The energetic leader of the Birmingham-based utility had long dreamed of forming a research institute for Southern industry when he rose to make a five-minute speech at a meeting of the Alabama Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 10, 1940.
The need for a research organization in Birmingham had been recognized for years. In 1930, University of Alabama professor Stewart Lloyd had first proposed such as step. The dean of the university’s School of Chemistry, Metallurgy and Ceramics made his proposal after conducting a “Chemical Survey of the Birmingham District” for the Birmingham Industrial Board. The extensive report on the area’s chemical assets and their industrial potential was widely distributed.
A decade later, Martin proposed establishing a research laboratory with a fund of not less than $250,000, which would be spread over five years. As a kicker, he declared that Alabama Power would match any single pledge.
The response was enthusiastic, and the Chamber started to work at once.
Photo shows Tom Martin, right, speaking to other businessmen.
With Alabama Power chief Tom Martin driving the push, nearly 80 business and industrial leaders signed up as incorporators of the new research institute. On Oct. 9, 1941, in Room 236 of Birmingham’s Tutwiler Hotel, the incorporators gathered for their first meeting.
Two days later, Martin filed the Alabama Research Institute’s incorporation papers in Montgomery County probate court.
In December, Martin became chairman of the new organization — but its activities were put on hold in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and the beginning of U.S. involvement in World War II.
Late in December 1943, Chairman Tom Martin was ready to make the Alabama Research Institute a reality. He invited industrial leaders from around the South to a meeting at Alabama Power’s headquarters on Dec. 21, and kicked off a financing campaign for the first five years of operations.
He aimed for $50,000 the first year, and $100,000 a year after that. Alabama Power pledged $15,000 per year for the five-year period, $75,000 total.
Other businessmen stepped up to the plate and made substantial pledges.
With support for the research institute flowing in from outside Alabama, momentum began to build for a name change. Railroad company leaders, in particular, were interested in a regional research organization.
On May 4, 1944, the Southern Research Institute was born.
The way Chairman Tom Martin saw it, the institute would be an economic driver for the entire region. It would concentrate on “new products, new materials as substitutes for existing ones, improvement in existing products and their method of manufacture, use of by-products and materials now wasted, and study of potential markets for new products and new methods of manufacture,” he said.
In August 1944, Martin purchased the Morris-Cartwright House on Birmingham’s Southside for $57,500 as the institute’s base.
Lazier was a veteran of DuPont Laboratories in Delaware, where he played an important role in the development of nylon. A skilled researcher, he had nearly 100 patents to his name.
Though Lazier stayed at Southern Research for a short period, he recruited many of the influential figures that shaped the history of the organization – Howard Skipper, William Murrary, Emory Kemler, Rollin Osgood, Sabert Oglesby, and others.
Lazier departed in 1948 to become head of research for Charles Pfizer and Co.
Photo shows Dr. Lazier
The organization’s first research project got under way in April 1945, when the entire technical staff consisted of a chemist and the director, Dr. Wilbur Lazier. The Morris-Cartwright House, purchased the year before, was converted into a base for chemical laboratories and equipment.
The National Peanut Council was among the first to contract with Southern Research, for an extensive study on how the industry could expand its reach. Southern Research scientists looked at ways to make peanut butter more spreadable and stable.
Other early projects included devising a machine that would perform chemical and physical tests of cigarettes and exploring how to produce better-tasting potato chips.
By September 1945, Lazier reported that the organization had 20 scientists on the staff and $250,000 in sponsored projects had been lined up.
Photo shows peanut butter testing in Southern Research lab.
The non-profit research organization’s original charter was focused on advancing Southern industry, but May wanted his gift to focus on improving the welfare of the region’s residents. This became the seed money that launched Southern Research’s cancer program, headed by Dr. Howard Skipper.
Skipper built a world-class research team at Southern Research that made significant advances in the field of cancer research. Their work in the 1950s and 1960s defined the fundamentals of effective cancer chemotherapy at a time when there was widespread skepticism about the practice. Skipper also developed the principles of combination chemotherapy to counter resistance and reduce toxicity.
The Mobile businessman later established the Ben May Charitable Trust and funded the Ben May Laboratory for Cancer Research at the University of Chicago.
Photo shows Chairman Tom Martin presenting Dr. Howard Skipper with a key to a lab.
One of the early Engineering Department projects was a heat pump for the Muncie Gear Works.
Southern Research engineers designed the plumbing system for the heat pump patented by Muncie. The patent, issued in 1949, named Emory Kemler, director of the Engineering Department at Southern Research, as co-inventor.
Engineers installed a test model in the home of a Homewood family to gather data.
Photo shows Dr. Carl Roger Freberg of Southern Research demonstrating the model heat pump, circa 1948.
Kettering founded Delco and headed research at General Motors for 27 years. He was a noted inventor, with nearly 200 patents. His broad range of interests included medical research. He joined another former GM leader, Alfred P. Sloan, to found the Sloan Kettering Institute, which became one of the nation’s leading biomedical research organizations.
Kettering took a special interest in the fledging Southern Research, thanks to a friendship with Chairman Tom Martin. His first visit to the Birmingham facility was in 1947. Before long, Kettering was profoundly interested in the work being done in cancer by Dr. Howard Skipper and his team.
Kettering’s visit on Nov. 12, 1947 was tied to the dedication of Southern Research’s first new building — “Laboratory No. 5.”
Dr. William Murray’s first year as director ushered in a construction boom at Southern Research. The first permanent new building on the campus, Laboratory No. 5, was expanded to house a machine shop and heavy metallurgical equipment.
Planning began for another building, which would house the organic chemistry, plastics, textiles and paint technology groups.
Robert I. Ingalls, chairman of the Ingalls Iron Works and Ingalls Shipbuilding Co., offered to pay the entire cost of the structure — $150,000.
