A young biotechnology company in Wilmington is one of 13 recipients of North Carolina innovation grants announced Wednesday by Gov. Pat McCrory and N.C. commerce secretary Sharon Decker.
Seatox Research Inc., located at University of North Carolina Wilmington’s MARBIONC facility, was awarded $50,000 to support its efforts to develop an efficient, faster way to detect marine neurotoxins. The company was the sole grant recipient located outside the Triangle area.
Seatox CEO Jennifer McCall said her startup applied for a state grant shortly after getting word that it had received a federal Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) award to prove Seatox researchers’ concept. Recipients of the state innovation grants must have either a federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or STTR grant. STTR grants support development of commercially viable concepts that emerge from university research facilities.
The state grants, McCall said, expand the capabilities of small businesses by supplementing their federal grants.
“They are more flexible than the federal grants in terms of how the money can be used,” she said. “We are planning to invest it in capital equipment that will expand our analytic capabilities, which will allow us to compete for future grants and, hopefully expand.”
Seatox, which moved into a one-bay laboratory at MARBIONC earlier this fall, is working to develop tests to detect the presence of marine toxins that can be ingested by shellfish, causing paralysis and death and contamination of the seafood supply, according to McCall.
“These toxins are naturally occurring, but there has been an increase and science seems to point to a human cause [for the increase],” she said.
Current tests are “tedious and slow,” McCall said, adding that, if Seatox is successful in creating faster ways to test, it would be a boon to fishermen as well as to seafood consumers.
In addition to McCall, the company team consists of her husband, Sam, the COO, and Andrea Bourdelais, a research associate professor at UNCW, who acts as Seatox’s university partner. The McCalls began their discovery process while Jennifer McCall was a post-doc at UNCW.
The state’s innovation grants, which totaled $640,448, came from the One North Carolina Small Business Fund, the governor’s news release stated.