I once interviewed my 87-year-old Aunt Wilma for a junior high social studies assignment called “living history.” I asked her about living through the Great Depression, and she told me there was nothing great about it.
A recent assignment to interview University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center Professor William Hildebrand, Ph.D., had me thinking about that living history project. Hildebrand is a Presbyterian Health Foundation Endowed Professor and a George Lynn Cross Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at OUHSC.
Decades younger than my Aunt Wilma, Hildebrand is still a historical figure for Oklahoma's bioscience industry. His company, Pure Protein LLC, was among the first new ventures spun out of an Oklahoma university after State Questions 680 and 681 were approved in 1998 by Oklahoma voters.
Those two constitutional amendments authorized Oklahoma universities and academic researchers to own equity in companies that were commercializing technologies the universities invented. By 1999, Hildebrand had licensed the patented technology from OU and launched Pure Protein.
“Until (State Questions) 680 and 681, scientists had to either divorce themselves from the university or divorce themselves from the science in order for it to be commercialized,” Hildebrand said. “With 680 and 681, the state said ‘let's have the university and its researchers create jobs and build infrastructure here in Oklahoma.'”
As an OU researcher, Hildebrand developed a genetically engineered human leukocyte antigen (HLA) molecule. He owns 30 patents surrounding the technology. HLA is the molecule that triggers human immune responses to viruses such as influenza, allergies, autoimmune reactions such as Lupus, and the rejection of transplanted hearts.
“What Pure Protein has done is to produce a steady source of HLA that is not available elsewhere,” Hildebrand said. “Pure Protein provides our HLA protein to companies that want to prevent transplant rejection — they use our protein to optimally match organ donors and recipients. We also work with large pharma companies to help develop anti-viral and anti-cancer vaccines.”
Austin, Texas-based Emergent Technologies was the founding investor in Pure Protein and its two subsidiaries, Pure Vaccine Solutions and Pure Transplant Solutions. Emergent remains its largest investor. Hildebrand is Pure Protein's chief scientist.
Which leads us back to the history lesson. Pure Protein was among the first spinouts — considered by some to be the first — but others were right there, as well. Hyalose emerged from the research of Paul DeAngelis and Paul Weigel at OU and continues operating today, along with a pair of sister companies, Choncept and Heparinex.
Each was founded with a plan to take what was created in a laboratory in Oklahoma and make it commercially available in clinics and hospitals everywhere.
“I think if you are doing research at a medical center, you should envision that research getting out and touching someone,” Hildebrand said. “How are you going to do that? You have to have a company.”
His company is Pure Protein. And it's living history for Oklahoma.
Jim Stafford is communications specialist with i2E Inc. in Oklahoma City.