Governor, higher ed officials recognize $500 million fundraising milestone at tobacco settlement-funded research institute

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 157 views 

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, along with a host of top state government and higher education officials, recognized the Arkansas Biosciences Institute (ABI) on Tuesday for raising more than $500 million in private and federal funding to further expand the state’s research infrastructure.

According to ABI officials gathered at the Governor’s Conference room at the State Capitol, ABI research investigators at the institute have generated $3.61 for every dollar it has received from the Arkansas Tobacco Settlement Fund.

Gov. Hutchinson applauded the institute for achieving the key fundraising and research financial hallmark in just 14 years. He said during his tenure in Congress, he saw the importance of soliciting federal research dollars for Arkansas research institutions that have aided in bringing new jobs, intellectual properties and new revenue streams to Arkansas universities.

“I am delighted to join in this celebration in recognition of a milestone that has been achieved at the Arkansas Biosciences Institute,” the governor said. “I was an advocate of research then (in Congress), and of course we had the Tobacco Settlement dollars … and we invested it wisely.”

Altogether, the ABI-supported programs reached a total of $508.7 million in extramural funding raised since 2002 from prestigious private foundations and high-level federal agencies, officials said, including the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Defense.

In addition, ABI researchers have published nearly 5,000 medical and scientific journal articles, books and studies in such prestigious publications as the New England Journal of Medical and Lancet. ABI and related research funding have also been used to support 300-400 knowledge-based jobs annual at the institute’s five member institutions, officials said which include the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville; Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute, Arkansas State University; the University of Arkansas-Division of Agriculture; and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

During the ceremony, ABI Director Dr. Robert McGehee described several innovative ideas and research projects that have come out of the institute, which is the state’s official agriculture and biomedical research arm established by the Arkansas Tobacco Settlement Process Act of 2000.

“ABI is a small institute that has a large economic impact in the state,” he said.

Sarah Beth Theriot, a first year medical student at UAMS, also spoke about how research funding from the institute has shaped her studies. Theriot said she is now helping to conduct clinical trials at Arkansas Children’s Hospital on common drugs used for treating childhood diseases and illnesses.

“This type of hands-on research experience has been invaluable to me,” she said.

Susan Hanrahan, chair of the Arkansas Tobacco Settlement Commission, said ABI is just one of seven state agencies that now receive funding from the state’s share of the historic Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement of 1998, in which the nation’s four largest tobacco companies agreed to pay a minimum of $206 billion to Arkansas and other states over 25 years.

Hanrahan, dean of Nursing at ASU, thanked the Arkansas Legislature for making sure all of the funding from the state’s settlement agreement goes toward seven targeted programs, including ABI, the Arkansas Aging Institute, the Arkansas Minority Health Commission; the Tobacco Settlement Medication Expansion Program; the Fay Boozman College of Public Health; the Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program; and UAMS East.

“When many of the states were deciding what to do with the tobacco settlement funding, many started down the path of health, others went way off course and decided to dedicate it to prisons, highways or education or whatever the case may be,” she said. “But Arkansas stayed committed 100% to these seven programs and that is very commendable and that’s not true across the United States, and I am very thankful that our legislators recognize that healthy people create healthy communities for a healthy Arkansas.”