Cornerstone ceremonies for the Robert I. Ingalls Laboratory were held on Nov. 12, 1948. A copper box placed in the cornerstone during construction of the Ingalls lab contained artifacts that reflected the organization’s early work – a building board made from sugar cane waste, a synthetic perfume compound made from citrus by-products, specimens of Southern pig iron treated with zirconium, and much more.
Early the next year, Southern Research trustees approved a plan to add two additional stories to the building.
Ingalls was interested in the mission of Southern Research from the beginning, and through generous personal and Ingalls Foundation contributions, five buildings were constructed on the the organization’s campus.
Photo shows benefactor Robert Ingalls speaking a Southern Research ceremony for a building bearing his name.
Once he launched the cancer research program, Dr. Howard Skipper began to add talented researchers who made lasting contributions to the field. Dr. Lee Bennett and Linda Simpson (Herren) were among the first, and each worked at Southern Research for more than 50 years.
Under Skipper’s overall direction, Drs. Frank Schabel, John Montgomery and Bennet headed the three major departments involved in cancer research — Chemotherapy, Organic Chemistry, and Biochemistry, respectively. This leadership structure would stay in place for 27 years.
A major advance stemming from the cancer work done at Southern Research in the 1950s and 1960s was in chemotherapy. Skipper and his team developed the fundamental principles of effective cancer chemotherapy and showed that a combination of anticancer drugs could overcome resistance with optimal dose scheduling.
Dr. Frank Schabel, a virologist, arrived at Southern Research in 1951 after working for the Chicago Health Department, where he studied the patterns, causes and effects of polio, and at the U.S. Army’s infectious disease laboratories at Camp Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, during World War II.
While much of Schabel’s work at Southern Research was related to the cancer research program, he retained a deep interest in virus research and bacteriology programs and recruited virologists, cell biologists and bacteriologists to the organization.
Early virus research focused on the evaluation of potential antiviral agents against a wide range of pathogenic viruses, particularly those known to cause cancers in mice, chickens and hamsters. Early studies were also conducted with the herpesviruses, poxviruses, acute upper respiratory disease viruses, and the mosquito-borne viruses such as Yellow Fever virus.
Sponsors of this work included the NIH, the U.S. Army, and Parke, Davis & Co., a pharmaceutical company that became a longstanding partner.
Early in 1952, Southern Research Chairman Tom Martin began discussions with Charles Kettering, the inventor and patron of medical research, and Dr. Cornelius Rhoads, director of the Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York, about a new laboratory building to support the Birmingham organization’s cancer research program.
Kettering offered to provide $200,000 of the projected cost of the building through his foundation if Martin could round up the remaining $100,000. Martin met with Birmingham businessman John E. Meyer, whose family foundation, the Robert R. Meyer Foundation, agreed to make the gift.
At the same time, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation agreed to provide substantial funding to advance the cancer work being conducted at Southern Research under the partnership with the Sloan-Kettering Institute.
Sloan turned the first shovel at a groundbreaking ceremony for the new lab on June 26, 1953. The five-story building was completed in December 1953.
As the mid-1950s approached, it was clear that Southern Research was outgrowing its original base, the Morris-Cartwright House. The residence on Birmingham’s Southside had been converted early on into research laboratories, and it housed administrative offices and a library. The carriage house had become the “Annex,” where metallurgical research was conducted.
In 1955, when the Morris-Cartwright House was torn down, Southern Research had been in operation for 10 years. The staff had grown to 150 and research volume topped $1.2 million.
The Martin Administration Building rose on the site.
“Colt” Pears had previously carried out high-temperature goal gasification work for the Bureau of Mines. His ambition was to create a world-class high-temperature materials characterization laboratory. The lab’s innovations included the development of a facility that could make accurate measurements of loads on brittle high-temperature metals and optical strain measurement techniques.
The first known measurements of tensile properties at 6,000-degrees Fahrenheit took place at Southern Research, and extreme-temperature testing and analysis became a core competency of the organization. In 1964, the American Society for Testing and Materials recognized the gas-bearing tensile-stress-strain apparatus developed by Pears as the year’s most significant contribution to testing.
Under Pear’s leadership, the Mechanical and Materials Engineering Department targeted work involving U.S. aerospace needs, including high-temperature technology and characterization, macrostructural modeling, failure analysis, and core technology of materials.
Pears is a member of the State of Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame.
The Kettering-Meyer Laboratory, made possible with contributions from the Charles Kettering and Robert Meyer Foundations, was completed in 1953. Just five years later, a second Kettering-Meyer lab was completed to support the expanding cancer program at Southern Research.
It was during the 1950s that the cancer work of Dr. Howard Skipper and his team at Southern Research began to receive national recognition. The organization’s budget for health-related research in 1950 was $73,000; a decade later, the figure had grown to $1.7 million. Significant advances were made during this time frame.
Engineers exposed materials to extreme conditions like those of re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere, providing data that helped NASA select heat-shield materials. Working with NASA’s Langley Research Center, Southern Research engineers heat-tested materials up to 5,000-degrees Fahrenheit.
Southern Research also designed radiometers that provided temperature measurements on the moon’s surface, which factored into landing site decisions.
Around the time of the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, Southern Research established onsite laboratory operations at Kennedy Space Center to support contractors involved in the launches. Chemist Ruby James, an expert in gas chromatography, ran the program for two years.
In the 1950s, businessman Harry Frueauff Jr. approached Dr. Howard Skipper, who headed Southern Research’s cancer research program, about a gift from his family’s foundation, which had begun funding medical research. It was the beginning of a fruitful relationship.
Frueauff’s father had managed Montgomery Light and Water Power Co. until 1923, when it was acquired by Alabama Power. Harry Jr. lived in Birmingham and became interested in Southern Research and its cancer research.
