By Jim Stafford
Copyright © 2014, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
Breaking business news out of California a few weeks ago turned out to be a big Oklahoma story, although for Oklahomans, the news was sort of like losing your keys only to later discover them in their usual spot.
The big news involved San Francisco-based Crescendo Bioscience, which was acquired in a $270 million deal by Myriad Genetics of Salt Lake City.
Nowhere in the Feb. 4 news release that announced the deal were there mentions of Oklahoma, Riley Genomics or Mike Centola, Ph.D. Yet all three are central to the story.
Crescendo Bioscience was founded in 2002 as Riley Genomics in Oklahoma City by Centola, who was then a research scientist at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
Centola developed a blood test that provided physicians with a quantitative way to measure the level of inflammatory disease within their patients. He then licensed the technology from OMRF and established the company.
Riley Genomics prospered as an Oklahoma-based venture until 2007, when the company received a $5 million investment from the California venture capital firm Mohr Davidow Ventures, and veteran Oklahoma entrepreneur William Hagstrom was named CEO.
“We nurtured the company here and then received our first high level, A-round of venture capital investment by a group of professional venture capitalists that specialize in developing diagnostic companies,” Centola said. “They are in northern California and wanted to move the company there so they could help build it with their expertise.”
Hagstrom moved west as the lone California employee, while Centola performed resaerch and development for the company in his Oklahoma laboratory. Eventually, Riley Genomics changed its name to Crescendo Bioscience, new California employees were hired and its Vectra DA multi-biomarker blood test to assess rheumatoid arthritis disease activity was introduced in late 2010.
“We were able to crank out the research necessary for them to be able to do the commercial development necessary on the test, then they were off and running with that,” Centola said. “They put together a brilliant team to be able to do the development and commercialization.”
Crescendo was on a fast growth track. It grew to 130 employees. It was ranked the 27th-fastest growing company in North America on Deloitte’s 2013 Technology Fast 500 list.
And Myriad Genetics put a $270 million buyout offer on the table. The deal closed in late March with Crescendo retaining its name and operating as a wholly owned subsidiary.
Today, Centola is building yet another life science company he co-founded in Haus Bioceuticals, which is applying the rigors of clinical drug development to so-called natural medicines for eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions.
The omission of the Oklahoma connection in the announcement of the Crescendo acquisition doesn’t diminish its impact to the state, he said. The deal benefits not only the founder and early employees, but the entire state.
“We benefit in some really profound ways,” Centola said. “The invention is owned by the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, so they have a wonderful license fee that comes in, and that’s going to provide a great revenue stream for the OMRF for the next 15 to 20 years.
“And the whole experience helps the community understand the potential of what can happen when you do this.”
So the deal was breaking news for Oklahoma. It was just hiding in plain sight.
Jim Stafford is Communications Specialist with i2E Inc. in Oklahoma City.