Pennington Biomedical adjusts funding model

Published: Oct. 15, 2014 at 1:27 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The reach of

is broader than you likely realize. Researchers in Baton Rouge have had a hand in every single obesity medication currently on the market, and every class of diabetes medicines too. But their groundbreaking research is expensive, and federal and state funds are drying up. It's a problem for research institutions nationwide that threatens to stymie the industry's progress.

“We're really threatened that we have a whole generation of scientists that may not be funded, and they'll have families to support and they might get out of science, and that's my concern,” Dr. William Cefalu told the Baton Rouge Press Club this week.

As Pennington's Executive Director, Cefalu is shifting the 26-year-old institution's funding model toward more private money.

The center currently gets about half of its funding from federal (33%) and state (19%) government. The other half comes from private grants (42%) and philanthropy (6%). But federal and state funds are slowly declining, meaning Pennington must work harder for the same amount of money. Cefalu believes it all starts with the right researchers.

“It's like a football team,” he said. “You want to compete? You make sure you have a star quarterback, you make sure you have outstanding wide receivers, you make sure you have the best players at those positions.”

Bright minds in the most current research fields bring in more grant money, and many scientists and doctors are recruited from private industry. Pennington recently hired a business development officer and communications director to spearhead a number of new initiatives:

  • Priority recruiting
  • Commercialize research products
  • Establish more corporate partnerships
  • Develop drug testing facilities
  • “Fee for service” programs within the community

“We've really tried very hard to find innovative ways to fund our research, and to more importantly translate that research into applications the community can use,” Dr. Corby Martin said.

Martin often leads studies on childhood obesity, which remains an epidemic in Louisiana. He's currently testing a program called DRIVE that teaches parents about child health and nutrition through a series of in-home training classes. It's free for now, but the service could eventually make money.

“We are trying to commercialize many of our findings and generate other sources of revenue, so I view us as succeeding, but we do have to change course and be a bit more innovative in obtaining funding,” Martin said.

DRIVE is open to parents or guardians of children aged 2 – 5. Free in-home visits are required.

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