Health Care

UNCW Researcher Wins One Of NC Innovation's First Grants

By Audrey Elsberry, posted May 17, 2024
Assistant Professor of Chemistry Ying Wang (pictured) won one of NC Innovation's first eight grants in its pilot grant cycle, UNCW announced Thursday. (Photo courtesy of UNCW)
A vaccine research project out of the University of North Carolina Wilmington was approved for grant funding in NCInnovation’s inaugural grant cycle, officials announced this week.
UNCW associate professor of chemistry Ying Wang received one of eight grants in NCI’s pilot grant cycle. Wang is developing a vaccine platform that could produce a universal and longer-lasting flu vaccine. NCI is a $500 million state-funded endowment that aims to help researchers at North Carolina universities commercialize their projects.
“The work underway by UNC Wilmington researchers led by Wang is incredibly exciting,” said Michelle Bolas, NCInnovation (NCI) executive vice president and chief innovation officer in the announcement Thursday. “This cutting-edge technology is a prime example of an innovation with the capacity to contribute to economic prosperity across the state.”
The total of all eight grants is $5.2 million, NCI officials stated in the announcement. Dollar amounts for each grant have not been made public, as each recipient is still going through the steps of accepting the grant, such as signing agreements and formal notifications to government partners, according to the UNCW news release.
The organization’s board of directors met Tuesday and heard proposals from seven state universities. UNCW submitted two proposals, one for Wang’s vaccine research and one concerning a “machine-learning medical assessment tool” used for “strengthening protocols to reduce head trauma.” 
Wang’s research is folded into the UNCW spinoff DuraVax Inc. The startup received a nearly $300,000 Phase One Small Business Technology Transfer grant from the National Science Foundation, UNCW announced on April 4.
This grant cycle provided less funding than NCI officials plan to dole out in the following cycles, said NCI spokesperson Patrick Ryan. The entirety of the first grant cycle comes from interest earned on the NCI endowment, according to the release. The funding spans the gap in the university research and development process between proof-of-concept and go-to-market, a gap the organization refers to as the “valley of death.”

 According to NC Innovation's announcement, the other research projects included in the pilot funding round are:
  • A lithium refining project out of UNC-Greensboro
  • A melanoma treatment out of East Carolina University
  • A drinking water purification project and power grid efficiency project out of UNC-Charlotte
  • A mosquito-borne infectious disease identification and risk assessment project out of Western Carolina University
  • A beehive improvement and monitoring system out of Appalachian State University
  • A neuro drug delivery system out of N.C. A&T State University
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