By Jim Stafford
Copyright © 2015, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
As she completed her Ph.D. in Molecular and Integrated Physiology at the University of Illinois in 2009, Carol Curtis began seeking biotechnology industry opportunities in Florida.
Curtis’ husband, Kevin, had been transferred to Florida with his job just as she was completing her Ph.D.
“For a full year I was networking and talking to people in Florida, thinking of moving there, prepping, doing all the work necessary,” Curtis told me during a recent interview at the University Research Park offices of Oklahoma City-based EpimedX, where she is Associate Director of Research and Development.
Just when she lined up potential opportunities with three Florida biotech companies, Kevin was transferred again, this time to Oklahoma City. Call it serendipity.
The unexpected relocation and networking opportunities it brought opened doors that ultimately led Curtis to her role with EpimedX, a company developing a breakthrough therapeutic for Sickle Cell Disease.
Instead of interviewing for positions in Florida, she found herself researching the biotech market in Oklahoma. Initially, Curtis was familiar with only the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.
“Then I found the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation website,” she said. “I think I sent my resume to 10 different people doing research at OMRF and OUHSC that looked interesting. I got a lot of response and came down for a weekend and did six interviews.”
Curtis took a job in the laboratory of OMRF scientist Courtney Griffin, who is an Associate Member in the foundation’s cardiovascular biology research program. Griffin is researching vascular development, trying to understand how blood vessels grow in cancer and the potential to inhibit growth in disease.
“Courtney was supportive of me and knew that I didn’t necessarily want to be a researcher,” Curtis said.
What she did want to do was to help take laboratory discoveries into the market place where they can do the most good by benefiting patients. That quest led her to OMRF’s Technology Transfer office and to a role in 2012 as an i2E Fellow.
“So, for 6 months I was a postdoc for OMRF, worked in tech transfer and was a Fellow at i2E,” she said. “It was a great opportunity for me; I learned a lot.”
As an i2E Fellow, Curtis worked closely with i2E Venture Advisor Rick Rainey, put together operational strategies and pursued prototype development for startup companies.
One of the companies she worked with was Otologic Pharmaceutics, which had OMRF ties.
Networking opportunities offered by the i2E Fellows program also connected her with EpimedX at the conclusion of the paid fellowship. EpimedX had just become an i2E client in 2012, and Rainey suggested to Curtis that she explore opportunities with the company.
“I think the i2E Fellowship is unlike any other opportunity,” Curtis said. “It offers real-life experience, a chance at understanding the entrepreneur’s mindset and what needs to be done to accomplish the goals that are set forth by that entrepreneur. The most beneficial thing was just opening my eyes to how an idea gets to become a company.”
Other doors have opened to consulting work with Accele Biopharma, an Oklahoma City-based life science accelerator that claims Otologic Pharmaceutics as one of its portfolio companies.
See how serendipity works? A window that closed in Florida opened many doors of opportunity in Oklahoma.
“I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had,” Curtis said. “Ultimately, I want to be able to facilitate the transfer of technology from the laboratory in a way that is useful for patients.”
Jim Stafford writes about the state’s life sciences industry on behalf of the Oklahoma Bioscience Association.
i2E offers Fellowships
For the seventh consecutive year, i2E is offering 10-week paid fellowships this summer for Oklahoma college students at entrepreneurial companies in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas.
The i2E Fellows program is open to students at any Oklahoma college or university and Oklahoma residents who attend college at an out-of-state campus.
Applications for the 2015 i2E Fellows program are being accepted through Friday, March 27th. Both undergraduate and graduate students are eligible.
Fellows will earn $6,000 while working full-time on projects designed specifically for their skill sets at i2E client companies in Oklahoma City or Tulsa, or at i2E’s offices in either city. The Fellowships begin Monday, June 1, 2015.
For more information about the Fellowships, visit www.i2Efellows.com, or contact Darcy Wilborn, i2E Fellows Program Director, at (405) 813-2424 or email dwilborn@i2E.org.