeldt said any profits can be used to pay for new prototype development.

Local opportunity
Huckfeldt said the fact that southwest Missouri’s life sciences and biotechnology sector is still emerging presents a unique opportunity for local investors.

At the institute, for example, investors could provide financial support in exchange for a piece of the pie once the entity achieves profitability, he said, noting that another option would be to enter into a royalty-driven agreement.

MOBIO’s Gillespie said the search for private partnerships isn’t always easy for southwest Missouri projects, but the region’s mindset could come in handy.

“There’s not a venture capitalist on every corner,” he said. “Overall, my impression has been that we have an amazing amount of world class research and an entrepreneurial approach to getting things done.”[[In-content Ad]]


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