Over the years, the Charles A. Frueauff Foundation made multiple gifts to Southern Research. In 1961, the Frueauff Laboratory, the first of two facilities bearing the family name, opened on the organization’s campus.
Photo shows Harry Frueauff Jr., third from left, at the 1961 dedication of the Southern Research lab bearing his name.
Martin, the longtime leader of Alabama Power Co., had been the force that got Southern Research started in the 1940s, and his energy and connections ignited its growth for more than two decades. Martin knew national figures like Charles Kettering and Alfred Sloan, getting them involved in important programs at Southern Research. He did the same on the local, state and regional level.
In 1958, the administration building at Southern Research was given Martin’s name.
During his 20-year tenure as board chairman, Southern Research grew from its based in the Morris-Cartwright home on Birmingham’s Southside to a prominent research organization with $5 million invested in laboratories and more than 450 scientists and support personnel. He remained chairman until his death in 1964.
Building on years of dramatic growth, Southern Research’s cancer laboratories expand yet again with construction of the Daniel Laboratory, made possible by a major contribution from the Daniel Foundation in honor of Charles E. Daniel, founder of Daniel Construction Co.
Photo shows the Daniel Lab under construction
Southern Research began working on an air pollution control device called an electrostatic precipitator in 1968, earning the organization an international reputation in the field.
In a power plant, an electrostatic precipitator removes dust particles from exhaust by applying a high-voltage electrostatic charge and collecting the particles on charged plates. The work of Sabert Oglesby, then head of Southern Research’s Engineering division, advanced the technology. He later served as president of the International Society of Electrostatic Precipitation and wrote a manual on the technology.
Southern Research’s work in air pollution actually stretches further back. In the 1950s, researchers developed equipment to trap dust in a measured volume of air, as well as a portable device called an aerosol photometer, to count tiny particles in the air. The device had a number of useful applications in air pollution studies and in measuring contamination in areas such as hospital operating rooms, instrument assembly rooms, and a nuclear submarine.
Air pollution work during the 1960s included a program to develop new methods for sampling the atmosphere and concentrating the pollutants for analysis. A copper tube, filled with gas chromatographic column packing, collected the sample, allowing materials in the sample to be identified using a gas chromatograph with a hydrogen flame detector.
Photo shows early air pollution testing in Birmingham
Schabel, who arrived at Southern Research in 1951 as a virologist, had become a key member of Dr. Howard Skipper’s cancer research team. According to Skipper, Schabel was one of a few who believed in the potential of chemotherapy for virus diseases in the 1950s.
Schabel, working with pharmaceutical company Parke Davis, was instrumental in the discovery and development of the first agent proved useful for systemic treatment of a virus disease — Arabinosyl Adenine or Ara-A.
The agent reduced the mortality of herpes encephalitis infections in man from approximately 85 percent to less than 15 percent in the first few years of clinical trials, and it was approved by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration in 1976. Much of the preclinical research work on this drug in cell culture and in animal models was conducted at Southern Research.
The antiviral drug was also effective against human herpesviruses and varicella-zoster, the virus that causes chicken pox.
Specimen materials were flex-tested and kept in a special vacuum chamber for weeks at a time to simulate space conditions. Temperatures were lowered to minus-200 degrees Fahrenheit as part of the analysis by the Mechanical Engineering Department.
Five candidate materials survived all the tests.
Voyager launched on Sept. 5, 1977, on a mission that took the space probe past Jupiter, Saturn and Saturn’s moon Titan. It is the only spacecraft now in interstellar space.
During the 1960s, Southern Research’s cancer research program was beginning to outgrow the organization’s available space. Seven laboratories had been erected between 1953 and 1965. Another was on its way thanks to businessman and philanthropist Harry Frueauff and the Charles A Frueauff Foundation.
The Charles A. Frueauff Foundation was a major supporter of Southern Research’s cancer program, having made possible another lab bearing the Frueauff name that opened in 1961.
The Frueauff Laboratory for Pharmacology and Toxicology was constructed on Southern Research’s Birmingham campus in 1969.
Discussions with the Environmental Protection Agency, then in its infancy, led to a contract calling for Southern Research engineers to develop ways to measure fine particles in industrial flue gases. These tiny particles were proving difficult for air pollution control devices to capture.
Southern Research’s pioneering efforts to measure concentrations and size distributions of these minute particles became the basis of a decades-long effort supported by industry and the EPA to improve the performance of particulate-control devices.
Southern Research was involved in several full-scale test programs sponsored by the EPA, the Department of Energy, and the Electric Power Research Institute.
Southern Research was involved in many aspects of the Space Shuttle program. The engineering team evaluated ablative materials used to protect the Shuttle from the high thermal loads and the 5,500-degree temperatures generated by its massive solid rocket motors. The team also examined materials for the leading edges of the orbiter, which experienced temperatures ranging from –150 degrees to more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit on every flight.
Other Southern Research departments also got involved in the Shuttle program. Analytical chemists conducted tests that identified compounds in charred insulation and steered NASA away from using polyurethane insulating foam with a flame-retardant additive because tests showed it produced toxic fumes when burned.
In addition, chemists and toxicologists determined harmful properties of burned insulation.
Scientists in Southern Research’s Polymer Division, led by Dr. Charles Tanquary and Dr. Donald Cowsar, studied the diffusion of contraceptive steroids through silicones for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Later, an internally funded project gave the team experience in microencapsulation, a technology that figured in many controlled-release projects.
To address the growing interest in the field of controlled drug release at Southern Research and around the country, Southern Research organizes and sponsors a seminal symposium on the subject.
More than 125 scientists — many of whom would become prominent contributors to the field — meet at Birmingham’s Parliament House Motor Hotel in April to exchange information and share their expertise at the two-day conference.
