Category: News

Southern Research breaks ground on new biotech center and campus renovations

Birmingham, Ala. – Southern Research today broke ground on a flagship biotech center that will anchor the development of 200,000 square feet of new or renovated wet lab space for life sciences. The new facility, located on the corner of Richard Arrington Jr., Blvd., and Ninth Avenue South, will double the organization’s lab space for researching infectious diseases and greatly expand its work to develop new treatments for cancer and other serious illnesses.

The new center is expected to create 150 new jobs at Southern Research and to double the institution’s annual economic impact to $300 million a year.

“This project represents a major investment in the city of Birmingham and in the great work being done by our Southern Research team,” said Josh Carpenter, Ph.D., president and CEO of Southern Research. “It builds on our strengths and puts us in a position for dynamic growth in the future.”

The Alabama Legislature included $45 million for the Southern Research building in the state budget for 2023, marking the state government’s first-ever investment in the 80-year-old campus.

“This represented an opportunity to create high-paying jobs in Birmingham and to support one of the state’s most important industries,” Gov. Kay Ivey said. “Scientific and technical innovation is a major driver of Alabama’s economic growth, and Southern Research has long been a key player in making it happen.”

Construction alone will create more than 1,100 project-related jobs and generate more than $190 million in economic activity, Carpenter said.

In addition to expanding space for research on infectious diseases like COVID-19, the new facility will allow Southern Research to ramp up its efforts to target common diseases that have a profound impact on the well-being of Alabamians and communities.

In addition to this new facility, Southern Research plans to renovate much of its campus and build new space to advance genomic diagnostics work over the next few years.

The city of Birmingham and Jefferson County have each been asked to provide funding alongside Southern Research and the State of Alabama to help accelerate this capital investment. While the contributions have not been approved at the City or the County, officials on both sides of Linn Park expressed support for the expansion.

“This is a transformational moment for Southern Research and for Birmingham,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall L. Woodfin. “As someone who benefited from a COVID-19 treatment developed with Southern Research’s experts, I am especially grateful to the scientists who work here and I’m proud to help them take their work to the next level.”

As Economic Development Committee Chair of the Jefferson County Commission, Steve Ammons called the Southern Research project yet another example of local leaders working across partisan and jurisdictional lines to benefit the entire Birmingham metro area.

“When we work together, we can do big things,” Commissioner Ammons said. “This expansion at Southern Research is an important project that will create economic ripples across this county and state.”

Ray Watts, MD, president of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and chair of the Southern Research board of directors, said the new facility will help fulfill his vision of creating a world-class biotech corridor that stretches from the UAB campus to Southern Research and Ascension St. Vincent’s Birmingham.

“Between UAB and Southern Research, we are working to ensure that Birmingham and Alabama become the biotech commercialization center of the Southeast,” Watts said. “This new facility will help us incubate new biotech entrepreneurs and attract top talent to this area. Southern Research and its vision for this center are intricately tied to the future success of Birmingham.”

Alongside the new construction, Southern Research has contracted Brasfield & Gorrie to help renovate more than 40,000 square feet of its existing campus facilities in Birmingham’s Southside. Investments include building out more vivarium space and launching a new clinical diagnostics lab.

Southern Research expands, diversifies board of directors

The Southern Research board of directors has expanded to 15 members, with new additions representing a diverse range of national expertise.

The new members were recently approved by the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees and will join the current board in May 2022.

“Southern Research considers diversity of thought both a key asset and core value,” said Josh Carpenter, Ph.D., president and CEO of Southern Research. “We are pleased to welcome leadership that includes men and women whose varied perspectives will strengthen our organization and the science that defines our mission.”

