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Patrick Springer, Published August 09 2012

Head of NDSU biotech research center resigns

FARGO – The head of a center at North Dakota State University that develops new pharmaceuticals has resigned in the midst of a reorganization of research initiatives in life sciences.

Satish Chandran, recruited two years ago to head a center seen as pivotal in efforts to develop Fargo-Moorhead as a biotechnology hub, resigned Monday.

His departure came just days after a decision by NDSU’s provost to reorganize campus research centers in life sciences, a plan announced Thursday to the state’s Centers of Excellence Commission.

The future of the Center for Biopharmaceutical Research and Production, which Chandran headed, and a newly proposed Center for Drug Discovery Research and Applications, are on hold pending the reorganization.

“I have finally come to the conclusion that the new organization, philosophy and the mission of CBRP require someone other than me at the helm, and this is the ripe moment to make that transition,” Chandran wrote in his letter of resignation.

In an interview, Chandran said he will continue to live in West Fargo, and will pursue his own biotechnology ventures. Before joining NDSU, he led research divisions at Pfizer and Wyeth-Lederle Vaccines, among other positions.

“I love the space where science meets business,” he said. “Now NDSU has the ability to chart a new course.”

The revamped pharmaceuticals center or centers have been moved from NDSU’s College of Pharmacy, Nursing and Applied Sciences and placed under the direction of Philip Boudjouk, NDSU’s vice president for research, creative activities and technology transfer.

The move allows several life science research initiatives to be more closely integrated for better efficiency and to avoid overlap, but details remain to be worked out, Provost Bruce Rafert told members of the Centers of Excellence Commission.

“We need a bit of time to prepare an integrated package,” he said. A key will be to ensure the programs have sustainable funding streams.

“At the end of the day, we have to be concerned about the return on investment, and I mean that in the most holistic sense,” Rafert said.

In some fashion, the plan is to coordinate research involving genetic research in plants, animals and pharmaceuticals.

Meanwhile, a new researcher, Keith Murphy, has been recruited to lead a yet-to-be named center in genomics research. Murphy, who started at NDSU a week ago, was a professor of genetics and director of the Genomics Institute at Clemson University in South Carolina.

“He has a full set of business and academic tools that extend across the world,” Rafert said, adding that Murphy’s own research focus involves canine genetics. “He recognized the opportunity space that exists in North Dakota.”

Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to table action on the Center for Biopharmaceutical Research and Production and the proposed Center for Drug Discovery and Applications.

Mark Nisbet, chairman of the Centers of Excellence Commission, said it was appropriate to allow time to re-evaluate the existing program and delay a decision on the proposed center in light of the reorganization.

“We like the basic flavor,” he said, but commissioners will wait for NDSU to come back with details at the commission’s meeting in September or October.

Since its inception in 2009, NDSU’s Center for Biopharmaceutical Research and Production, still in its building phase, was awarded $5 million in state funding, matched by more than $4 million in private funds, according to the 2011 annual report for North Dakota’s Centers of Excellence program.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

Research initiatives awarded

Research initiatives at North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota were awarded a combined $2 million Thursday by the Centers of Excellence Commission.

• The Center for Technologically Innovative Processes and Products at NDSU was awarded $1 million to work on a new round of projects. The center’s engineers work to refine products and processes for manufacturers and other businesses.

• The University of North Dakota was awarded $700,000 for the Avian Therapeutics for Infectious Diseases initiative, which is working on an avian influenza vaccine as well as a vaccine for West Nile virus.

• UND also was awarded $300,000 for a Center for Gas Utilization to develop a process to capture flare gas from wells in the Williston Basin. It also will seek funding from the North Dakota Industrial Commission.

Initiatives funded by the North Dakota Centers of Excellence program require at least two dollars in private funding for every one dollar of state investment.