Murray, who had taught at Harvard and worked at General Electric, arrived at Southern Research in August 1945 to head analytical work for the fledgling organization. When Dr. Wilbur Lazier departed as director in 1948, Murray was serving as the chief of the newly created Analytical and Physical Division.
He was named acting director, and a few months later, the position was made permanent. He stayed in the top leadership role for 26 years, until retiring in 1974. Southern Research’s Board of Trustees called him the “builder” of the organization.
During his tenure, the staff grew from 154 employees to 545, and the number of buildings housing Southern Research’s operations expanded from four to 15. Research volume also surged — from $407,000 in his first year to $9.2 million at his retirement.
He is credited with expanding the organization’s programs in cancer research, air pollution control, bioengineering and biomaterials, new industrial products, and materials testing under extreme conditions.
By 1974, Skipper had built an international reputation as a cancer researcher. But when Dr. William Murray, the longtime president of Southern Research, decided to retire, the board decided the versatile Skipper was a solid choice to replace him.
Skipper, who was fully committed to his research work, had reservations but agreed to take on the role as part of a leadership tandem. Rollin Osgood, the business manager, was named executive vice president and assumed most of the administrative duties normally handled by the president. Skipper was able to continue his groundbreaking research.
The partnership worked well. During their tenure, the organization’s research volume grew from $9 million in 1974 to $18 million in 1980. In addition, the Cancer Cause and Prevention Laboratory and Environmental Services Building opened.
The pair retired in 1981, though Skipper remained involved in research.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Skipper and his team were important collaborators with the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research and the National Cancer Institute, helping to identify the most promising areas for research.
Skipper’s team developed quantitative animal models to study the effects of drugs on cells that were killed and on cells that survived chemotherapy. Skipper used these models to develop protocols for the administration of drugs or combinations of drugs to kill malignant cells faster than they could grow back. His studies demonstrated that imprecise doses of anticancer drugs could not eliminate the malignant cell population.
Skipper also developed the theory that a specific dose of a given drug will kill the same percentage, not the same number, of cancer cells in a wide variety of cancer cell populations.
For this work, Skipper won the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award — a high-level scientific prize — in 1974.
Skipper’s many honors include the Bristol-Myers Award for Distinguished Achievement in Cancer Research in 1980, the Charles F. Kettering Prize from the General Motors Foundation for Cancer Research in 1982 and the American Cancer Society National Annual Award, also in 1982.
Triazene dacarbazine, developed by Dr. Fulmer Shealy and others in the early 1960s, became Southern Research’s first drug to achieve approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in May 1975. It was originally marketed by Bayer as DTIC-Dome.
Dacarbazine, a chemotherapy drug classified as an alkylating agent, is on the World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines.
It is used to treat metastatic malignant melanoma, Hodgkin’s disease, soft tissue sarcomas, neuroblastoma, fibrosarcomas, rhabdomyosarcoma, islet cell carcinoma, and medullary carcinoma of the thyroid.
Lomustine is primarily used in the treatment of brain tumors, both primary (developed in the brain) and metastatic (spread from another source). It has also been used for Hodgkin’s disease and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as well as in the treatment of melanoma, lung and colon cancer.
It was originally marketed under the name CeeNu but in 2014 was rebranded Gleostine.
Lomustine is a chemotherapy drug classified as an alkylating agent. Alkylation damages the DNA of cells, preventing them from dividing and triggering their death.
It is a nitrosurea compound, which unlike most chemotherapy drugs, can cross the blood-brain barrier, making it useful in treating brain tumors.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved carmustine — marketed under the trade name BiCNU — in March 1977. This chemotherapy drug damages the DNA of cancer cells, preventing them from dividing and triggering their death.
Carmustine is used in the treatment of certain types of brain tumors, including glioblastoma, brainstem glioma, medulloblastoma, astrocytoma, ependymoma, and metastatic brain tumors.
Its wafer formulation, the Gliadel wafer, is implanted into a surgical cavity after the removal of a brain tumor to release carmustine.
Other cancers treated with carmustine include multiple myeloma, Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas, melanoma, lung cancer and colon cancer.
The drug was developed by Drs. John Montgomery and Tom Johnston, and synthesized in the lab by Shep McCaleb.
The Cancer Cause and Prevention Laboratory is completed on 21st Street South in Birmingham in 1977 as Southern Research’s most expensive lab building to date.
The lab is one of the first non-government facilities specifically designed to meet the stringent requirements for carcinogenesis research.
Southern Research begins work for the newly formed National Toxicology Program (NTP), evaluating environmental contaminants, pharmaceuticals, and industrial products for potential health hazards to humans.
Among the many successes associated with the NTP program was the demonstration at Southern Research of the carcinogenicity of hexavalent chromium, commonly referred to as the “Erin Brockovich chemical.” This work was directly responsible for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations limiting the amount of this dangerous chemical in human drinking-water supplies.
In June 1979, workers began moving into the new Environmental Sciences Laboratory on Eight Avenue and 22nd Street in Birmingham.
The Environmental Sciences Department of Southern Research sprang from a group in the Engineering Division that pioneered the development of systems for sampling and measuring the concentrations and sizes of particles in air. Their work preceded changes to the Clean Air Act of 1970 that required regulatory controls.
Southern Research new cancer chemotherapy facility was completed and dedicated to Skipper, who, with his team, had demonstrated the fundamentals of effective cancer chemotherapy. One of the speakers at the dedication ceremony that day was Dr. Vincent DeVita Jr., director of the National Cancer Institute, a close collaborator with Southern Research.
DeVita praised the contributions of Southern Research and Skipper in the fight against cancer.
