Southern Research (SR), formerly the Southern Research Institute (SRI), is a non-profit scientific research company affiliated with the University of Alabama at Birmingham and headquartered at 2000 9th Avenue South. It conducts research and development in several fields, but has also established itself as a leading private research institute for drug discovery and development. President and CEO Arthur Tipton resigned in May 2019. Ray Watts is serving currently as interim CEO.
SR's Southside location houses its main offices, its drug discovery and development divisions, a Tuberculosis Antimicrobial Acquisition & Coordinating Facility (TAACF), the National Gene Vector Lab, and a center for infectious disease research.
Southern Research Institute was chartered as the Alabama Research Institute in 1941 by Alabama Power Company president Tom Martin. It began conducting research in 1945.
One of SRI's first projects was a contract from the National Peanut Council to develop a method for homogenizing peanut butter. Other early projects included a mechanism for constructing sleeper sofas and a machine that smoked cigarettes for use in determining what is inhaled while smoking. At the same time, the Institute began working under governmental programs in chemical defense and aeronautics. Gradually it became a favored research center for work contracted by the National Institutes of Health.
Grants from the Dayton, Ohio-based Charles F. Kettering Foundation and Birmingham's Robert R. Meyer Foundation allowed Southern Research to construct two Kettering-Meyer Laboratories in 1953 and 1958.
The Meyer Foundation has supported Southern Research since 1953, when it provided $100,000 to match funding from the for the construction of the Kettering-Meyer Laboratory. The Meyer Foundation made another significant contribution in 1957 to facilitate construction of a second Kettering-Meyer Lab.
In 2005 SRI was inducted into the Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame.
In 2010 SRI applied for $20 million in Recovery Zone tax-free bonds to finance expansion projects at its Southside and Oxmoor Valley campuses. A $5.6 million engineering test facility was completed on the Oxmoor campus in 2012.
SRI shortened its name to "Southern Research" in 2015. In 2022 it sold its engineering division to Kratos Defense and Security Solutions of San Diego, California for $80 million.
In October 2022 the University of Alabama Board of Trustees approved a $108.6 million "Phase I Master Campus Plan" improvement project at Southern Research. The budget includes $56.1 million from the sale of SR's engineering and Maryland-based infectious disease research centers, along with $45 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding awarded by the State of Alabama and $7.5 million from the Jefferson County Economic and Industrial Development Authority. The bulk of the funds went toward construction of a new 4-story, 105,500 square-foot "flagship" building for Southern Research's Scientific Platforms Division.
In 2022 Southern Research created a "venture studio", headed by former venture capital executive Tayo Sanders II, to cultivate a competitive environment for funding clinical development of early-stage research.
SRI has been active in cancer research, and has developed six treatment compounds that were approved by the FDA (Amifostine, Fludarabine, Dacabazine, Lomustine, Carmustine, and Clofarabine) and others still undergoing clinical trials. SRI pioneered the combination chemotherapy protocols now in common use for cancer treatment. SRI conducts early screening using a vast library of chemical and biological agents in a high-speed system from which a few combinations are targeted for testing on tumor-infected mice and dogs.
SRI's Emerging Infectious Disease Research Program develops animal models, conducts in-vitro antimicrobial and antiviral drug discovery, and pursues basic research on the molecular and cellular biology of microbial pathogens. The company currently operates biosafety level 2 and 3 containment facilities.
SRI's High-Throughput Screening Center (HTS) is one of nine facilities in the National Institutes of Health's Molecular Libraries Screening Centers Network (MLSCN). SRI has been involved in research to combat malaria, tuberculosis, herpes, influenza, SARS and avian bird flu.
In 1999 the Institute was experiencing mounting debts and made a deal to partner with UAB as part of an effort to realign its revenue stream. The company downsized a number of long-term employees, and spun off its drug delivery group into a for-profit company, Brookwood Pharmaceuticals. It also acquired a polymer manufacturing business and entered a partnership with Schering-Plough to commercialize its drug discovery efforts.
In late 2001 SRI began planning to seek approvals for a biosafety level 4 containment laboratory as part of its newly-created Homeland Security Division.
In August 2007 Brookwood Pharmaceuticals and its subsidiaries Lakeshore Biomaterials and Aeon Biosciences were sold to Minnesota-based SurModics Inc. for $40 million, with as much as $22 million more if certain contractual milestones are reached.
During the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic, Southern Research teamed with Tonix Pharmaceuticals of Chatham, New Jersey to carry out pre-clinical studies of its TNX-1800 vaccine candidate, a single-shot live modified horsepox virus vaccine. Raj Kalkeri of the Infectious Disease Research Group led the study from the Southern Research's facility in Frederick, Maryland. Phase 1 trials concluded in November with positive results. Phase 2 trials with non-human primates concluded in March and also brought positive results. Human trials began in the third quarter of 2021. Kalkeri's team also studied the immune responses of individuals who had been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and no longer showed symptoms.
