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Turning technology into business; D&M Consulting hopes to make NCTR computer advances into commercial successes.

Turning Technology Into Business

D&M Consulting Hopes To Make NCTR Computer Advances Into Commercial Successes

At first glance, Dr. Merle Paule looks different from what most might expect of a research scientist. The brown-haired, 37-year-old pharmacologist at the National Center for Toxicological Research bears more the appearance of a pop singer or a model.

With relaxed, almost laid-back mannerisms, Paule greets his visitors and settles comfortably in his chair. But in the moments to follow, the mellow and serene persona takes on an animated enthusiasm as he discusses his past six eventful years at NCTR.

In 1983, Paule joined NCTR to set up a Complex Brain Function Laboratory, studying behavioral changes in monkeys after they are exposed to certain chemicals. This study proved to be so successful, that it later led to the testing of children.

Paule says that while the data collected from the responses could help in the early detection of childhood learning disabilities, it is still in the developmental research and experimental phase. He explains that all findings are preliminary with no set solid or validated results.

But it is the scientist's hope that the testing could eventually be useful for determining any disorder of the brain and especially Alzheimer's and other memory loss diseases.

Now, through an agreement with NCTR and Little Rock-based D&M Consulting Inc., Paule's research may result in the development of stand-alone computer testing systems that could be marketed worldwide. NCTR will provide the equipment and technical assistance while D&M will offer computer expertise and software.

This innovative collaboration marks the first time that NCTR has ever entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with an Arkansas company, through the Food and Drug Administration, according to Art Norris, the center's deputy director.

The main motivation behind the agreement stems from a number of incentives within the Federal Technology Transfer Act of 1986. Also known as Public Law 99-502, the act was approved on October 20, 1986, and primarily enhances the competitiveness of private industry.

It is designed to provide easier access to federal technological resources and encourages government employees to commercialize inventions. The inventor receives at least 15 percent of the royalties not to exceed $100,000 a year. Laboratory directors also may negotiate licensing agreements for government-owned inventions.

Norris says that approximately one-fifth of all scientists and one-sixth of the scientific facilities and equipment reside in U.S. government laboratories.

"The idea is that this represents idle capital that can be used to enhance our industry's competitiveness with other countries," he says.

The transfer act urges the government to enter into CRADAs with private industry, state and local government, universities and industrial development commissions. But while it can share facilities, equipment, people and supplies, a provision of the law will not allow the government to invest any money into a project or venture. This section of the act, says Norris, prevents funding of activities that should otherwise go through procurement channels.

Industry, on the other hand, has the advantages of being able to contribute all that the government can in addition to money, he says.

PRIOR TO THE PASSAGE of the law in 1986, researchers wanting to market their inventions had to get by on the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980. Norris says the intention of this act was to enhance technology transfer but that in the end it "was an act with no teeth in it."

While encouraging, it did not provide specific direction or the legal ability to enter into a CRADA, he says. But, with the three-year-old transfer act, the government can enter into CRADAs more easily and may grant patents and copyrights and waive non-exclusive licenses.

Most industries that use the act will find the approval process to be extremely rapid since government procurement channels are by-passed, says Norris.

Despite the so-called speed in procedure, negotiations between NCTR and D&M were all but rapid in the attempt to enter into an agreement. "It took over a year of negotiations just to get the CRADA," says Jim Meister, EVP and director of D&M.

Being a small company, the waiting period proved to be costly and time-consuming, requiring patience and effort, he says, sounding a bit exhausted just at the thought of the lengthy proceedings. However, a determined spirit and vision for the future success of Paule's project keep Meister's attitude confident.

"We committed to do it," says the salt-and-pepper-haired executive. "We didn't just waste time, we've done a lot of corollary things."

Norris says the delay with NCTR and D&M was unusual. He attributes it to the fact that this was the very first CRADA through the FDA and that even those federal officials serving on the review board had to slowly learn the step-by-step approval procedure. Most of the major hurdles have been passed, yet there remains one more: obtaining financing for the project. Meister says the firm is in the process of securing funding between $500,000-$1 million.

Officially incorporated early last August, D&M consists of Meister; Mark D. Diggs, president; Bruce Bauer, senior project leader; and four additional staff members. The company offers services such as creation of software, complete data management and implementation services.

All three executives at D&M have in some way or another been involved with NCTR. Meister, who was once a sales unit manager for Digital Equipment Corp. in Little Rock, says he had done business with the center. Diggs directed the technical staff at the center and was responsible for designing and developing software from Feb. 1979-Nov. 1981. Bauer worked as a programmer at the center.

Paule said that D&M came into the picture after his boss, John Young, mentioned knowing someone at the firm. The company was then approached with the idea of Paule's project.

"We recognized the opportunity," says Meister. It may have taken over a year to get involved but "it excites us to be a part of this," he says.

The company will develop an interface device to collect data from the Behavioral Control System testing display panel. It will then code the data for anlysis and generate reports and plots of the findings. With the stand-alone units, other laboratories will be able to conduct experiments similar to those already carried out, but with different patient populations or the animal species.

Meister said a three-to-four phase marketing plan will be implemented over time. The primary market areas to be targeted will be animal and child testing in addition to any researcher conducting studies on behavioral changes, he says.

But has D&M placed all their eggs in one basket with Paule's project? What happens if the funding cannot be secured?

"This project is one of many that D&M Consulting is working on," replies Meister. "And no, it is not critical to our success or failure. If it were, we'd be down the tubes. Certainly if it makes money, we certainly will reap the benefits, but if it doesn't it is not going to cause D&M Consulting to go under. That's why we're out looking for financing for that project."

A project of this magnitude and others like it will help put Arkansas on the map in a scientific aspect, insists Norris. "It's a matter of desired attitude as much as anything else. I don't believe people who say we can't do scientific things in Arkansas."

PHOTO : Mike Diggs, Dr. Merle Paule, Jim Meister and Bruce Bauer will work together to develop

PHOTO : stand-alone computer testing systems.

Kim Jones-Sneed is a free-lance writer living in Pine Bluff.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Jones-Sneed, Kim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:company profile
Date:Jan 29, 1990
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