New members include:

  • Regina Benjamin, MD, the 18thS. Surgeon General, founder and CEO of Bayou Clinic/Gulf States Health Policy Center in Bayou La Batre. As a graduate of UAB School of Medicine, is a national and international leader in medicine and public health. Benjamin is involved in venture capital, digital health and serves on corporate boards.
  • Mike Brock, partner at Kirkland & Ellis. Based in Washington, D.C., Brock has extensive legal experience representing companies in complex litigation, including successful representation of top pharmaceutical companies in product liability cases.
  • Bobbie Knight, president of Miles College. Knight is the first woman to serve in this role, after an almost 40-year career as an executive at Alabama Power Co. Knight also chairs the board of managers for the Birmingham Times Media Group.
  • Jeanne Marrazzo, MD, the C. Glenn Cobbs endowed chair and director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Heersink School of Medicine. As an infectious disease specialist, Marrazzo is internationally recognized for her work in women’s health and as a national media spokesperson for managing COVID-19.
  • Scott Phelps, vice president of the Greene Group. Before joining Greene Group, Phelps had a successful legal career at Bradley Arant. He also serves on the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees.
  • Ken Simon, principal at Ken Simon Law. A former trial judge, Simon has wide-ranging legal experience including securities and municipal bond transactions to corporate compliance and arbitration.
  • Lee Styslinger, III, co-chair and CEO of Altec Inc. Styslinger is an active investor in healthcare start-ups, a member of the Business Roundtable, and serves on several boards and councils advising U.S. presidents on trade policy and workforce development.
  • Neel Varshney, MD, founding partner of Patient Square Capital. Based in the Bay Area, Varshney is a UAB graduate and trained as a physician before starting his business career and co-launching Patient Square Capital, a dedicated health care investment firm.
  • Selwyn Vickers, MD, CEO of UAB Health System and dean of UAB Heersink School of Medicine. Vickers is an internationally recognized pancreatic cancer surgeon, researcher and pioneer in health disparities research.

Current members of the Southern Research board include Chairman Ray Watts, MD, president of UAB; Finis St. John IV, chancellor of University of Alabama System; Mark Crosswhite, chairman, president and CEO of Alabama Power Co.; Ruffner Page, retired McWane Inc. president; Christopher Brown, Ph.D., vice president for research at UAB; and Jamey McMahon, chairman of Ligon Capital.

“This is an exciting time for Southern Research, and on behalf of all the board of directors, I am thrilled at the caliber of people who will help guide us into the future,” Watts said. “I know this group will build on Southern Research’s excellent history to create something truly of national significance.”

Southern Research announces new key additions to staff, leadership team

Southern Research today announced key additions to its staff and leadership team.

Brantley Fry has joined the organization as its new vice president of People and Community. Fry served as state director for former U.S. Sen. Doug Jones and most recently has worked as chief of staff and general counsel for Pack Health. In her new role at Southern Research, she will guide employee recruitment and retention, employee safety, communications, STEM programs and other community engagement initiatives.

“We created this role because Southern Research is principally a community of scientific professionals, and in order to be our best as an organization, we must devote strategic resources to becoming a place where people can thrive by becoming part of our community,” said Josh Carpenter, Ph.D., president and CEO of Southern Research. “Brantley has the experience to help us maximize our very best assets – our team – and make sure we achieve our mission of advancing science and creating economic opportunity for our community as a whole.”

The new position was created as part of an effort to restructure, modernize and expand Southern Research operations in Birmingham, including the construction of a new biotech facility at its Southside campus.

“I am proud to be joining Southern Research at a pivotal moment in history,” Fry said. “This organization has been at the leading edge of science since its inception, including throughout the COVID-19 crisis. We’re poised to reach new heights and become an even greater asset to our community.”

Fry’s selection was announced along with several other significant staff changes.

Among other changes, Mark Suto, Ph.D., the vice president of the Life Sciences section of Southern Research, has retired, and his team has been split into two new divisions, Scientific Platforms and Contract Research Oriented (CRO) Services, which will be led by veteran scientists.

New vice president for Scientific Platforms

Corinne E. Augelli-Szafran, Ph.D., is the vice president for Scientific Platforms, a division that conducts early drug-discovery research to identify new treatments for a variety of illnesses.

