Wanted: North Carolina natural products sector

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: North carolina

A North Carolina-based consortium has been awarded $100,000 to research botanicals and other natural products with $2.5m in the wings if a successful business plan can be developed.

The Bent Creek Center of Innovation for Natural Biotechnology and Integrative Medicine (The Bent Creek Institute) will use the grant to work on a range of natural products with the aim of developing a natural products industry in North Carolina and exploiting its natural biodiversity.

“This is an outstanding opportunity to bring together ideas and assets from all over North Carolina to create a new industry sector,”​ said Annice Brown, assistant director at the North Carolina Small Business and Technology Development Center.

“Natural products from across North Carolina hold enormous potential for opening new avenues of treatments in human health and creating jobs throughout North Carolina.”

Herbal supplements manufacturer, Gaia Herbs, along with biopharma firm Targacept and the North Carolina Natural Products Association (NCNPA) are supporting the project.

NCNPA membership consists of growers, manufacturers and distributors.

Founding members of the consortium include the Bent Creek Institute, The North Carolina Arboretum, North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (AB-Tech), the Center for Marine Science at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, MARBIONC, and Western Carolina, Appalachian State and Wake Forest universities. The committee also includes representatives from the Mission Healthcare Foundation.

Other members include the NCSU Mountain Horticulture Crops Research and Extension Center and the BioNetwork BioBusiness Center at AB-Tech.

“The breadth of representation indicates North Carolina’s expansive potential for creating a brand-new industry sector,”​ the Bent Creek Institute said.

“In recent years, the Bent Creek Institute has put a scientific foundation under our celebrated regional heritage of medicinal herb therapies in order to tap into the growing international demand for natural products and nutraceuticals,”​ said Cheryl McMurry, director of Bent Creek’s western office.


George Briggs, the executive director of The North Carolina Arboretum, said North Carolina possessed “natural resource gems”.

He added: “This added innovative focus on commercialization of the Bent Creek Institute’s research into products, medicines and services fires the perfect economic booster at this stage of BCI’s and North Carolina’s journey toward becoming a national and international leader in this emerging sector.”

Bent Creek Institute emphasized the commercial rather than academic nature of the project. The centers were “not research campuses; their goal is to virtually coordinate North Carolina research within their industry sector to enhance the commercial opportunities of nascent technologies.”

The $2.5m grant, if awarded would be for four years and requires the project to be self-supporting within five years.

The Bent Creek Institute is a private, non-profit corporation supported by the North Carolina General Assembly.

Three other groups have received similar grants from the Bent Creek Institute for work in the nanotechnology area, marine biotechnology and advanced medical technologies.

“We are very excited about the consortium forming around the natural biotechnology space,”​ said Mary Beth Thomas, Ph.D., the Biotechnology Center’s senior director of Centers of Innovation Operations.

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