By Jim Stafford
Copyright © 2014, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
It was Wednesday at the recent Biotechnology Industry Organization convention in San Diego, and Manu Nair engaged a visitor to the Oklahoma exhibition space in animated conversation.
Nair was networking and building relationships. It’s a skill that served him well as Senior Licensing Manager for the Mayo Clinic Ventures in Minnesota for more than five years.
And it’s one that he put to work at the BIO show on behalf of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation as its recently appointed vice president for technology ventures.
Nair, 40, came to OMRF a little more than a month ago to take over leadership of the organization’s technology transfer efforts. He succeeded Larry Kennedy, who retired from the role in February after 16 years.
Technology transfer involves identifying technologies that have commercial potential and devising strategies to license them to established companies or build startups around them.
OMRF scientists are involved in groundbreaking research in the areas of cancer, children’s diseases, diabetes, heart disease and Lupus.
An attorney who also earned an MBA, Nair worked for OMRF and Kennedy for five years before taking the position with Mayo Clinic Ventures.
“What I learned from Mayo Clinic is that technology commercialization is a business,” Nair said. “You have to identify the opportunities, nourish them to make them attractive to a potential buyer and strike the right deal. You use your tools and your relationships to get there.”
At Mayo, the tools at Nair’s disposal, subject to institutional policies, included a $2 million seed fund and a $100 million venture capital fund.
In Oklahoma, the technology development tools are similar, if not quite on the scale of those at the Mayo Clinic.
For Nair, the tools will include a seed fund developed by OMRF President Dr. Stephen Prescott.
“Dr. Prescott has an entrepreneurial vision,” Nair said. “We jointly decided to look at what are the necessary tools.
He agreed to put together the necessary seed-capital funding that we can then utilize for early stage technology development.”
The process of advancing a medical-related technology to the market, said Nair, is similar to that of putting together a puzzle with a lot of pieces.
The key pieces are business development partners and funding from multiple sources.
Nair envisions a scenario where OMRF and Oklahoma partners i2E Inc., the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, and Accele Biopharma, along with out-of-state venture capital firms all contribute capital and management expertise at just the right stages to advance a new technology.
When all that falls into place and the stars are aligned, an Oklahoma company can become a huge success like that of San Francisco-based Crescendo Bioscience, which was recently acquired by Myriad Genetics for $270 million.
Crescendo was founded as Oklahoma City-based Riley Genomics and built around technology developed at OMRF. California investors moved it west.
“A lot of times you can’t keep a company in a state just because you want to keep it there,” Nair said.
“Even with the companies that leave, the goal is to keep a relationship long enough to have enough ‘kids’ so that at least the kids stay and have operations that add jobs to the community. On top of that you get a resource that feeds into other pipelines.”
That’s the payoff of building relationships that Nair seeks.
“I’m a guy who likes to build things,” he said.
Jim Stafford writes about the state’s life sciences industry on behalf of the Oklahoma Bioscience Association.