It’s not as sexy as big oil or a consistent newsmaker like natural gas, but Oklahoma’s often overlooked biotech industry is a flourishing economic engine providing high-paying jobs and helping make medical visits more effective in terms of cost and results.
“Health care – such as doctor visits – as well as hospitals and clinics, are the end-product of the biotech industry,” says Dr. Stephen Prescott, president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
“We’re discovering life-saving treatments that come from Oklahoma and are used worldwide,” says Prescott. “This is even better than the attention we get for our football teams because this is a big, dramatic impact, and we have a mission to improve people’s lives.”
“Our goal is to benefit patients. The great news in Oklahoma, especially in metro areas, is that there are sophisticated options for specialist care available. Over the past 25 years, there has been major growth in terms of what we can provide right here in our state. There is a much-decreased need to ever leave the state for state-of-the-art care, as we have it here. This is great in both human and financial terms.”
Prescott and OMRF staff work with Presbyterian Health Foundation scientists to help ensure the sector’s continuing success through partner i2E, a business accelerator for homegrown enterprises, with the goal of increasing its reach and scope.
“Biotech is such an exciting industry in this state,” says Prescott. “It has a lot of impact much beyond its current size and that is for a couple of reasons.”
Oklahoma’s biotech wallop is largely due to the economic impact of salaries in that sector, which are typically at least double the state’s average salary, Prescott says. These jobs have substantial education requirements – all of which further enhance the state’s reputation.
“We’re discovering life-saving treatments that come from Oklahoma and are used worldwide,” says Prescott. “This is even better than the attention we get for our football teams because this is a big, dramatic impact, and we have a mission to improve people’s lives. Discovering medications and products that enhance and save lives with solutions that come from our state is something very remarkable. It is something we can all take pride in.”
Through the business accelerator, biotech start-ups and small firms benefit from i2E’s resources, which includes experienced and successful executive teams with proven strategies and institutional knowledge needed to help small businesses succeed in an exceedingly competitive market.
i2E oversees companies until they are ready to go independent, says Prescott.
“With these experienced executives running things while in these start-up phases, it is much more efficient, in economic terms, so that more money can go into research instead of to overhead,” he says. “We think this is the model of the future as it helps them start and get to key positions more efficiently.”
i2E is currently shepherding several such firms, including Jortan Pharmaceuticals Inc. Jortan’s focus is to further research and develop potential diabetes treatments based on technology generated by OMRF and Purdue University. The goal is to create a drug that effectively treats both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Another thriving Oklahoma biotech firm, Otologic Pharmaceutics Inc. is developing and commercializing treatments for specific forms of hearing loss, says Prescott.
According to an OPI statement released in April, OPI’s lead product, HPN1010 – an oral treatment for acute hearing loss – is scheduled to enter clinical trials this year. Pre-clinical research was supported by nearly $5.4 million from the U.S. Department of Defense due to the product’s demonstrated potential to treat acute noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) by reducing acute damage and promoting healing and recovery of the injured cochlea. NIHL is a major cause of disability in the military and for workers in certain industrial settings, including oil and gas extraction and refining, manufacturing and farming.
OPI plans to initiate studies on the use of HPN1010 to treat cisplatin-induced hearing loss. Cisplatin is a widely used chemotherapy cancer treatment known to cause marked hearing loss in approximately 75 percent of patients treated each year.
Prescott points out that once running, these Oklahoma-grown products will help people all over the world who are suffering from these hearing-loss related issues.
Oklahoma-based biotech firm Pamlico Biopharma Inc. develops therapeutics for human pathogens, cancer and autoimmune diseases with special focus on pneumonia caused by Streptococcus pneumonia, or S pneumonia – still a major contributor to high mortality rates worldwide. PBI hopes to dramatically reduce those rates through its human monoclonal antibody technologies and treatments.
“These are exciting, game-changing initiatives,” says Prescott. “It is also so encouraging that there is both a financial and healing impact. Many times, folks don’t realize it but if you look at the health industry as an aggregate, we are one of the largest employers in the state. These biomedical advancements impact both the health industry and all of us in Oklahoma.”