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May 2021 GRA Notes from the Georgia Research Alliance
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GRA unveils initiative to fight sickle cell disease


Gov. Brian Kemp joined Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and other dignitaries in Columbus May 11 to announce that Georgia will be home to a new GRA research endeavor targeting sickle cell disease, an inherited blood disorder affecting millions around the world. Under the plan, a new GRA Eminent Scholar chair — named for longtime state Rep. Calvin Smyre of Columbus — will be created at Morehouse School of Medicine, Emory University and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. The GRA initiative also includes recruiting one other GRA Eminent Scholar and two GRA Distinguished Investigators as well as major investment in laboratory technology. Sickle cell disease takes many forms and can bring pain and complications, such as infection and stroke. The only cure is a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. “The good news is researchers and clinicians here in Georgia know how to tackle some of the most challenging problems facing humankind,” Gov. Kemp said. Above: Gov. Kemp, GRA President Susan Shows, Rep. Smyre, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan More on the initiative and the Calvin Smyre GRA Eminent Scholar Chair >

How I spent my summer: In a Scholar’s lab!

Ten university students in Georgia will get a chance to work alongside some of the state’s most brilliant scientists and engineers this summer. They’re part of a program being piloted by GRA to give more underrepresented minorities a chance to experience or extend working in a lab. Called GRA Student Scholars, “the program is part of a larger effort by the Academy of GRA Eminent Scholars to strengthen diversity and inclusion in university research,” says GRA President Susan Shows. This summer, we’ll be sharing updates from some of the students in GRA Notes. • Meet one of the new Student Scholars >

Times piece spotlights Emory nonprofit DRIVE

The New York Times published a guest essay May 22 tracing Molnupiravir, a highly promising treatment for COVID-19, back to a GRA-backed nonprofit at Emory. Titled “In the race for a COVID-19 pill, a little lab plays a big role,” the essay chronicles the work of Dennis Liotta and George Painter in forming the Emory nonprofit, DRIVE. In 2018, GRA’s venture development program invested in DRIVE’s pursuit of drug compounds to fight RNA viruses (of which SARS-CoV-2 is one) — and later, the testing of a therapeutic at Georgia State University. In late 2019, before the SARS-CoV-2 virus became a global threat, Painter reported that “the compound that would become Molnupiravir inhibited those viruses and many more, including the coronaviruses that cause SARS and MERS.” Results from the late-stage clinical testing of Molnupiravir are expected in the next few weeks. DRIVE also spun out Antios Therapeutics, a high-potential company receiving investment from GRA and GRA Venture Fund. • Read the Times’ essay > • Read Liotta and Painter’s paper on DRIVE > 

NIH business innovation grants to BioCircuit will advance system to treat spinal cord injuries

GRA-backed BioCircuit Technologies announced this month it will get up to $4.6 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health to develop a system that helps patients recover from incomplete spinal cord injuries. The clinical research endeavor — part of a partnership with three other academic and government labs — will further develop spinal reflex conditioning, a therapeutic training regimen that uses a device to help patients improve control over injured neural pathways. The approach has the potential to help people suffering from stroke and multiple sclerosis as well. BioCircuit develops medical devices providing non-invasive access to nerve and muscle activity. The company has received investment from GRA and GRA Venture Fund; the NIH grants come from the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. • Read the BioCircuit release >

NSF invests in WEAV3D’s manufacturing tech

Composite manufacturing pioneer WEAV3D will advance design and testing of new technology to form composites, thanks in part to a National Science Foundation SBIR grant of just under $1 million. WEAV3D's technology uses ultrasonic welding to increase production of thermoplastics — an approach that, when compared to conventional infrared heating, uses less energy but equals or exceeds production speed. Launched out of Georgia Tech and backed by GRA, WEAV3D is aiming the next-gen system at the automotive industry; the company has set a target production capacity of 200,000 to 300,000 automotive door panel parts per year. • More on the announcement >  • See why WEAV3D is a company to watch >

GRA Eminent Scholar opens up on disparities

Clark Atlanta GRA Eminent Scholar Shafiq Khan is in the interview chair this month as part of an NIH conversations series spotlighting universities in its Research Centers at Minority Institutions (RCMI) program. Beyond describing how Clark Atlanta is advancing research and prevention around prostate cancer, Khan shares his insights into addressing health disparities among populations and how scientists can encourage a new generation of researchers. “It is extremely important that young minorities see individuals who look like them in leadership positions in the research environment,” Khan says. “Additional funding should also be made available to help current young and junior scientists further their research endeavors.” • Check out the conversation >

UGA salutes a ‘true servant leader’

The May retirement of David Lee, VP for research at the University of Georgia, has brought tributes, accolades — and a very good feature article. “Portrait of a Servant Leader” chronicles the transformative effect Lee had on the university since arriving in 2005. UGA is now home to 20 GRA Eminent Scholars, and its R&D expenditures totaled nearly a half-billion dollars in FY20. “The expectation was that David was going to have a tremendous impact on the research enterprise here,” says UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “However, no one could have anticipated the impact he has actually had. He has gone so far, in so many ways, to build the research enterprise at UGA and, in my view, transform this institution.” Congratulations, David! • A good read right here >

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