Tag: In The News

Coming soon to a doctor’s office near you: Access to cutting-edge research and care

By Josh Carpenter, Ph.D.

Growing up in North Alabama, I remember watching movie trailers with excitement. They always ended with a deep voice that said, “opening soon in select theaters near you.” As it turns out, those openings were never “near me” since my local theater was not one of those “select theaters.”  Those movies always premiered in big cities, often on the coasts. Most movies didn’t trickle to the theaters in Florence, Alabama, for another six or nine months. By then, I had forgotten about the trailer.

While kids (and adults) no longer have to wait for movies based on their zip code (thank you, Netflix), they are waiting for something far more important: the best proven medical treatment. Waiting on a movie is an inconvenience. Waiting on the best medical option could be the difference between life and death.

Most scientific experts estimate that it takes an average of 17 years for proven biomedical research to be implemented in clinical practice. That means it takes nearly two decades from when there is evidence of a discovery until it actually benefits patients.

For context, 17 years ago, Sen. Tommy Tuberville was still coaching Auburn, and Nick Saban was coaching the Miami Dolphins. And 17 years ago, Twitter was a brand-new platform for football fans to complain about coaching decisions and play Monday-morning quarterback.

Closing that 17-year research gap and compressing the related lag time from drug discovery to drug deployment are critical objectives of translational research – the kind of work we do at Southern Research.

Since its founding 81 years ago as an Alabama-based nonprofit, Southern Research has executed every step in the long and winding process between the point when a potential medicine is identified in a test tube and when it becomes a drug that enters the human body. Throughout our history, our process has led to 20 new drugs developed at Southern Research, and we’ve assisted hundreds more of our commercial clients in drug development throughout the world—including 50% of all chemotherapies on the market. In fact, we have 20 drugs in the pipeline of development now, many of which are developed in partnership with UAB researchers.

At Southern Research, we believe it is our duty to make the best research and best medical treatments available to our friends and neighbors in Alabama and throughout the Deep South—and, we don’t think they should have to wait 17 years for it.

This sense of duty is why we are embarking on an ambitious new project to build a clinical trials hub that will serve as a unique vehicle to support patients with cutting-edge care and give primary care physicians access to the newest tools in medicine.

This is precision medicine, and we know that it works. Aided by genomic information, precision medicine helps doctors identify the right treatment for the right patient at the right time.

This kind of precision medicine is already happening today, but too few Alabamians are enjoying the benefits. Our Community Health Catalyst platform would enable more providers to bring the best medical care to people across Alabama by giving them information about clinical trials that would meet their unique healthcare needs.

As a non-profit with a proven track record in protecting highly classified data and a long history of biomedical research with hundreds of government and commercial clients, Southern Research is an ideal partner to develop a unique platform that link patients and their doctors to clinical trials.

Motivated to close the 17-year gap, three critical pillars guide the development of the Catalyst platform. First, patients should be in control of their care, and they should know all of their options. Likewise, we are placing the patient’s relationship with their primary care physician at the center of this project. Patients will be able to review their data with their physician and decide what courses of treatment may be best for them. Second, we will make sure patient data is secured and anonymized, and it will never be shared with a third party. Third, we will organize patient data to enable them to benefit from new treatments that could improve their quality of care and open up access to the best drugs on the market.

Not only will this Catalyst improve health outcomes for Alabamians, it will grow jobs and attract investment to our state. Clinical trials are a $50 billion industry now, and that number is expected to grow to $80 billion by 2030. Our project would help Alabama secure clinical trial investments, positioning us as a top-10 state in one of the fastest growing industries in America. We estimate our new platform by itself could add 1,600 new jobs throughout the state, add $145 million in annual economic impact, and support rural healthcare providers who participate with new sources of revenue.

With advances in technology, Alabamians no longer have to wait six to nine months to watch the best new movies. We should not have to wait 17 years to receive the best medical care for our friends and families.


Josh Carpenter, Ph.D. is president and CEO of Southern Research.

Southern Research and Rhodium Scientific send bacteria to space to explore potential cancer treatments

Southern Research and Rhodium Scientific have partnered to send bacteria to space on a mission to find new hope for people with cancer.

When Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket launched this morning in Virginia, it was carrying 11 bacterial strains that will help the team study what has emerged as a promising approach to fight cancer.

“Southern Research has always been in the business of moving the boundaries of science,” said Josh Carpenter, Ph.D., president and CEO at Southern Research. “This is just the latest example of our team pushing the frontiers to expand our knowledge and find new ways to help people live longer, healthier lives.”

The project is a partnership with Rhodium Scientific, a woman-owned biotech company based in Houston, Texas, that conducts science in microgravity and specializes in finding ways to use discoveries made in space to develop solutions for life on earth.

“We are excited to partner with Southern Research and support its work in cancer research,” said Olivia G. Holzhaus, founder and CEO of Rhodium Scientific. “This project is a perfect fit for Rhodium Scientific’s bioprospecting program and is the first mission utilizing the cosmos to discover novel compounds of pharmaceutical interest.”