“No institution in this country — probably not in the world — has a more distinguished place in the history of cancer chemotherapy than Southern Research,” DeVita said. “And that is largely due to the man we are here to honor today, Dr. Howard Skipper. The impact of Dr. Skipper’s work reverberated across the field like a whipcrack and changed the field practically overnight, in medical terms, from one that relied almost totally on empiricism to a field that was heavily laced with inductive reasoning.”
Photo shows Dr. Howard Skipper
When the leadership pair of Dr. Howard Skipper and Rollin Osgood decided to retire in 1981, the board turned to the head of the Engineering Department, Sabert Oglesby. He presided over a period of strong revenue growth for Southern Research.
Oglesby’s long career at the organization won him significant support within the organization. So did his results — research volume climbed from $18 million in 1980 to $32 million in 1986.
Oglesby stepped down in June 1987, after 39 years with Southern Research.
The Challenger’s 1983 mission, designated STS-8, seemed to go without a hitch, but a post-flight safety inspection of the solid rocket boosters revealed a problem with the lining of a rocket nozzle. The lining had almost completely burned away in some places, which likely would have led to a catastrophic break-up of the spacecraft.
NASA called in John Koenig’s Southern Research engineering team, which identified why the rocket nozzle had eroded and provided guidance for material design and process changes to prevent the defect. The team also developed a unique laser screening test to ensure there would be no repeat of the problem.
Photo shows John Koenig inspecting a damaged shuttle fuel nozzle
In 1986, Southern Research’s Microbiology-Virology department began work under a five-year, $8.8 million contract from the U.S. Army to study the potential antiviral activity of compounds against exotic RNA viruses. That positioned the department perfectly for a separate $1.1 million contract that same year from the National Institutes of Health and the Army to evaluate compounds for the treatment of AIDS.
The organization has been involved in AIDS research ever since.
As part of the NIH/Army contract, Southern Research tested approximately 1,500 compounds a year, making it the only laboratory outside of the NIH actively evaluating AIDS compounds on a large scale. Southern Research also set out to develop a more effective assay method for large-scale screens.
The anti-HIV drug evaluation work at Southern Research eventually expanded to the testing of all synthetic chemical compounds submitted to the U.S. government for screening against the virus, approximately 20,000 compound-tests per year for a decade. Many of the active anti-HIV drugs came through this screen over the years, including Carbovir.
Rouse, the former dean of the engineering school at the University of Texas at Arlington, took the leadership reins at Southern Research in June 1987, replacing Stewart Oglesby, who retired.
Rouse, who brought broad experience to the CEO role, steered Southern Research in a number of new direction. In 1991, the organization opened a laboratory in Frederick, Maryland, to establish a presence closer to many sponsors in the region. Around the same time, a new for-profit venture, Southern Research Technologies, was launched to commercialize some of the organization’s technological developments.
Under Rouse, Southern Research also continued updating its labs and other facilities. An important development was the Engineering Department’s move to a new center in an emerging research park off Oxmoor Road in Birmingham.
The organization created Southern Research Technologies in 1988 as a subsidiary focusing on its technological developments such as its contributions to the FOG-M (fiber optic guided missile). The concept involved fiber optic cable spooling out of the back of the missile during flight, providing a television picture for the operator. It was the first time a TV camera was placed in the nose of a missile, with images beamed back for guidance.
Southern Research engineers developed a seeker head and a tracker device for the missile system.
By the time Southern Research Technologies was spun off, the organization’s engineers had performed work on missile programs for nearly three decades. In fact, Southern Research engineers Al Thomas and Bob Collins had developed a tracking device for the Maverick missile in 1962, leading to the development of many tracker and seeker systems by the organization.
Photo shows an infared source for aerial low targets developed by Southern Research.
An interest-free loan from Southern Research made possible 1988’s International Conference on Antiviral Research (ICAR) in Williamsburg, Virginia, the first conference officially held by the newly organized International Society for Antiviral Research (ISAR).
Southern Research’s Dr. William Shannon incorporated ISAR in Birmingham as a non-profit organization.The conference was a major success, and ISAR is currently in its third decade of operation, still strongly supported by Southern Research.
Shannon served as one of ISAR’s co-founders and its first treasurer from 1988 to 1994. Dr. Jack Secrist, head of Drug Discovery and later president of Southern Research, also served as ISAR’s treasurer from 1994 to 2003 and as its president from 2004 to 2006.
The facility in Maryland’s second largest city enabled to Southern Research to have a presence close to many of its key government sponsors when operations started there in late 1990. Over the years, the Frederick lab has become home to a major portion of the organization’s infectious disease research program.
Dr. Peter Canonico, previously with the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases, was the facility’s first director.
The Frederick lab was deeply involved in Southern Research’s effort to screen compounds that could be effective against HIV and other viral infections.
Fludarabine — also known under its brand name, Fludura — is used in the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), including CLL that has not responded to standard therapy, or recurred after therapy. It also is used as a salvage therapy for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and acute leukemias.
Fludarabine was first synthesized by Dr. John Montgomery and Kathleen Hewson of Southern Research in the late 1960s. U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval was granted in April 1991.
It belongs to the class of chemotherapy drugs called antimetabolites, which prevent cell division and cause cancer cells to die.
Fludarabine is on the World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines, the most important medications needed in a basic health system.
Photo shows Dr. John Montgomery
Southern Research’s High Temperature Materials Evaluation Facility was inducted into the Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame in February 1991 at a ceremony in Tuscaloosa. The facility is used to evaluate materials such as carbon-carbon composites, graphite and ceramic for use in aircraft, missiles and space vehicles under extreme conditions.
The facility’s furnaces are capable of operating at temperatures reaching 5,500 degrees Fahrenheit, and mechanical and thermal equipment at the facility determine how materials function under different conditions.