Augelli-Szafran joined Southern Research in 2014 as head of the chemistry department. She has more than 30 years of drug discovery, management and leadership experience in the pharmaceutical industry, academic institutions and not-for-profit research organizations. Before coming to Southern Research, she spent eight years at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital where she was recruited to establish an academic-based drug discovery laboratory focused on identifying treatments for Alzheimer’s. Prior to Harvard, Augelli-Szafran served in leadership roles at Parke-Davis Pharmaceutical Research and Pfizer Global Research and Development.

“Corinne has demonstrated success in drug discovery in both academic and big pharma settings, and she has been an outstanding leader for Southern Research’s medicinal and analytical chemistry teams,” Carpenter said. “We are grateful for her willingness to take her leadership to another level.”

Said Augelli-Szafran: “I’ve been proud to be a part of what Southern Research has accomplished in the past and look forward to what it is going to accomplish in the future. There’s never been a better time to be a scientist and be part of the strong team working at Southern Research.”

New vice president for Research Services

Kevin Burton, Ph.D., has been named vice president of Research Services, a division that conducts later-stage drug-discovery research to test the effectiveness of potential new treatments before they move to human clinical trials.

Burton has extensive experience in research and development in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. Prior to joining Southern Research, Burton spent more than a decade at Evonik, where his roles included serving as head of Global Healthcare Solutions and Global Drug Delivery Services.

“Kevin has a significant scientific expertise as well as a track record of building and maintaining business relationships,” Carpenter said. “He will be a great asset for Southern Research as well as the clients and partners that rely on our services.”

“This is a wonderful opportunity to make a lasting impact in the region and am excited to join the talented team at Southern Research,” Burton said. “I’m proud to build on the legacy Southern Research has created in Birmingham and look forward to expanding our business while creating more opportunity for the clients and the community at large.”

Other new staff members include:

New director of High-Throughput Screening Center

Paige Vinson, Ph.D., has been hired as the director of Southern Research’s state-of-the-art High-Throughput Screening Center, where advanced robotic equipment can sift through hundreds of thousands of compounds looking for potential treatments for illnesses like COVID-19.

Vinson replaces Bob Bostwick, Ph.D., who retired in December after nine years of service at Southern Research. During his tenure at Southern Research, Bostwick participated in several collaborative research programs funded by grants and contracts with an emphasis on drug discovery of antiviral agents.

“I am fortunate to be joining Southern Research at this time when the institute is creating a forward-thinking vision and undergoing growth,” Vinson said. “Under Bob’s leadership, the HTS group has developed into an impressive team, made up of extremely talented and knowledgeable individuals. This provides us with a solid foundation to continue the respected work the HTS lab has performed in the past and the ability to address our partners’ new needs requiring high-throughput assay expertise.”

Vinson gained experience in providing high-throughput solutions to customers in the drug discovery space as part of the laboratory automation business unit at Thermo Fisher Scientific. Immediately before coming to Southern Research, she spent more than six years as director of HTS at Vanderbilt University and provided leadership in the molecular pharmacology group of the Warren Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery.

“Paige brings incredible credentials and expertise to Southern Research,” Carpenter said. “This important center, built by Bob’s stellar work, is in good hands and will undoubtedly see many more successes to come.”

New director of communications

Briana Bryant joined Southern Research in December as the organization’s new communications director, overseeing external and internal communications.

Bryant previously served as the marketing manager of the Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She brings more than a decade of strategic communications and media relations specialization, with broad experience in the innovation and entrepreneurship, small business and corporate industries.

“Briana will play a key role in telling the world about the exciting and groundbreaking work that we see every day at Southern Research,” Carpenter said. “We’re excited to have her as part of the team.”

“Southern Research has made enormous contributions to science and I can’t wait to help share the organization’s story with the communities we serve,” added Bryant.

The organization is hiring for multiple scientific and administrative roles. Learn more and apply here.

