By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2018, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
If you are a regular reader of these columns, and I hope you are, you can tell that I like history. There are the lessons, of course, and the perspective we gain from looking back. And there are the celebratory moments. There’s always an “aha” moment in history, although we may not recognize it at the time.
This year, as i2E is celebrating our 20th anniversary, I got to thinking about what we’ll be remembered for another 20 years from now.
Over 20 years, it is easy to misplace the details of some of our state’s greatest stories. Take Novazyme Pharmaceuticals, founded by William Canfield, MD, PhD, formerly a scientist at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and taken through a much-heralded exit by CEO John Crowley.
Canfield’s research made a breakthrough in the treatment of a rare genetic disorder called Pompe disease. It’s a form a muscular dystrophy that happens at birth and later in life and causes muscle weakness that typically leads to death, especially in children.
Crowley, an experienced drug industry executive and the father of two children suffering from Pompe disease, came into Novazyme as CEO to hasten the progress of an FDA-approved drug. Genzyme acquired Novazyme and eventually achieved FDA-approval for the drug that Crowley credits with saving his children’s lives.
The story of Novazyme and Crowley’s determination to develop a drug that would help his children has been told in books, adapted for Hollywood in the movie “Extraordinary Measures,” and highlighted in the 2017 State of the Union address.
What doesn’t always get told as fully is the Oklahoma back story. Years of research and experimentation led up to Canfield’s discovery. Novazyme began in subsidized state-of-the-art lab space in the research park. And the first investor in Novazyme was i2E through the Technology Business Finance Program (TBFP) Concept Fund.
Nearly 20 years ago, when, at the behest of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and the organization that was to become i2E, the Oklahoma legislature boldly gave the TBFP concept fund the green light, there was hope and belief that the concept fund would stand the test of time and become evergreen — and it has.
Genzyme created a second drug that is used to treat all patients who suffer from Pompe disease. Canfield has started more companies; Crowley is a serial CEO of biotech firms, and the TBFP Concept Fund, which has been self-sustaining since 2011, has invested in 122 companies.
That’s the kind of impact that innovation leaders had in mind in the late nineties when they pressed the Oklahoma Legislature to authorize state appropriations for a concept fund.
To that, I say, “aha!”
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.