5 years ago

How a ‘stealth organization’ in Alabama is quietly solving the world’s hardest problems

Southern Research

By Dana Beyerle

It’s October 1941. Alabama headlines follow the war in Europe and Asia. On Oct. 11, less than two months from U.S. entry into the World War II, the Alabama Research Institute is formed in Birmingham with the challenge to produce innovative research for the South.

An early contract is with the National Peanut Council to develop a way to homogenize peanut butter. But as fate would have it, the war halts everything until 1944 when ARI begins its work in earnest.

Today Business Council of Alabama member Southern Research, as ARI is now known, is celebrating its Diamond Anniversary as a heralded scientific and engineering research organization involved in pre-clinical drug discovery and development, energy and environment initiatives, and engineering research including sensor systems and advanced materials – think space vehicle reentry heat shields.

Southern Research works with clients and partners in the pharmaceutical, biotechnological, defense, environmental, energy, and aerospace industries from its Birmingham headquarters, with additional Alabama facilities in Huntsville and Wilsonville, and laboratories in Frederick, Maryland, Durham, North Carolina, Houston, Texas, and Cartersville, Georgia.

“We’re a broad organization,” said Art Tipton, Ph.D., Southern Research’s president and CEO since 2013.

From its original focus on metallurgy and textiles that were prevalent in Alabama, Southern Research grew as it explored. Probably the best known is Southern Research’s history in cancer drug research and development.

Southern Research

“We had strong chemists in textiles, and they took their skills and developed novel drugs,” Tipton said in a recent interview. “We developed a strong history in the ‘40s and ‘50s just after World War II, as people started to understand the biology of cancer, and that led to the discovery of cancer drugs that help Alabama and people across the world.”

Southern Research has developed 20 drugs to combat forms of cancer, ALS, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, kidney disease, Parkinson’s, and tuberculosis, including seven FDA-approved cancer drugs.

Although they’re not household names, those seeking protection against chemotherapy damage during treatment and those with childhood and adult leukemia, brain tumors, Hodgkin’s disease, skin cancers, and sarcomas are familiar with them – Amifostine, Carmustine, Clorfarabine, Dacarbazine, Fludarabine, Pralatrexate, and Lomustine.

“What we’re looking for is to prolong human life,” Tipton said. “Obviously with some of the drugs and combination therapies that are innovative, some people do get cured of cancer. But there’s not a single cure for all cancer, and obviously, there won’t be for several decades.”

Southern Research isn’t entirely focused on cancer. It’s active in studying HIV that causes AIDS, which so far has eluded a cure.

“We’re going at it a little differently helping researchers around the world understand the AIDS virus and how it interacts, making drugs available, and getting information to other researchers,” Tipton said. “We look at how the AIDS virus often gets into cells in latent form, and we develop tools to understand that.”

Southern Research has been involved with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and space exploration since Day 1.


“We have a very active history with NASA and manned space flight, initially primarily material science,” Tipton said. “We’ve been an organization that developed materials as man started to break free of Earth’s atmosphere, materials that were not developed until the 1950s and 1960s. We’re still very actively involved with NASA as it looks to reactivate manned space flight vis-a-vis the Space Launch System.”

Southern Research developed material that enables manned rockets to fly safely, but it took on an additional role after the Feb. 1, 2003, fatal breakup of the Space Shuttle Columbia when it reentered Earth’s atmosphere. The shuttle’s destruction was caused by heat shields being knocked off during takeoff, which allowed heat from reentry to destroy the shuttle.

NASA came to Southern Research seeking a way to capture real-time video during shuttle launches. Southern Research responded with the Airborne Imaging and Recording System turrets on WB-57 aircraft that can videotape launches as far away as 20 miles and well past booster separation at 146,000 feet.

“Southern Research also has a business-minded outlook as a major employer, with 500 scientists and engineers working in its four divisions, and believes job development is good for Birmingham and the entire state,” said BCA President and CEO William J. Canary.

Tipton’s pharmaceutical and biotech background is business startups and growth. He has created companies and has dozens of issued patents. The year he became Southern Research’s president and CEO, he was inducted as a fellow into the National Academy of Inventors.

Tipton is on the board of directors of the Economic Development Partnership Association Foundation, the Governor’s Workforce Development Council, and “anything we can do to help companies locate in Birmingham.”

“We need coordination in workforce development, creating meaningful jobs and venture capital for young startups,” Tipton said.

Serving on the BCA board is Southern Research Director of External Affairs Watson Donald.

Even as Southern Research continues its space exploration role, it stays with its original intent of aiding southern economic development.

Southern Research helps the Alabama Department of Commerce review applications for innovation funds and responds when called upon by the economic development arm of Alabama Power Co., which actually started Alabama Research Institute.