CEO Josh Carpenter: Painful decision on Quinlan Castle clears way for investment in biotech, Birmingham’s future

Three weeks after I joined Southern Research as president and CEO, a 12-story condo building collapsed in Miami, killing 98 people and raising alarms about the structural integrity of buildings across the country.This tragedy led many organizations to take a hard look at the safety of their physical structures. Southern Research was no exception, and our review quickly turned to the Quinlan Castle, an old apartment building sitting in the heart of our campus.
With its stone exterior, the castle appears solid from the outside. But inside, the castle is in literal shambles, falling victim to the elements and vandals and time. To assess its safety, we hired a structural engineer and other building experts this summer to evaluate the castle and its potential for rehabilitation.

They found serious safety hazards. Beyond the obvious — fallen interior walls, caved-in ceilings, and buckled floors — they noted serious structural issues. They included corroded concrete with exposed, rusted rebar — one of the very issues cited in the Miami condo collapse.

Could we bring back the castle to use for our scientific endeavors? Our building experts concluded that addressing the safety issues alone would be cost-prohibitive, and the building simply could not be converted, at any price, into the modern lab space our scientists need.

Even with current building codes, the load requirements for an apartment building are less than half the load requirements for a research facility like ours. The assumption is that the building codes were even less stringent in 1927. The ceiling heights from that time can’t accommodate modern infrastructure and life safety needs, and trying to ensure disability access would be nearly impossible in a structure whose insides are defined by steep, narrow stairs.

After careful study and consideration of our options, we sought and received approval from the city of Birmingham’s Design Review Committee to bring down the castle. We will replace it with a modern structure that teems with some of our state’s best science, retains and attracts talent to make Southside more vibrant, and becomes a source of pride for our community.

As one of Birmingham’s oldest employers, we respect historical institutions. We don’t take joy in bringing down a building that has stood for so many years. We welcome suggestions from the community about ways that we may be able to preserve and use some elements of the castle for other purposes.

But this almost century-old structure simply does not work for Southern Research’s mission, nor for the dedicated employees who work here.

Benefit Birmingham, Jefferson County and the state of Alabama

COVID-19 revealed healthcare heroes in our midst, and I am proud to work alongside many of them at Southern Research. Our scientists have been studying viruses like COVID-19 for 20 years. When this new global threat emerged, the team at Southern Research shifted into high gear, working nonstop to test possible treatments and employing every possible tool to combat the pandemic.

Scientists at Southern Research have made substantial contributions in testing, treatments and vaccines for COVID-19. In partnership with UAB, we helped refine remdisivir, the first treatment approved for the virus. In partnership with Tonix Pharmaceuticals, we helped develop a potential vaccine that is in clinical trials. These are just two examples, and they don’t begin to capture what Southern Research has contributed to our nation’s pandemic response.

Heading into 2022, we have an opportunity to invest more and expand this important part of our mission, both to magnify our work to combat COVID and to better prepare for the next threat that might endanger our family, our friends, and the Birmingham community.

Our plans for a new facility on our Southside campus – a center for pandemic resilience — will double the amount of lab space we have available for research and development on infectious diseases like COVID-19. It will also broaden our capacity to address common diseases and health conditions that have made COVID particularly lethal to Alabamians.

In addition to extending our scientific reach, the new space will allow us to hire 100 additional scientists and nurture commercial research, enlarging our economic impact as well.

I believe everyone agrees our plans will benefit Birmingham, Jefferson County and the state of Alabama. But there is understandably some discomfort that this important new facility will be located at the site of Quinlan Castle.

The castle is a charming, quirky, almost whimsical landmark in Birmingham. Built in 1927 as an apartment building, its appearance was designed to replicate castles that American soldiers had seen in Europe during World War I.

Like many others in Birmingham, I’ve smiled in passing the castle and seeing those turrets and battlements in the city skyline.

But we can no longer ignore the castle’s dangerous condition issues, the result of many decades of deterioration and neglect.

We firmly believe that trying to preserve the castle is not the best use of this site or our resources. We believe our community will be much better served by building a facility that allows us to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow — and that represents a real investment in Birmingham’s future.

We are building a castle for the 21st century. This new structure won’t feature turrets or battlements, but it will allow us to improve our fight against some our community’s most dangerous enemies – chronic illness and infectious disease.