The unique facility made Southern Research the primary source of research in the characterization of high temperature materials for NASA, the Department of Defense, and many aerospace companies and component producers.
The new venture was set up by Southern Research Technologies, a spin-off created to take advantage of commercial opportunities stemming from work Southern Research engineers had conducted on military systems. Southern BioSystems focused on the organization’s longstanding work on controlled-release technologies and biodegradable polymers.
To launch Southern BioSystems as a new company, Southern Research Technologies purchased Birmingham Polymers Inc., one of the world’s three major suppliers of biodegradable polymers for controlled-release applications. Former Southern Research employee Jim English headed Birmingham Polymers, and he was named president of Southern BioSystems.
One of Southern BioSystems first commercial opportunities for controlled-release products was a dental implant that released low doses of fluoride to prevent tooth decay, a system developed years earlier at Southern Research.
Southern Research dedicated its new Engineering Research Center at Birmingham’s Oxmoor Park on Oct. 9, 1992, in front of a crowd that numbered 200 people. Alabama Gov. Guy Hunt, who was one of them, said: “The growth and progress here at Oxmoor bodes well for the future of Birmingham and our entire state.”
At the new center, engineers conducted high-temperature evaluation of carbon-carbon and other advanced composite materials in defense and aerospace applications.
Southern Research was a pioneer in controlled release, drug delivery technologies like microencapsulation — placing doses of medicine in tiny spheres no wider than a single strand of human hair. In 1992, the organization’s technology went to space with experiments that flew on the shuttle Discovery.
The goal of the experiments was to gain insights about the production of microspheres in the absence of gravity. In one of the experiments, the antibiotic ampicillin was encapsulated within a biodegradable polymer.
In the 1960s, Southern Research scientists including Drs. Robert Piper and Tom Johnston conducted an extensive program to produce agents for the U.S. Army that would protect soldiers from radiation. One of these agents, amifostine, was later developed as a treatment to protect patients from harmful effects of radiation treatment and chemotherapy. The drug is marketed as Ethyol.
Amifostine works by promoting the repair of damaged tissue and binding to harmful free radicals released by cells after exposure to chemotherapy.
Photo shows Dr. Robert Piper
Chandra’s periscope is a critical component of the telescope’s pointing mechanism and goes from the center of the X-ray mirrors to the tracking camera. To function properly, the periscope must remain thermally stable despite temperature changes.
Southern Research developed the thermal stability test for the periscope that determined the pointing accuracy of the X-ray observatory. Several test campaigns helped material and optical designers refine the periscope design.
The James Webb Space Telescope is the successor of Hubble. Before Northrop Grumman secured the prime contract on the project in 2002, Southern Research’s Nondestructive Characterization Group worked with team members Orbital ATK and others to develop enabling technology for the 6.5- meter space telescope on NASA’s next great observatory.
Novel interferometer-based metrology techniques pioneered at Southern Research were integral to the winning proposal and went on to be used to test over six thousand individual material components for the observatory, in addition to major substructures.
Lonergan, a former Owens Corning executive, joined Southern Research in February 2001, and moved to expand the nonprofit research organization’s revenue streams.
A major development during Lonergan’s tenure was the 2005 spinoff of Southern Research’s 30-year-old drug delivery group into the for-profit Brookwood Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Brookwood was later acquired in a deal worth more than $50 million.
Endeavour was poised to launch from Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center when higher-than-allowable oxygen levels were detected in the orbiter’s midbody. While replacing a fatigued oxygen hose, a platform bumped the robotic arm in the shuttle’s cargo bay.
NASA officials called Southern Research engineers David Stewart and Jim Tucker and asked them to report to Kennedy Space Center the next day and bring Southern Research’s patented UltraSpec ultrasonic inspection equipment to examine the manipulator arm. This technology was uniquely capable of collecting data about the robotic arm’s composite-to-metal interfaces.
Inspection of the arm was made in the cargo bay of Endeavour on the launch pad, and Southern Research’s equipment and personnel were then immediately flown to Toronto to meet with the arm’s manufacturer to evaluate results.
Three days after the call to Southern Research was made, Endeavour was approved for launch and blasted into orbit on Nov. 23, 2002.
Photo shows Jim Tucker, left, and David Stewart inspecting cargo in the shuttle bay of Endeavour using the UltraSpec technology
The High-Throughput Screen (HTS) Center, which can scan thousands of compounds for biological activity, begins operation at Southern Research in 2003. Screens ramped up to more than 500,000 compounds in 2005. Between 2006 and 2014, the average topped 3 million compounds screened each year.
The HTS system uses specialized automation equipment and high density microtiter screening plates to test a large number of chemical compounds in a short period of time. Screening of 30,000 to 100,000 compounds per day is common.
Southern Research’s earliest HTS campaign stemmed from the SARS coronavirus outbreak in 2003 when the National Institutes of Health asked the organization to look for compounds that could be used as antiviral drugs for the emerging disease.
Southern Research has gained international recognition for its ability to test hundreds of thousands of compounds using infectious pathogens such as avian influenza (bird flu), seasonal influenza, tuberculosis, and eventually the hemorrhagic fever pathogens Ebola virus and Nipah virus, among others.
Columbia was destroyed during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003, following a 16-day scientific mission. An investigation showed that hot gases entered a hole in the leading edge on one of Columbia’s wings, destroying critical support structures and causing the spacecraft to break apart.
NASA again called in a Southern Research team led by John Koenig to determine the cause of the mission failure and model the event that caused the initial damage to the wing. The team also evaluated if the age of the carbon composite material enhanced the probability of failure and to develop approaches to repair the shuttle wing in space if similar damage occurred in the future.
Koening was honored by NASA and its space partners at a 2016 ceremony marking his retirement from Southern Research after nearly 40 years.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved clofarabine for the treatment of pediatric patients with relapsed or refractory acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) after at least two prior regimens. The drug is marketed under the brand name Clolar.