Southern Research sold its Frederick, Maryland infectious diseases research center to Tonix Pharmaceuticals in 2021. Later that year it announced plans to demolish the vacant Quinlan Castle building as the site for a "Center for Pandemic Resilience". Demolition began in January 2022. Ground was broken for the new facility on May 16, 2022.
SR's research in neuroscience and neuropharmacology is focused on studying cellular physiology of neurons and glial cells under normal and disease conditions.
Southern Research has been involved in several groundbreaking studies of particulate emissions from power generation facilities. It has developed numerous sampling and detection instruments as well as emission control technologies.
SRI's extreme temperature testing facility was used in the testing of heat-shield materials for the Apollo program, and is still used in materials testing for NASA Space Shuttle program and for the development of other manned and unmanned vehicle platforms.
SRI-designed radiometers were used to measure temperatures on the lunar surface before selecting landing sites. Sensing elements designed at SRI measured heating rates on the Saturn program booster rockets. SRI continues to assist NASA with the development and manufacture of gimbal and stabilized platform systems used in vehicle tracking and imaging.
With the development of automobile manufacturing in Alabama and the rest of the South, SRI has increased its automotive engineering capabilities. Current research is investigating composite materials for automotive applications.
Southern Research developed catalysts capable of producing certain chemical products with sugars or glycerols rather than with petrochemicals. In 2021 SR partnered with Capricorn Partners of Leuven, Belgium to form Trillium Renewable Chemicals to further develop and commercialize those processes.
Chemical weapons research
Beginning in 1945 SRI contracted with the U.S. Army to conduct research into chemical warfare, focusing on detection and defense. Later research went toward the development of protective gear for the military and into technology for the destruction of chemical agents and weapons.
SRI has been involved in training emergency response teams and developing US policies on chemical and biological defense.
In January 2007 SRI began to dismantle the 2,400 square-foot suite of laboratories which made up its Toxic Agent Facility. The space was adapted for infectious disease studies under a biosafety level two (BSL2) designation.
- Jack Secrist III, September 2006-
- Arthur Tipton, 2013-May 2019
- Ray Watts (interim), May 2019-
- Josh Carpenter, June 1, 2021–
- Southern Research Institute - Missouri, Chemical Defense Training Facility. Ft Leonard Wood, Missouri
- Southern Research COBRA Training Facility. Anniston, Alabama
- Southern Research Institute Engineering Research Center. Birmingham
- Southern Research Institute Greenhouse Gas Technology Center. Morrisville, North Carolina
- Southern Research Institute Power Systems Development Facility. Wilsonville
- Brookwood Pharmaceuticals - acquired August 2007 by SurModics
- Southern BioSystems - acquired April 2001 by Durect
- Southern Research Institute Infectious Disease Research - Frederick, Maryland - acquired 2021 by Tonix Pharmaceuticals
- Southern Research Institute website
- Bearden, Sandra (Summer 2003) "Alabama's Glowing Star." Partners Magazine. (Economic Development Partnership of Alabama)
- Lajeunesse, Sarah (October 18, 2004) "A Precious Jewel in Sweet Home Alabama." Chemical and Engineering News. Vol. 82, No. 42, pp. 49-51.
- Dugan, Kelli (May 27, 2005) "SRI is taking steps to sustain revenue stream." Birmingham Business Journal
- Dugan, Kelli (December 9, 2005) "Drug discovery expert lauds SRI success." Birmingham Business Journal
- Parks, Dave (January 31, 2007) "Southern Research dismantling former toxic agent laboratory." The Birmingham News
- McCauley, Charles R. (August 2, 2007) "Institute sells its drug company for up to $62 million." The Birmingham News
- Diel, Stan (October 18, 2012) "Southern Research Institute opens expanded engineering facility." The Birmingham News
- Roop, Lee (September 21, 2016) "From peanuts to Zika, Southern Research marks 75 years of science." The Birmingham News
- Thornton, William (May 13, 2021) "Southern Research selects new president and CEO." The Birmingham News
- Carpenter, Josh (January 20, 2021) "Guest opinion: Southern Research building castle for 21st century, investing Birmingham’s future." The Birmingham News
- Patchen, Tyler (February 1, 2022) "Southern Research makes multiple hires, restructures staff." Birmingham Business Journal
- Thornton, William (March 9, 2022) "Southern Research sells engineering division for $80 million." The Birmingham News
- Thrailkill, Laurel (October 5, 2022) "Here's a budget breakdown of Southern Research's $108.6M campus project." Birmingham Business Journal
- Thrailkill, Laurel (November 15, 2022) "Southern Research launches venture studio, hires director." Birmingham Business Journal