Worldwide, Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) is one of the most prevalent genetic diseases, affecting millions of people.
“This is a terrible disease,” said Robert Broyles, Ph.D., founder and chief science officer of EpimedX LLC in Oklahoma City.
“In this country, SCD is discovered at birth with a routine blood test, and these babies are given penicillin to guard against pneumonia,” Broyles said. “That is not the case in Third World countries where most SCD children die before 2 years of age.”
Even with proper care, life is very difficult for a child or adult that has sickle cell. There is one FDA-approved drug, but it has significant side effects, Broyles said. Painful episodes make it difficult to stay in school or hold a job. Hospital and emergency room visits are frequent. The average life span with the best of care is between 40 and 50 years of age.
EpimedX is developing a promising patented technology to be delivered in pill form that will stop Sickle Cell Disease and malaria in their tracks. According to Dr. Broyles, the EpimedX product is extremely safe.
“It turns out we ingest this substance in vegetables in smaller amounts,” said Broyles, “and it is made in certain cells in the human body.”
Finding a solution to Sickle Cell Disease has not been a quick thing.
“A discovery in 1975 of people in Saudi Arabia who have inherited SCD but display none of the symptoms of the disease eventually led to the development of the technology,” said Broyles, who was among the first researchers to receive NIH grants to find a way to mimic this cure of nature and has worked on this challenge for 35 years.
“It took us 15 years to think of the idea of how this might work,” Broyles said. “Then another 10 years to show out how it works in principal, and then another 10 years to advance the technology.”
Broyles and EpimedX co-founder Robert Floyd are building the firm's first investment round. The funds will be used to complete preclinical tests and file the drug with the FDA. The next funding round will be for clinical trials.
Thanks to the perseverance of the EpimedX scientists and entrepreneurs, this Oklahoma firm is on a path to bring relief to Sickle Cell Disease sufferers around the world.
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?
If both parents have the sickle cell gene, there is a one in four chance of having a baby with Sickle Cell Disease. Eighty-five percent of the approximately 100,000 SCD sufferers in the U.S. are black, 10.6 percent are American Indian, and 4.4 percent are Hispanic-American, Asian-American, or Caucasian.