Dr. John Montgomery, Dr. Jack Secrist and co-workers first synthesized clofarabine. It belongs to the class of chemotherapy drugs called antimetabolites, which prevent cell division and cause cancer cells to die.
At the time of its approval, Clolar was the first new leukemia treatment specifically for children in more than a decade.
Photo shows Dr. Jack Secrist, at whiteboard, speaking to members of Southern Research’s cancer team, including Dr. John Montgomery, second from left
Brookwood was set up as a for-profit drug delivery company with all the resources needed to manufacture biomaterials and drug delivery formulations for clinical trials and for pharmaceutical companies. Dr. Art Tipton — a future leader of Southern Research — was tapped to head the new venture.
At the time of the launch, the Brookwood scientific team had amassed experience in virtually all drug delivery systems and was internationally recognized for its contributions to the drug-delivery field since the pioneering days of controlled release technology in the 1970s. While at Southern Research, the group created the first commercialized injectable microsphere product.
The new venture also included the external polymer manufacturing business of Alkermes, which it acquired. The business operated as a Brookwood subsidiary called Lakeshore Biomaterials.
“In spinning out Brookwood Pharmaceuticals, we are realizing an opportunity to expand one of Southern Research’s most successful commercial businesses, giving it room to grow and capitalize on the strength the team has long held in the drug delivery marketplace,” Robert C. Lonergan, Southern Research president and CEO, said at the time.
Photo shows Dr. Art Tipton
The Airborne Imaging and Recording System (AIRS) captured video of Discovery’s July 26, 2005, launch from ranges of up to 20 nautical miles. The AIRS units, mounted in the nose of WB-57 aircraft, provided full-motion video of Discovery from lift-off to well beyond booster separation at 146,000 feet.
The system, developed with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, fulfilled a recommendation from the Columbia Accident Investigation Board that high-resolution video be taken of shuttle launches so that possible damage could be identified.
The AIRS turrets continue to be used to capture video of rocket launches and by a variety of Southern Research government clients.
When he was named president and CEO of the organization on Sept. 13, 2006, Secrist had been at Southern Research for 27 years, serving in many senior roles and leading the Drug Discovery division since 1990.
He established the high-throughput screening laboratory at Southern Research’s Frederick, Maryland, facility, and then moved it to Birmingham to leverage synergies between the Birmingham staff and UAB faculty.
Secrist’s research focused mainly on the development of new anticancer, antiviral and antibacterial agents. In 2006, Secrist was awarded the John A. Montgomery Award — named for the Southern Research scientist — presented at the International Roundtable on Nucleosides, Nucleotides and Nucleic Acids Conference in Bern, Switzerland.
Minnesota-based Surmodics, which specialized in drug delivery technology, announced its deal for Brookwood Pharmaceuticals on Aug. 1, 2007. The deal, valued at $50 million, was the largest transaction in the history of Southern Research.
Surmodics’ plan called for Brookwood to operate as a distinct business unit, headed by Dr. Art Tipton and based in Birmingham.
“While we will miss having Brookwood as part of our extended organization, we are convinced that the combined companies will be much more successful than they would be apart,” Dr. Jack Secrist, Southern Research’s CEO, said about the deal. “Furthermore, the Birmingham community has benefited from Brookwood’s growth and presence, and we are very pleased that SurModics has decided to retain Brookwood in Birmingham.”
The ADDA partnership was launched as a unique collaboration between development teams at Southern Research and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Leveraging the strengths of each organization, the ADDA provides the infrastructure and support to expedite the search for new insights and treatments for a number of diseases.
ADDA’s objective is to facilitate drug discovery and development utilizing the resources that exist at the two institutions. These resources include molecular target identification, high through-put screening, three dimensional structure of targets, and preclinical toxicology.
The ADDA funds pilot projects that are at different stages of the drug discovery and development process, and provides a suite of services tailored to the needs of each project.
The ADDA discovery pipeline includes possible therapies for Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, kidney disease, Alzheimer’s, and many types of cancers.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved pralatrexate — also known by its brand name, Folotyn — as the first treatment for a form of cancer known as Peripheral T-cell Lymphoma (PTCL), an often aggressive type of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Southern Research collaborated with the Sloan Kettering Memorial Cancer Center and SRI International on development of the drug.
“We prepared and tested many compounds before finally identifying a substance that gave favorable results,” Southern Research’s Dr. Robert Piper said about the FDA’s approval of pralatrexate.”We are very glad our compound will help alleviate human suffering and extend lives.”
Folotyn was approved under the FDA’s accelerated approval process, which allows earlier approval of drugs that meet unmet medical needs. It is approved for patients who have relapsed, or have not responded well to other forms of chemotherapy.
Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system.
Pralatrexate belongs to the class of chemotherapy drugs called antimetabolites, which prevent cell division and cause cancer cells to die. Antimetabolities are substances that interfere with DNA or RNA synthesis, disrupting cell division the growth of tumors.
Rapid growth in Southern Research’s engineering business prompted the construction of a $5.6 million high-tech laboratory at the organization’s Engineering Research Campus in Birmingham.
The expansion allowed Southern Research to programs in airborne imaging systems, advanced materials,light-weight composite materials, and structural integrity research of large complex systems, such as aerospace vehicles.
Construction of the 19,000-square-foot building with three high-bay labs and two floors of offices was completed in July 2012.
Tipton became president and CEO of Southern Research on July 1, 2013, after a 25-year career in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries for 25 years. The company he founded in 2005 as an Southern Research spin-out company – Brookwood Pharmaceuticals – was acquired by SurModics in August 2007, then by Evonik in November 2011. At Evonik, Tipton served as senior vice president of the Birmingham division and also led the company’s global drug delivery program.