Alabama Power’s president in 1941, Tom Martin, realized that if Alabama and the South were going to grow its industrial base, companies would need science and engineering done, Tipton said.

“There just wasn’t a base here,” Tipton said. “We started Southern Research to help grow the economic development of the region and the South.”

Southern Research’s energy and environmental research led to the technology and procedures to reduce coal combustion. Southern Research has a carbon capture center in Wilsonville.

In addition to NASA, Southern Research works on behalf of the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Energy, hospitals, major aerospace firms, utility companies, and other private and government organizations to solve tough problems.

Tipton admits that Southern Research hasn’t tooted its own horn, but it does plan several events to celebrate its 75th anniversary.

“We’re pretty much a stealth organization and haven’t shined light on ourselves,” Tipton said. “We’re kind of like a public library, no one is disappointed in what we’re doing and we’re not a controversial organization. But we need to get out and tell our story more.”

Look for a book this summer written by Southern Research folks who were involved in specific areas. Southern Research also is planning public and private events later this year for employees, some of whom have been with Southern Research for 40 and 50 years.

In 2005, Southern Research Institute, as it was known then, was inducted into the Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame. Eleven years later, it’s not resting on its laurels.

“I think we’re looking at megatrends, looking to the future of the country, better drugs as the population gets older, better energy sources – we’re agnostic to what they are, nuclear, coal, or solar – we’re looking to improve those areas, looking to make us safer,” Tipton said.

37 mins ago

7 Things: Impeachment scheduled amid message of ‘unity,’ Alabama mayor questions vaccine rollout, Brooks draws big crowd as House punishment looms and more …

7. Gambling to be a priority in upcoming legislative session

  • State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) is stepping down from his pro tempore position so he can focus on legislative efforts, one of them being legalizing gambling in the state of Alabama.
  • Marsh said that he’s wanting to push “a comprehensive gaming package … to provide scholarships for young people.” He added that “a gaming bill can provide a long-term statewide broadband program.” Marsh is also looking to present the legislation as a constitutional amendment so “it’ll be for the people to vote on.”

6. Ainsworth comes out against Biden’s executive order for public school sports


  • An executive order by President Joe Biden would allow transgender females, meaning they were born male, in public schools to use female restrooms and compete in female sports. This order has already received heavy opposition, and now Alabama Lt Gov. Will Ainsworth has come out against the order, too.
  • Ainsworth criticized it as a “terrible policy.” He added, “You can’t have guys playing girls sports, to use your quote President Biden, ‘Come on, Man.’”

5. Huntsville picked for Space Command because it’s the best choice

  • Some leaders in Colorado have complained that making Huntsville the location for U.S. Space Command Headquarters was a political decision, but the Air Force has continued to defend their decision and explain why Huntsville was the best choice.
  • The Air Force Press Desk stated, “Secretary of the Airforce thoughtfully considered all input … she also received feedback from the National Command Authority, defense oversight committees, senior commanders and functional staff experts before making her decision on the preferred location.” The decision won’t technically be final until after an environmental impact study is concluded. It’s expected that announcement will happen in early 2023.

4. Orange Beach mayor urges mayors to be vocal about vaccine issues

  • As Alabama continues to be criticized for the vaccine rollout, Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon is advocating for other mayors and local officials to voice issues that they’ve had with the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine. Kennon has already said people should be required to be residents to receive the vaccine.
  • Kennon said, “We should be busting our butts to figure out how we can distribute hundreds of thousands of doses…It should be a mass effort to come up with the ability to distribute mass doses of the vaccine.” Some officials have said that they don’t have the supply of vaccines to meet the demand in their areas.

3. Mo Brooks allies and foes rally

  • Over the weekend, a “Free the Speech” rally was held in Priceville, Alabama, and U.S. Representative Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) spoke at the event in which he received a standing ovation. Also speaking at the event was former State Representative Ed Henry.
  • Henry said that if members of the state legislature “aren’t here, they don’t care about you.” One person showed up at the event of about 500 to call for Brooks to resign over his comments on January 6 that have now spurred some to call for Brooks to be censured. Another event was scheduled to oppose Brooks, and about 20 people showed up.

2. One in five Americans trust the “unity” message

  • A new poll conducted by ABC News/Ipsos has shown that one in five, just 22%, Americans have “a great deal of confidence” in President Joe Biden being successful in uniting the country. The poll also showed 24% of people are not confident “at all” in uniting the country.
  • According to the poll, 19% don’t have much confidence that Biden will unite the country, but 35% have a “good amount” of confidence. These responses were taken after people watched Biden’s inaugural address.