It’s the first time Southern Research’s cancer research team has collaborated with NASA-supported, commercial space researchers. As a result of the project, scientists at Southern Research will be able to explore what happens to bacteria in space and use that information to further explore the cancer-fighting properties of small protein fragments called peptides.

“We know that proteins grow differently in a low gravity environment,” said Rebecca Boohaker, Ph.D., director of oncology at Southern Research. “We are looking to see if there are enough differences that would allow us to develop novel cancer therapies.”

Peptides, which can be obtained from bacteria and other sources, have been shown to have potential in fighting cancer as well as infections. Research has focused on using peptides to trigger an immune response that helps patients battle cancer and also to reduce treatment resistance that plays a significant role in cancer deaths.

Rhodium’s science team will work with astronauts aboard the International Space Station to grow the 11 strains under microgravity conditions, and then return them to Southern Research to conduct the research on the bacteria grown in space, Boohaker said.

Southern Research worked with NASA for many years through its previous engineering division, which was sold earlier this year to Kratos, a national defense contractor. Boohaker said the experiments with bacteria give new life to that longstanding collaboration.

“It’s nice to have Southern Research still participate in NASA’s space mission,” she said.

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 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.’”


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.

Birmingham’s Southern Research appoints CEO, EVP

Southern Research, the groundbreaking scientific discovery and research institution headquartered in Birmingham, on Thursday announced that its board of directors has appointed Josh Carpenter, Ph.D., as its new president and CEO, and Allen Bolton as its new executive vice president for Strategy and Finance.

Both appointments are effective June 1.

Founded in the Magic City in 1941, Southern Research is an independent, non-profit scientific research organization where more than 400 scientists and engineers work across three divisions: Life Sciences, Engineering, and Energy & Environment. Southern Research has attracted national research partnerships with leading industries in the fields of pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, defense, aerospace, the environment and energy.i

“Josh and Allen are forward-thinking leaders who are ready to chart a bold new course for Southern Research,” stated University of Alabama at Birmingham President Ray L. Watts, who is chairman of the Southern Research board of directors. “They have the full support of the Board as they begin to lead an amazing team of scientists, engineers and innovators who are working to solve problems and change the world for the better.”

Southern Research generates over $150 million in annual economic impact and supports more than 1,000 Alabama jobs.

“The work of Southern Research results in life-changing advancements and innovative solutions,” said Southern Research board member Mark Crosswhite, who also serves as the chairman, president and CEO of Alabama Power Company. “Josh and Allen’s vision and expertise will play an important role in leading this institution forward as a continued center of excellence.”

Carpenter most recently served as director of Innovation and Economic Opportunity for the City of Birmingham, where he led the City’s efforts in workforce development, COVID recovery and business expansion. Previously, he served as the director of External Affairs at UAB. He earned his doctorate in political economy from the University of Oxford where he studied on a Rhodes Scholarship.

“I am truly honored to take the helm of Southern Research and lead this incredible team that is finding solutions to improve people’s lives around the world. Southern Research has had 80 successful years, but I know the best is yet to come,” commented Carpenter.

Bolton most recently served as senior vice president for Finance and Administration at UAB, where he was also a member of the board for Southern Research. He was previously an executive in finance and strategy at the Medical College of Wisconsin, and was senior associate dean for Administration and Finance at the UAB School of Medicine as well as executive administrator at the Comprehensive Cancer Center, the largest research center in the University of Alabama System.

“Discoveries made at Southern Research have provided breakthroughs in cancer research, pushed the boundaries of science and saved lives. I am grateful for this opportunity to work alongside dedicated and talented people who have an unmatched passion for science and discovery,” concluded Bolton.


Birmingham’s Southern Research under new leadership

Josh Carpenter, PhD, has been appointed president and CEO and Allen Bolton executive vice president for strategy and finance at Birmingham-based Southern Research.

The scientific discovery and research institution employs more than 400 scientists and engineers.

“Josh and Allen are forward-thinking leaders who are ready to chart a bold new course for the company,” said University of Alabama at Birmingham President Ray Watts, chairman of the Southern Research board of directors and interim CEO since the departure of Art Tipton in 2019.

“They have the full support of the board as they begin to lead an amazing team of scientists, engineers and innovators who are working to solve problems and change the world for the better.”

Carpenter served as director of innovation and economic

opportunity for the City of Birmingham before coming to Southern Research. Previously, he was director of external affairs at UAB. He holds a doctorate in political economy from the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.

“I am truly honored to take the helm of Southern Research and lead this incredible team that is finding solutions to improve people’s lives around the world,” Carpenter said.

Bolton most recently served as senior vice president for

finance and administration at UAB.
Founded in Birmingham in 1941, Southern Research is an independent, nonprofit scientific

research organization where scientists and engineers work across three divisions: life sciences, engineering and energy & environment.