By Jim Stafford
Copyright © 2014, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
As he pursued a master’s degree in Biochemistry in his native India, Kumar Sripathirathan was drawn to the library at the American consulate in the city of Chennai along India’s southeast coast.
The young Indian student was a regular visitor to the library. There he discovered books and journals by American authors that sparked both his scientific interest and his curiosity about the United States.
“It drove my imagination and, I would say, fascination with science because they went into so much great detail about evolution, biochemistry, embryology and how things work,” Sripathirathan told me as we sat in his office at Oklahoma City’s Drik Safety Testing, a preclinical toxicology services laboratory for drug safety evaluation.
“I just always had a fascination about developments that were happening in the U.S,” he said.
The son of a housekeeper and a banker, Sripathirathan went on to earn his Ph.D. in 1998, and soon made his first visit to the United States at a scientific meeting in Seattle.
“When I was in Seattle, I went to the Boeing factory,” he said. “It blew my mind. It was so huge, so big and gave me an idea of the capabilities and strengths of this country.”
Sripathirathan subsequently was awarded a post-doctoral fellowship at Loyola University in Chicago. Then he moved to the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and earned a second master’s in clinical research.
As part of his post-doctorate studies, Sripathirathan did neurotoxicology studies and was involved in an EPA program that studies certain chemicals that mimic the body’s hormones.
The expertise he gained in toxicology — which studies the effect of chemicals upon living organisms — led him directly to Oklahoma in 2008. CoMentis Inc. hired him as a toxicologist for its ongoing program to develop drugs for devastating diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
When CoMentis eventually shut down its research laboratory in the University Research Park, Sripathirathan seized the opportunity to create his own toxicology testing company. Drik was founded in 2012.
“I always had an inspiration to start a business,” he said. “It was my childhood dream, I would say. I saw the opportunity here and started working toward having my own business.”
Today, Drik fills an important role for companies and researchers in Oklahoma and beyond who are developing new therapeutics. Toxicology testing is a key step in drug development.
“Our main clients are pharmaceutical clients who are involved in drug discovery and development,” he said. “Not only that, we serve industries in agrochemicals like pesticides, and the cosmetics industry too.”
Sripathirathan and his wife, Vanmathy Vasudevan, an accountant who is Drik’s co-founder and chief operating officer, have set deep roots in Oklahoma. They are raising their two children in Edmond.
“I’ve traveled all around the country — East Coast, West Coast, Florida, New York — and we lived in the big city of Chicago for almost 10 years,” he said. “But I love Edmond and Oklahoma. It’s fun raising kids here, because it is more relaxed and the quality of life is much higher.”
Drik received investment funding from i2E Inc., through its StartOK Fund, and today is generating revenue through its drug testing laboratory located in the Research Park.
The word Drik means “shining light” in the ancient Sanskrit language, Sripathirathan said. Drik accomplishes that goal by filling a niche for clients who otherwise would have to take their drug-testing needs to laboratories on the East or West coasts.
“We’re helping clients succeed in their business,” he said.
Jim Stafford writes about the state’s life sciences industry on behalf of the Oklahoma Bioscience Association.