1. Impeachment trial will start the week of February 8

  • As the Senate prepares for another impeachment trial against President Donald Trump, despite him no longer being in office, more senators have started voicing their support or lack of support for having a trial. U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) has expectedly shown support for the trial.
  • Romney said that Trump’s “conduct with regards to the call to Secretary of State Raffensperger in Georgia as well as the incitation towards the insurrection that led to the attack on the Capitol call for a trial.” Romney added that for there to be “unity in our country.” there also has to be “accountability, for truth and justice.” By comparison, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) said that the “trial is stupid.” “It’s counterproductive…it’s like taking a bunch of gasoline and pouring it on top of the fire,” he added.

2 hours ago

National gang leader from Birmingham sentenced to 40 years on federal charges

Two leaders of the Gangster Disciples, a notorious national gang, were sentenced on Friday in federal court for a racketeering conspiracy involving murder.

Shauntay Craig, aka “Shake,” of Birmingham, was sentenced to 40 years in prison. The 42-year-old Craig previously pleaded guilty in August 2019 to racketeering conspiracy involving murder and drug trafficking.

He was a “Board Member,” the highest-ranking position nationally in the Gangster Disciples besides the single chairman of the board atop the organization. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Craig was responsible for violence, drug trafficking and murders, including orchestrating the murder of a government informant in Colorado to protect his drug empire.


Additionally, Donald Glass, aka “Smurf,” of Georgia was sentenced to life plus 120 months in prison. Glass, 30, was convicted by a federal jury in May 2019 of racketeering conspiracy involving murder, discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, causing death through the use of a firearm, and other firearms crimes.

Glass led the “H.A.T.E. Committee,” a specialized enforcement team within the Gangster Disciples that allegedly reigned terror through numerous murders, shootings and robberies. As leader of the H.A.T.E. Committee, Glass reportedly ordered his band of teenage shooters, including a juvenile who Glass groomed to be an assassin, to shoot and kill more than 10 people.

“As leaders of the Gangster Disciples, these defendants terrorized communities across the country by engaging in, and ordering others to engage in, multiple acts of violence, including murder,” stated Nicholas L. McQuaid, acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The significant sentences imposed upon defendant Craig for his national leadership role in the gang, and defendant Glass for his creation of an army of teenagers who shot and killed indiscriminately, demonstrate that even the most sophisticated and ruthless gangs are no match for the coordinated efforts of federal, state, and local law enforcement.”

The sentencing occurred in the Northern District of Georgia; numerous federal and local law enforcement agencies across multiple states investigated the case.

According to the charges and other information presented in court, the Gangster Disciples are a national gang with roots in Chicago dating back to the 1970s. The gang is highly structured, with a hierarchy of leadership posts known as “Positions of Authority.” The gang strictly enforces rules for its members, the most important of which is “Silence and Secrecy” – a prohibition on cooperating with law enforcement. Violations of the rule are punishable by death. Evidence at trial showed that the Gangster Disciples were responsible for at least 24 shootings from 2011 through 2015, including 12 murders.

“The Gangster Disciples are a ruthless gang that preyed upon our communities for far too long, and Craig and Glass were the driving force behind the devastation the gang caused,” said Chris Hacker, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office. “It is our goal to dismantle these organized, violent criminal enterprises and we could not do it without the efforts of the FBI-led Safe Streets Gang Task Force and its state and local partners.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

ADPH’s Dr. Scott Harris urges lawmakers to address COVID vaccine questions directly to the agency, not through the media

Last week, four state senators criticized the Alabama Department of Public Health’s (ADPH) efforts to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine, calling it a “kink” in the pipeline.

In a release provided to the media, State Sens. Jim McClendon (R-Springville), Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) and Randy Price (R-Opelika) warned shortcomings in vaccine distribution was coming at the cost of lives.

During an appearance on this week’s broadcast of Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said while he welcomed hearing from the lawmakers, he would have preferred to have heard from them directly and not through the media. He also insisted the answer to their questions was available on the ADPH’s dashboard website.


“We always appreciate hearing from legislators or anyone that has concerns about that,” Harris said. “We’re very happy to respond to that and get the correct information out. The gist of the letter, which was not sent to us. It was actually sent to the media. But the gist of the letter was that somehow Alabama has a kink in the supply of its vaccines, and we’re not giving enough vaccines because vaccines aren’t being given quickly enough. And I would say, first of all, we certainly acknowledge we want to give vaccines as quickly as possible, but that’s actually an incorrect understanding of how the vaccine distribution works. Vaccines in the U.S. are distributed according to population to each state. Whether we give vaccines quickly or slowly — it does not determine what our supply is. We get around 50,[000] to 60,000 doses per week because that’s Alabama’s share by population of the total amount being manufactured.”

“There were some questions in the letter about why certain data wasn’t available, which actually is available,” he continued. “I wish we had an opportunity to answer those questions before those questions were sent to the media. But we do post on our dashboard every day updated daily total number of doses that are shipped in Alabama and how many have been given. We have that broken down by date for anyone to see. And so, I think there are legitimate questions about could we be doing this faster, and the answer is we’re doing everything we can to do be doing it faster. But I wish we had a chance to respond to that letter before everyone in the state was asking us about it.”

