The quest for better breathing: Lovelace expands work in Research Campus
By Emily Ford
KANNAPOLIS ó A biomedical research company working to prevent and cure diseases like asthma and cystic fibrosis launches an effort today to discover new respiratory drugs at the N.C. Research Campus.
Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute has opened a clinical research division in Kannapolis, said Dr. Chris Blanchette, who directs the Lovelace Center for Pharmacoeconomic and Outcomes Research at the campus.
Lovelace plans to collaborate with two other prominent campus tenants, Carolinas Medical Center and Pharmaceutical Product Development Inc., Blanchette said.
The collaboration would have the new Lovelace division in Kannapolis designing large human clinical trials that would be conducted at CMC, as well as other hospitals across the country.
PPD, a Wilmington-based contract research organization that joined the campus last year and specializes in clinical trials, would operate the logistics, Blanchette said.
“We’re bringing our respiratory expertise, working on developing those trials, which we hope to work with PPD to implement,” said Blanchette, a 1997 graduate of East Rowan High School.
The phase I outpatient trials initially would occur at CMC in Charlotte and hopefully then move to Kannapolis when CMC opens a branch on the Research Campus, Blanchette said.
CMC and PPD are scheduled to share a building on the campus, but construction has been delayed due to the poor economy.
A spokesperson at CMC said the hospital can’t comment until the collaboration becomes official.
Daisy DeWeese-Gatt, executive director of clinical management for PPD in Kannapolis, referred questions to PPD corporate communications. A spokesperson was unable to comment.
Lovelace, which has outgrown its office in Kannapolis and is looking for additional space, hired Shellie Donalies as the new clinical research manager. Donalies, a Monroe resident, starts today.
Previously, Donalies worked as the investigational pharmacist for CMC.
“She’s going to bring a lot of collaboration with CMC,” Blanchette said. “Shellie is the nucleus.”
Donalies said she was looking for something different and became intrigued with the Research Campus, a $1.5 billion biotechnology hub in downtown Kannapolis.
Pharmacists may not realize their value at places like the Research Campus, she said.
“I found that there is a lot of opportunity for pharmacists in the research world,” she said. “It’s different from the bench research that pharmacists do on a regular basis.”
Blanchette, who will oversee the new division, said he expects to hire additional clinical research team members in the next five years, which could include Ph.D.-trained scientists as well as research coordinators and assistants with two- or four-year degrees.
Lovelace, like other tenants, posts job openings on the Research Campus online jobs board, www.jobsatncrc.com.
The collaboration proposed by Lovelace for the Research Campus would bring together PPD’s operations experience, CMC’s vast network and Lovelace’s scientific expertise, Blanchette said.
“Everybody stands to gain quite a bit,” he said.
Clyde Higgs, business recruiter for campus developer Castle & Cooke North Carolina, said they encourage interaction and collaboration.
“This is the true value proposition to the campus,” Higgs said in an e-mail. “Not only does one have access to world-class infrastructure, but you also have deliberate access to talented and diverse thinking.”
Clinical trials are not new to Lovelace. The New Mexico-based institute launched Lovelace Scientific Resources in 1987 and now has seven clinical research sites across the country, including Kannapolis.
At the Research Campus, Lovelace has grown from two employees to 10. Including Donalies, seven people work on-site at 115 West Ave. in Kannapolis.
“Right now, we are at max capacity,” Blanchette said. “We’re busting at the seams.”
In addition, a post-doctoral fellow from Maryland arrives soon, and Blanchette said he hopes the head of cancer research in Indianapolis will move to the area as well.
Lovelace is talking to Castle & Cooke about leasing an additional 1,000 square feet next door, Blanchette said. Eventually, Lovelace would be interested in leasing space in Duke University’s future building, he said.
While the recession has taken a toll on Lovelace’s $50 million endowment in New Mexico, Blanchette’s center in Kannapolis has grown faster than he ever imagined, he said.
“We haven’t been able to find people fast enough,” he said.
The center employs three Ph.D.-trained scientists and seven people with master’s or bachelor’s degrees.
Blanchette is preparing to hire more people with four-year degrees.
“Quite a bit more,” he said. “They’re the real strength of the program.”
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