Last week, Oklahoma entrepreneurship scored a blockbuster win when Selexys Pharmaceuticals announced a $23 million investment led by MPM Capital.
The investment will fund Selexys' Phase II clinical study for SelG1, a drug for patients with sickle cell disease. It also will be used to advance a second drug to treat Crohn's disease and cancer.
Further, Selexys has provided Novartis Pharmaceuticals with exclusive option to acquire Selexys and SelG1 after successful completion of the Phase II study, an agreement that could reach up to $665 million.
“The general public tends to think that these kinds of discoveries and deals are limited to the East and West Coasts,” said David Thomison, i2E vice president of investments. “But Selexys is an Oklahoma accomplishment all the way, beginning when the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and the University of Oklahoma cooperated with the Oklahoma private sector to license technology discovered by Dr. Rodger McEver.”
The deal marks the culmination of more than 15 years of world-class scientific research, remarkable entrepreneurial leadership, and support and participation from Oklahoma's funding sources and angel investors who believed their investment in Selexys could lead to something big.
Drug discovery and development consume risk capital. Startups scramble to gather funding to move their products through preclinical and Phase I trials to reach Phase II human trials, which is when venture capitalists and potential acquirers typically become interested.
“This is a success story of what can be accomplished in Oklahoma life sciences with a very focused effort from many sources,” said William D. Paiva, Ph.D., manager of the Oklahoma Life Science Fund II.
A host of combined Oklahoma resources advanced the company through its preclinical and Phase I clinical trials by providing more than $8 million in funding.
Those included angel investors, the OCAST Technology Business Finance Program (TBFP) and Oklahoma Applied Research Support program, the i2E-managed Oklahoma Seed Capital Fund, an EDGE grant and investment of Accelerate Oklahoma! funds from the U.S. Treasury's State Small Business Credit Initiative program.
“The state-funded TBFP program provided Selexys with initial proof-of-concept funding,” Paiva said. “The company received the largest SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) grant in Oklahoma history, and Oklahoma angel investors and early-stage venture funds played a critical role.”
The Oklahoma Life Science Fund II was among the early investors in Selexys, and Paiva has served on the company's board for several years.
“Selexys also has a very tenacious and experienced management team, board and investors with a singular mission,” Paiva said. “With this group, failure wasn't an option. We wouldn't stop.”
Led by Dr. Scott Rollins and an outstanding management team, this entrepreneurial blockbuster was built on a solid foundation provided by Oklahoma resources.
Rex Smitherman is interim president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state's technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Smitherman at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.
DID YOU KNOW?
Sickle cell disease affects an estimated 2 million people worldwide. For every person with sickle cell, there are three siblings who don't manifest symptoms but carry the trait, which can be passed on genetically. About 2.5 million people in American carry the trait.