McClendon, the chairman of the Alabama Senate’s Health Committee, responded to Harris’ remarks on “Capitol Journal” with a pledge to file legislation that would give the executive and legislative branches oversight authority over the ADPH via text to Yellowhammer News on Sunday.

“Neither the legislative branch nor the executive branch have any authority over the ADPH or the State Public Health Officer,” McClendon wrote. “The bill I have prepared and ready to file corrects that. I’ll file it once everyone that wants to co-sponsor has an opportunity.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

16 hours ago

College football overcomes the pandemic

Last year was unlike any other. January 2021, however, offered a familiar sight: Alabama won its sixth national title under coach Nick Saban. The 2020 Crimson Tide featured Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith, many other award winners, and rank among the greatest teams in history.

Before we debate history and look forward to next season, we should celebrate the tremendous sacrifices required of players to play through COVID-19. Coaches and staff also went beyond the call of duty but were getting paid. Most players will never play professionally and deserve a big “Thank You.”

College football is always demanding, but in 2020, players faced impositions like repeated testing, contact tracing and quarantine rules. They had to navigate virtual meetings, social distancing and masks on the sidelines. Many programs basically isolated players in the athletic dorms upon their return to campus in June. Marshall’s players only left Huntington for road games; Army’s players did not see their parents after the start of June.


In 2020, each conference decided how many games to play and four FBS conferences initially canceled their seasons. The SEC opted for a 10-game, conference-only schedule; the ACC and Big 12 allowed one nonconference game. Independents faced a nightmare, leading Notre Dame to play in a conference for the first time in the program’s history.

Game postponements due to COVID-19 began immediately. Troy’s season opener on Labor Day weekend was one of the first contests postponed. The chaos extended to television; Alabama’s November 14 primetime game on CBS against LSU was postponed.

Postponements led to scheduling on the fly. California and UCLA played on November 15 (a Sunday) after their games that week were called off. BYU agreed on Thursday to play a nationally televised game at Coastal Carolina two days later. The ensuing battle of unbeatens was one of the year’s best games.

Athletics departments reduced seating, when local governments allowed fans at all. Concessions and stadium entrances were reconfigured for social distancing. The adjustments reduced revenue and increased costs.

The 2020 season offers valuable economic and life lessons. Perhaps the greatest is the virtue of flexibility. Perhaps nobody exhibited this more than Alabama’s coach Saban, known for trying to control everything around his program. As the coach said, “I’ve spent my whole life trying to keep everything in some kind of a controlled mechanism,” but he realized that, “this year that hasn’t been possible.”

People make life plans involving a career and where to live, but our economy does not always accommodate. Our market economy creates the enormous prosperity we enjoy today. We find a way to contribute within the division of labor and then invest in education and training. Yet businesses sometimes fail and new technology can eliminate the jobs we’ve trained for. A willingness to adapt serves us and the economy well.

Conferences and not the NCAA control FBS football. Each conference decided whether to play, as opposed to one decision by the NCAA. When six conferences showed by example football could be played safely, the others launched abbreviated seasons.

Federalism similarly decentralizes decision-making across the states. Georgia and Colorado showed economies could reopen safely; Alabama and others showed that students could safely attend school. Dr. Anthony Fauci and other public health officials have criticized America’s federalism. We should be glad that Washington could not shut our entire nation down.

Universities faced enormous criticism for playing this season. As Alan Dowd points out in a recent piece for the American Institute for Economic Research, challenges and uncertainty can be viewed in two ways: as obstacles to be overcome, or as reasons to quit. College football gave us an example of the former. Similarly, gyms, restaurants and retailers figured out how to operate safely when politicians allowed.

Entrepreneurs starting new businesses face long odds and innumerable obstacles requiring hard work, ingenuity, and courage. College football showed us that even a pandemic can be overcome.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

17 hours ago

VIDEO: Biden inaugurated, America First is over, Alabama in danger of losing a U.S. House seat and more on Alabama Politics This Week …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Alabama Democratic Party Executive Committee member Lisa Handback take you through Alabama’s biggest political stories, including:

— Now that Joe Biden is president, what should Americans expect from his administration?

— Is former President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda over, and who benefits from the first actions taken by the new President of the United States?

— Will Alabama actually lose a U.S. House seat because of a Biden executive action that will allow illegal immigrants to be counted for apportionment?


Jackson and Handback are joined by Alabama State House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) to discuss President Joe Biden, the upcoming legislative session and Daniels’ support for coronavirus lawsuit protection for Alabama businesses.

Jackson closes the show with a “Parting Shot” at legislators who want to have a special session for gambling when they can get the job done during the session and give people a vote on this issue.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN.