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What Connect NC Means for AgBio Research, & More Innovation News

Xconomy Raleigh-Durham — 

[Corrected, 1:15pm. See below] North Carolina will hold its primary election on Tuesday, and while most political observers are watching to see which candidates voters pick for the presidential election, voters will also have an opportunity to weigh in on a financing issue that’s key to a major agricultural biotechnology research initiative in the state.

The $2 billion bond referendum, called Connect NC, would finance improvements in infrastructure, state parks, and university buildings within the UNC system. Included in the bond is $85 million for a new plant sciences building at NC State University’s Centennial Campus (an architectural rendering of the proposed building is pictured above). Steven Lommel, associate dean of research at NC State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, says the building will bring university research and industry partners under one roof, along with new space for agbio startups. But Lommel adds that the Plant Sciences Initiative is more than just a new building.

Agriculture is North Carolina’s biggest industry and the state boasts more than 80 agbio companies, including major operations for five of the industry’s six biggest companies. That concentration of industry, along with the agricultural diversity of the state, led NC State to launch the initiative, which Lommel says could help cement the Research Triangle region as a global leader in plant science research. You can read more about what Lommel told Xconomy about the Plant Sciences Initiative here.

Here are some of the other headlines in North Carolina innovation news from the last week:

—Argos Therapeutics (NASDAQ: ARGS) reached a deal with private investors that will provide the Durham drug developer with up to $60 million for late-stage clinical trials of its experimental kidney cancer treatment. If the Argos drug, AGS-003, hits milestones tied to the private placement, the company says it should have enough cash to last until final Phase 3 clinical trial results are reported next year.

—The federal government awarded Cempra (NASDAQ: CEMP) $25.5 million to finance Phase 2/3 trials testing its drug, solithromycin, in children who have community-acquired bacterial pneumonia. The award is part of an existing contract that Chapel Hill-based Cempra has with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). In the upcoming trial, Cempra will test pill, intravenous, and liquid suspension forms of the drug in 400 patients. Cempra has already completed trials of pill and intravenous forms of its drug in adults but has not yet filed a new drug application with the FDA seeking regulatory approval.

—The Carolina Research Venture Fund, an investment fund started last year to help University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill startups bridge the early-stage funding gap, now has even more financial support. Hatteras Venture Partners, a Durham venture capital firm, has been selected to manage the UNC fund. The arrangement also calls for Hatteras to invest up to $10 million in companies and projects coming out of UNC, investments that will be separate from other Hatteras funds. Hatteras already has experience working with UNC spinouts, having made investments in companies such as G1 Therapeutics, Spyryx Biosciences, and Viamet Pharmaceuticals.

—Speaking of Viamet, an early look into mid-stage clinical trial results for the Durham company’s lead drug shows promise for the treatment of vaginal yeast infections. Durham-based Viamet says the interim analysis of its antifungal, called VT-1161, showed that just 3 percent of patients treated with its pill experienced a recurrence of the infection after 24 weeks, compared to a recurrence of infection in 48 percent of patients in the group receiving a placebo. The Viamet drug is also in mid-stage clinical trials for onychomycosis, a fungal infection of toenails and fingernails. [Corrected spelling of onychomycosis—Eds.]

—Blood therapeutics company Grifols (NASDAQ: GRFS) plans to expand its capabilities in Clayton, NC, as part of a $360 million capital plan. The Clayton expansion includes construction of a new plant for fractionation, the process of extracting the parts of blood that contain proteins that can be used for therapeutic applications. In addition to the construction in Clayton, Grifols says it will build new facilities in Dublin, Ireland, as well as Barcelona, Spain, where the company is headquartered.