Dr. Courtney Houchen and his co-founders of COARE Biotechnology of Oklahoma City are determined to accelerate a new technology to combat pancreatic and other solid tumor cancers out of the laboratory and into clinical testing.
“This cancer may not affect as many people as colon or breast cancer, but it kills almost everyone it affects,” Houchen said. “The way we have been trying to treat it hasn't worked. There needs to be a different approach.”
Houchen led the OU Cancer Institute research team that discovered that a certain cancer protein appears only in stem cells. COARE is working to develop a compound that will target the protein and thereby kill the cancer at its core.
“We want to get this new development out of the laboratory,” he said. “Converting discoveries to the bedside is the most difficult and costly part of the process. It's been difficult, but we are still doing it.”
The challenge is to make enough progress to gain the significant industry interest that can lead to the millions of dollars in multiyear funding required to commercialize a drug.
“There is a ‘Valley of Death' between taking a scientific idea and converting it into an actual, testable drug,” Houchen said. “The only people who can afford to take something all the way to human trials are the big biotech and pharmaceutical firms. But they don't invest in the transition from simple science to a commercial drug until they see assurances of return on investment or the likelihood of a blockbuster drug.”
Houchen, who has successfully secured previous National Institutes of Health grants, worked with Oklahoma SBIR Collaborative Resource on COARE's recent proposals for the federal Small Business Innovation Research program.
“Our NIH academic grants were more concentrated on research and hypothesis-driven science,” he said. “SBIRs are a mechanism of action. OSCR did not have to help us dramatically with the research pieces, but they really did help us in stating our facts and our science, making sure our materials were appropriately collected and ensuring that our story was told in a concise clear manner.”
Oklahoma has great entrepreneurs and scientists and strong universities and research institutions. They are working smart to increase our state's share of SBIR/STTR funds
We don't need 50 winners to see an impact — we just need a few.
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?
About 44,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year; about 37,000 people die of the disease.