Oklahoma City-based Selexys Pharmaceuticals wins investment, strikes $665 million deal

Oklahoma City bioscience company's early success in developing a drug to treat sickle cell anemia attracts attention of one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.
by Don Mecoy Modified: September 19, 2012 at 8:50 pm •  Published: September 19, 2012
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In what promises to be the biggest bioscience firm deal in state history, Oklahoma City-based Selexys Pharmaceuticals Corp. has struck an agreement that could lead to the company's acquisition for up to $665 million.

“This is the largest, by far, pharmaceutical deal ever for an Oklahoma-based company,” said Dr. Scott Rollins, president and CEO of Selexys. “This is a monumental deal for my company, for Oklahoma, for biotechnology in the state — any way you want to look at it.”

Selexys also has acquired $23 million in venture capital financing that will help pay for clinical study of its lead asset, a drug designed to help sickle cell anemia patients deal with circulation problems that can cause strokes, heart attacks and other major health problems.

The $23 million equity financing, led by MPM Capital, will allow Selexys to begin a broader Phase 2 clinical study in patients with sickle cell disease, Rollins said. That testing would begin in 2013 and could take up to two years.

Selexys will expand its staff, expand its space in the Presbyterian Health Foundation near downtown Oklahoma City and provide new contracts for local vendors to launch the testing program, Rollins said.

“Everything about this company is internal to Oklahoma,” Rollins said. “Rod McEver at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation discovered this technology. (Oklahoma City-based) Cytovance Biologics is manufacturing it. It's a great spread-the-wealth model for the bioscience sector in Oklahoma.”

Selexys has agreed to provide Novartis Pharmaceuticals, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical firms, an exclusive option to buy Selexys and its developing drug, called SelG1, after the successful completion of the Phase 2 study. The deal, which includes upfront, acquisition and milestone payments, could total up to $665 million.

“For the second-largest pharmaceutical company in the world in Novartis and one of the largest venture capital groups in the world in MPM to put this kind of money into this technology, it really validates the science and the clinical approach,” Rollins said.

Selexys' SelG1 program has offered encouraging results in Phase 1 testing, Rollins said. It likely will take another five years before the drug would reach the marketplace, he said.

About 100,000 people, mostly African-Americans, suffer from sickle cell anemia in the United States. The potential worldwide market is several times that size, Rollins said.

“It's certainly a billion-dollar-plus market worldwide annually,” he said.

The drug has obtained orphan drug status in the United States and Europe, which allows for faster development and marketing of compounds to serve rare diseases, Rollins said.

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by Don Mecoy
Business Editor
Business Editor Don Mecoy has covered business news for more than a decade after earlier working on The Oklahoman's city, state and metro news desks, including a stint as city editor. He has won state and regional journalism awards for business,...
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