Josh Carpenter, Ph.D., is president and CEO of Southern Research (SR), an independent, nonprofit scientific research organization. Now affiliated with UAB, SR was founded in 1941 and currently employs 400 full-time scientists, engineers, and professional personnel.

This column appeared on ComebackTown.com.

Southern Research announces plans for new biotech building

Birmingham, Ala. (Nov. 17, 2021) — Southern Research announced plans today for a new facility on its Birmingham campus that will allow it to hire more than 100 new scientists and become a hub for pandemic preparedness.

The new building will be located on the site of Quinlan Castle, a long-vacant apartment building constructed in the 1920s that has been deemed unsafe, too costly to repair, and unsuitable for modern lab space.

Southern Research received approval from the city of Birmingham’s Design Review Committee this morning to bring down the castle. This decision will allow Southern Research to build a state-of-the-art facility that will double its Biosafety Level 3 lab space for research on infectious diseases and expand commercial wet lab space by 60,000 square feet.

“Southern Research has made significant contributions in the fight against COVID, with key accomplishments in testing, treatments and vaccine development,” said Josh Carpenter, Ph.D., the president and CEO of Southern Research. “By investing in a new center for pandemic for pandemic resilience, we can magnify our work to combat this virus and better prepare for the next threat that might endanger our family and friends.”

Initial funding for the new facility is available because of Southern Research’s strategic decision earlier this year to sell a lab facility in Maryland and re-direct almost $20 million and 50 jobs to Birmingham.

The new jobs and investment from the planned expansion will allow Southern Research to nearly double its annual economic impact to Jefferson County, to approximately $300 million. Just as important, the new facility will enable Southern Research to greatly expand its capacity to advance medical innovation and science.

As it stands, Southern Research has conducted more than $30 million in research related to COVID. Among other things, Southern Research worked with UAB to helped refine remdesivir as a treatment for COVID, and its collaboration with Tonix Pharmaceuticals produced a potential vaccine that is now in clinical trials. The new lab space will allow Southern Research to expand its work on diseases like COVID and broaden its capacity to address common diseases that made COVID particularly lethal to Alabamians.

In pursuing its plans to expand its operations in Birmingham, Southern Research evaluated its Birmingham campus structures, including Quinlan Castle. Independent architects and structural engineers found the castle posed serious safety hazards that would be cost-prohibitive to address. These experts also expressed serious doubts that the old structure could be retrofitted at any price to support infrastructure required for a modern lab.

“After careful study and consideration of our options, we firmly believe that the best use of this site and our resources is to build a facility that allows us to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow and invest in the future of Birmingham,” said Allen Bolton, executive vice president for strategy and finance at Southern Research.

Southern Research will host an open house on Nov. 23 to provide an opportunity for the community to review plans for the site and provide input. Southern Research also is soliciting suggestions from the community about ways to preserve and use some elements of the castle for other purposes.

Founded in Birmingham in 1941, Southern Research is an independent, non-profit scientific research organization where scientists and engineers work across three divisions: Life Sciences, Engineering, and Energy & Environment.

Southern Research currently has 400 full-time employees, brings in $80 million in revenue and has an annual economic impact of $150 million.

Southern Research sells Maryland site, paves way for new jobs in Birmingham

Southern Research has completed the sale of its Maryland facility to Tonix Pharmaceuticals.

The sale of the property in Frederick, Md., will allow Southern Research to invest nearly $20 million in its Birmingham campus and bring 50 new high-paying jobs to Alabama.

“Selling the Frederick facility is part of our strategic plan for the future of Southern Research,” said Josh Carpenter, the president and CEO of Southern Research.  “We plan to invest in new facilities in Birmingham and greatly expand our infectious disease capabilities to address current and emerging threats.”

Southern Research has been heavily involved in COVID response since the pandemic began in 2020, performing more than $30 million in research and development on COVID testing, treatment and vaccine development.

Among other things, Southern Research and Tonix collaborated on a COVID vaccine that is currently in clinical trials. Their collaboration will continue going forward, with Southern Research working on vaccines and antivirals at its Birmingham campus.

