Sheri Stickley, CEO of the Oklahoma Bioscience Association, said Wednesday's announcement immediately makes Selexys Oklahoma's poster child among local bioscience businesses.
“The impact on Oklahoma City and the state is that this puts us on the map,” Stickley said. “This draws attention to the great science and the great companies that we have here in Oklahoma.”
Stickley said Selexys is one of several state companies seeking to bring new drugs to market, a process that can take a decade and cost $1 billion. The ability of Selexys to attract venture capital and a potential buyer is very satisfying, she said.
“This is what we're all working toward,” Stickley said. “This is validation and reward for a lot of hard work.”
If the Novartis deal is struck, Selexys and its sickle cell drug would be acquired, and the Oklahoma City firm would spin off into a new company that also is working to develop a drug to treat Crohn's disease and cancer, Rollins said. Some of the new venture capital money invested in Selexys will go toward advancing that second program through a Phase 1 clinical study, he said.
The sickle cell drug works by targeting a molecule that causes hemoglobin cells to stick to blood vessel walls, which can trigger strokes, heart attacks and organ failure in sickle cell patients, Rollins said.
“We're providing sort of a lubricant-type strategy that will bind to these red blood cells and help them flow,” he said. “So far, the preclinical experiments have been extremely promising. We've actually put the drug into humans and it's been very safe so far and it blocks the target as we had expected that it would do.”
To reach this point, Selexys raised about $9 million from local investors, including wealthy individuals and organizations such as i2E Inc. and the Oklahoma Life Sciences Fund. It has won about $12 million in grants, Rollins said. The firm also was awarded funds from Oklahoma's Economic Development Generating Excellence (EDGE) program, which the Legislature scrapped last year to fund endowed chairs at state universities.
“We're a perfect example as to why that should not have happened,” Rollins said. “Without that EDGE money, we wouldn't be bringing $665 million and jobs to Oklahoma.”