From 1993 to 2004, Tipton held senior roles at Durect Corp., including that of senior vice president of biodegradable systems and chief operating officer. He was with Atrix Laboratories from 1988 until 1993, as manager of polymer science and senior polymer chemist.
Tipton has 40 issued U.S. patents, 29 published U.S. patent applications, and numerous foreign equivalents, with more than 70 presentations and publications. In 2013, he was inducted as a fellow into the National Academy of Inventors.
The Water Research Center, located at Georgia Power’s Plant Bowen near Cartersville, Georgia, evaluates technologies developed to treat wastewater created by power plants. A very important step in many wastewater treatment processes will be the processing of difficult-to-treat wastewaters, such as those created by acid gas scrubbers.
The goal of the projects at the Water Research Center will be to understand the applicability of the various commercial technologies to treat scrubber waters and to meet the requirements of newly proposed EPA effluent guidelines, as well as to produce clean water for power plant reuse or discharge back into lakes and rivers.
Southern Research teamed with the Electric Power Research Institute, Georgia Power Company, Southern Company Services, and power companies throughout the United States to develop the Water Research Center.
The organization’s Southeastern Solar Research Center, which opened in 2014, is designed to focus on the study on solar photovoltaic (PV) systems and host a range of research programs and initiatives. The first program, sponsored by the Electric Power Research Institute, focuses on solar PV system orientation, tracking and aging.
The center boasts a testing area comprising multiple configurations of PV solar panel arrays, microinverters and an advanced energy-monitoring system.
Michael D. Johns, vice president of engineering at Southern Research, said the new facility will accelerate the institute’s research into solar photovoltaics and yield data to aid utilities in the optimal design of solar PV systems.
Building on its Alabama Drug Development Alliance and years of close collaboration, Southern Research and UAB launched the AIMTech venture to develop new medical devices to improve healthcare in the U.S. and around the world.
The strategic partnership combines the research and discovery expertise of Southern Research scientists and engineers and UAB biomedical engineers and clinicians. AIMTech seeks to create medical devices across five specializations: cardiology, orthopedics, ophthalmology, rehabilitative engineering, and trauma.
“Partnering with UAB on this initiative allows us to accelerate commercialization of medical technologies, improve healthcare delivery and outcomes, and generate economic development and growth,” Southern Research President and CEO Dr. Art Tipton said. “This is also an opportunity to develop a lucrative business unit that will potentially create a number of new companies and jobs within the rapidly-growing biomedical engineering industry.”
AIMTech seeks to invent the new medical devices, help raise venture capital, establish small medical device companies, and manage the clinical trial and FDA approval processes. Major medical device companies will manufacture and sell the devices.
While Southern Research’s historic focus in energy has been on fossil fuel and air pollution, its capabilities had been expanding include solar, clean water and more. That prompted the organization to establish an Energy & Environment division in 2015 to expand that evolution.
Dr. Bill Grieco, an industry veteran, was hired to direct the activities of the new division.
Energy & Environment focuses on cleaner and more efficient energy production, water research at the industrial and watershed level, new technology development for grid-scale energy storage, creation of carbon fiber production technologies from bio-based sources, and new fuel source development from biomass and other feedstocks.
Southern Research was awarded a seven-year contract of up to $22 million to support research that could contribute to the cure of HIV disease.
Under this 2015 contract, Southern Research will develop and standardize assays, or screens, that measure what is known as “latent reservoirs” of HIV.
HIV replication can be effectively suppressed in infected patients with antiretroviral therapy, which reduces the level of HIV in the blood to an undetectable level. However, HIV stays hidden within these infected blood cells – latent reservoirs – and a reactivated cell can begin to produce HIV again.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases awarded the grant to Southern Research to support the HIV cure initiative.
The organization’s research to combat the harmful effects of the Zika virus was expanded with a contract from the National Institute of Allergic and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a non-human primate model of Zika infection for product evaluation.
The model will serve as a resource to accelerate research into possible vaccines or therapeutics for Zika disease.
“Southern Research has a long history of pivotal work on infectious diseases,including mosquito-borne illnesses such as dengue, chikungunya, and West Nile Virus,” President and CEO Art Tipton said.
Earlier in 2016, Southern Research scientists developed a unique antiviral assay that can be used by researchers worldwide to detect the Zika virus in infected cell cultures. Scientists also launched experiments to better understand the course of the infection in Cynomolgus macaque, a model previously used in dengue studies.
The Alliance for Innovative Medical Technology, a partnership between Southern Research and UAB, showed off the ResistX treadmill at the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual conference in Boston during early summer 2016.
ResistX is a unique force-induced treadmill designed with safety in mind and engineered for use in physical therapy and rehabilitation centers. It is the first treadmill to allow individuals recovering from neurological or physical disorders to exercise in a challenging treadmill environment to improve cardiovascular fitness and lower limb strength.
“ResistX is different from anything on the market, and represents a significant milestone for AIMTech and the physical therapy and rehab communities,” said Dr. Robert Hergenrother, director of AIMTech and Medical Technology Developments at Southern Research.
Continuing to involve its focus in energy-related activities beyond fossil fuels, the organization launched an initiative concentrating on next-generation nuclear power in 2016.
Generation IV nuclear power is viewed as a substantial leap forward compared to current technology, though next-generation reactor designs remain in the developmental stage. Southern Research will work with leading utilities, universities, and technology developers with the objective of developing safe ‘Gen IV’ nuclear power systems with no radioactive waste or nuclear proliferation concerns.
Next-generation nuclear power has the potential to play a key role in meeting global demand for energy, which is projected to increase by 48 percent by 2020, compared to 2012 levels. Renewables and nuclear are projected to be the two fastest growing segments in that time frame.