Making ideas work: Oklahoma City’s entrepreneurial biotech community

Article courtesy of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber

More than 27,800 employees with annual revenues of $4.1 billion. A 25 percent growth in R&D base since 2004. Total economic activity of $6.7 billion in. Greater Oklahoma City has committed to making biotech a key driver of its economy, and this high-value, growth sector of OKC’s Gross Metropolitan Product is paying dividends both literally and figuratively as new discoveries, new drugs and new dollars continue to flow from Oklahoma City’s biotech sector.

Oklahoma City receives endless accolades for its downtown reinvention, and they’re well-deserved. But the architectural spectacles and commercial revival at the city’s center are joined by similarly praiseworthy developments just east of downtown at the Oklahoma Health Center. In recent years, some of the most significant medical advances and life-saving medicines – including the discovery of the genetic mechanism responsible for susceptibility to Alzheimer’s disease – have been developed in Oklahoma City-based labs and facilities.

The Presbyterian Health Foundation (PHF) Research Park has for years garnered attention from scientific communities. Boasting more than 700,000 square feet of Class-A office and wet-lab space, the park houses a dynamic mix of innovative scientific research companies, and is in the process of being acquired by The University of Oklahoma. Its campus atmosphere and cutting-edge workspaces have proven attractive, to say the least: over the past five years, the park added a new company every 60 days.

Nearby is the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF), one of the scientific world’s leading patent producers, with more than 600 on the books and counting. Among its many notable breakthroughs is the discovery of the enzyme believed to be responsible for Alzheimer’s disease.

In addition to OMRF, Oklahoma City is home to The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center (OUHSC) Comprised of seven medical schools, OUHSC has benefited from PHF’s support, with more than $65 million in grants for medical research. In turn, the 30 institutions on its campus employ more than 15,000 people with a combined general revenue greater than $3.5 billion per year. And that’s only the beginning: in the past 15 years, OUHSC’s funding from the National Institutes of Health has leaped significantly from $6 million to $53 million. OUHSC has more than doubled its research space in the past ten years, and is in the finishing stages of $350 million in capital improvements.

But facilities alone aren’t the reason biotech startups are looking at Oklahoma City. A strong, active investment community has emerged along with the research complex, providing inventive companies crucial support. This confluence is critical for scientific development, a reality that can often leave great ideas on the drawing table. More and more, OKC offers evidence that it has achieved this essential unity.

The most recent example is Selexys Pharmaceuticals, a startup whose lead compound, SelG1 — which treats sickle cell disease — recently completing Phase I trials.

The hurdles to get even this far are immense: only one of every 1,000 compounds entering the FDA’s pre-clinical testing phase advance to Phase I testing.

Selexys’ accomplishment is the latest sign of OKC’s aturation as a research community. The firm raised roughly $6 million from local investments, including 1 million from the Oklahoma Seed Capital Fund and the Oklahoma Life Science Fund, and $5 million from angel investors, the majority of whom are private area physicians. Another $9 million came from local and state grants, including the Oklahoma Center for the advancement of Science and Technology.

Selexys is just the latest example of OKC’s innovative biotech startups producing results. Altheus Therapeutics, also based at the PHF, recently announced its compound Zoenasa successfully completed Phase 1 testing. Caisson Biotech, based on discoveries made at the adjacent OUHSC, entered into a licensing agreement with industry giant Novo Nordisk for its breakthrough heprosan-based drug delivery system.

These recent success stories attest to the maturation of an entire community, from innovative scientific minds to motivated, capital-rich investors and first-rate facilities. With this structure in place, OKC will remain at the forefront of biotech research and industry for years to come.

Source: Greater Oklahoma City Chamber

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