“By consolidating our work here in Birmingham, we are not just transferring existing jobs to Alabama,” Carpenter said. “We are also freeing up resources that will enable us to create even more jobs and economic impact in the future. The best days for Southern Research are still to come.”

Founded in Birmingham in 1941, Southern Research is an independent, non-profit scientific research organization where scientists and engineers work across three divisions:  Life Sciences, Engineering, and Energy & Environment.

For more information about Southern Research, visit www.southernresearch.org.

Wall Street Journal: GeoVax Labs Shares Rise 12% After Licensing Deal for Cancer Treatment

By Chris Wack

GeoVax Labs Inc. shares were up 12% to $4.68 after the company said it entered into an assignment and license agreement with PNP Therapeutics Inc., granting GeoVax exclusive rights to develop and commercialize Gedeptin, a novel patented product for the treatment of solid tumors.

The biotechnology company said the license provides exclusive worldwide rights to key intellectual property, including Gedeptin patents, know-how, regulatory filings, clinical materials and trademarks.

The patent portfolio covering Gedeptin was originally licensed from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Southern Research Institute by PNP. Under the License, GeoVax will become the successor to PNP under its license agreement with UAB/SRI.

Detailed financial terms of the transaction weren’t disclosed, but include a combination of upfront payments, milestone fees, and royalties on net sales.

A Phase 1/2 trial, evaluating the safety and efficacy of repeat cycles of Gedeptin therapy in patients with recurrent head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, with tumors accessible for injection and no curable treatment options, is currently enrolling. The initial stage of the study is being funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration pursuant to its Orphan Products Clinical Trials Grants Program. The FDA also has granted Gedeptin orphan drug status for the intra-tumoral treatment of anatomically accessible oral and pharyngeal cancers, including cancers of the lip, tongue, gum, floor of mouth, salivary gland and other oral cavities.

Write to Chris Wack at chris.wack@wsj.com

Birmingham Business Journal: Josh Carpenter looks to boost IP and job growth at Southern Research

A familiar name took over as president and CEO of Southern Research earlier this year.

Josh Carpenter, the former director of innovation and economic opportunity for the city of Birmingham, took the reins at Southern Research on June 1.

After getting acclimated, Carpenter has established several goals to guide the nonprofit.

He said he wants to draw on his experience with job creation in the public sector and apply it to the scientists at Southern Research to create more spinoff companies, leading to more economic development.

“When I think job creation at Southern Research, I think of it in a couple of buckets. Obviously we have 400 employees, so we have direct jobs that we create. We have indirect jobs that we create in our supply chain, whether it’s collaborative research with UAB or working to provide contract-based research …,” Carpenter said. “So the idea is that we will work and our scientists will create in-house discoveries that can then be translated from ideas to innovation and from innovation to economic opportunity and economic growth.”

Another priority for Carpenter is to make improvements and additions to the Southern Research campus in Southside. He said he first wants to renovate the spaces and modernize the lab equipment to make room for new technologies, data and lab information management systems. This is to make sure the data and samples that are created can be analyzed and collected more easily, resulting in services being delivered more quickly.

Carpenter is looking to create a number of facilities as well.  He noted Southern Research has not built a new building on its  campus in Southside this century, and the new facilities will boost partnerships with UAB in key areas.

“Our major areas of focus are definitely going to be immunotherapy, immuno-oncology and emerging infectious diseases,” he said. “What we really believe is that if we do all that right, we can become a center for pandemic preparedness in Birmingham and Alabama, and that will enable us to not only serve our residents and ultimately serve patients more effectively in one of the country’s most diverse populations, but it will also help us grow jobs in our community.”

Carpenter is also committed to growing revenue from intellectual property by creating a cleaner process for patent development and then surrounding those patents with new companies and new venture capital.

“We want to be a platform into the private sector. We’re sort of one step into academia and one step in the private sector. We want to help translate those technologies and commercialize those technologies,” he  said.

“That means not just growing but it’s also a means of attracting the right talent. We want people who want to come into our doors and say, ‘Hey, I really want to push on patents, and my own goals are to create companies from the discoveries that I make.’”

https://www.bizjournals.com/birmingham/news/2021/08/19/carpenter-southern-research-goals.html

Southern Research employee honored by national LGBTQ+ science organization

A national organization devoted to LGBTQ+ individuals in scientific or technical careers is honoring a longtime Southern Research employee with a new scholarship specifically geared to individuals in biosciences.

LaVinia Ray, manager of the Anatomic Pathology and Central Repository Groups at Southern Research, received Out to Innovate’s inaugural Amy A. Ross Scholarship in Bioscience on July 31. The $2,000 award was established to recognize those who enhance LGBTQ+ visibility, diversity and inclusion in biosciences.

Ray said she is honored to receive the scholarship, which will support her work toward a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of West Alabama.

“As a woman scientist and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have encountered many barriers to my growth and development,” she said. “However, one thing has held strong – my commitment to making the path an easier one for those who follow in my footsteps.”

Ray has worked for Southern Research for 20 years, and said she has been fortunate to work at an institution that has long valued and celebrated diversity. Specifically, she said, Southern Research was among the early companies to provide insurance coverage for same-sex spouses. “I am so proud to work for Southern Research and pleased with its stance on equality for all,” she said.

Josh Carpenter, president and CEO of Southern Research, said Southern Research is equally proud of Ray.

“LaVinia is widely recognized not only for her technical expertise, but also for her ability to mentor, support and inspire those on her team,” Carpenter said. “She is a leader in every sense of the word, and she is an asset to Southern Research. We are proud to see that others recognize her accomplishments as much as we do.”

Out to Innovate, formerly known as the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals, is made up of professionals who work in science, engineering and other technical fields. The organization works to empower LGBTQ+ individuals in STEM by providing education, advocacy, professional development, networking and peer support.

The group provides scholarships for LGBTQ+ students to pursue degrees in STEM fields, with the goal of promoting academic excellence and increased visibility of LGBTQ+ students in STEM fields. This is the first year that the organization has awarded the Amy A. Ross Scholarship in Bioscience.

Southern Research neuroscience lab wins grant for Parkinson’s, ALS research

Southern Research neuroscience
Rita Cowell is chair of Southern Research’s Neuroscience Department.

A Southern Research neuroscience lab has received new federal grants totaling almost $3.9 million to advance its study of Parkinson’s Disease and other neurological diseases.

The grants from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke include $3.3 million to study Parkinson’s and $594,000 for research related to frontotemporal dementia, a disease that is similar to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS.

Both grants will support a lab led by Rita Cowell, Ph.D., fellow and chair of the Department of Neuroscience in Southern Research’s Drug Discovery Division.

“These grants are a reflection of the excellence and dedication of our neuroscience team,” said Josh Carpenter, president and CEO at Southern Research. “They work every day to fight diseases that have devastated the lives of so many families. They are an asset to Southern Research and to our community.”

Cowell’s lab has worked for 15 years to study why brain cells die and lead to neurological diseases that cause an ongoing and often devastating decline in a person’s physical and mental abilities.

“If we can understand why these cells die, then we may be able to find drugs to interfere with that and stop the progression of these diseases,” she said.

For Parkinson’s, the lab received a five-year grant to advance its research on a molecule that may keep brain cells alive. The length and amount of the federal grant reflects the strong preliminary data that Southern Research has compiled in past research supported by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, the Southern Research Change Campaign and the Meyer Foundation.

The second grant will support two years of additional exploratory research about how neurons stop functioning in frontotemporal dementia and ALS, and will be led by Cowell and Kazutoshi Nakazawa, also at Southern Research.

Cowell is particularly proud that this exploratory grant builds on initial work at Southern Research that was supported by the Alabama Power Foundation. “That investment from our own community created the base that is allowing us to go to the next level,” Cowell said.

Southern Research is leading the research on both grants. Co-investigators on these grants are located at UAB, Virginia Tech and the University of Michigan.