A decade ago, Dr. Michael Centola, an Oklahoma medical researcher had an idea to assess the genomic makeup of millions of people who suffer from an inflammatory disease known as rheumatoid arthritis.
Then a scientist at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF), Dr. Centola founded Riley Genomic and based its operations at the Presbyterian Health Foundation Research Park. The company flourished as Dr. Centola proved that his theory worked – the genomic profile of rheumatoid arthritis patients could show health care providers the best medicine with which to treat their patients. The company attracted national attention and investment funding, and through a lucrative partnership became Crescendo Bioscience.
Even though Crescendo Bioscience was a success, Dr. Centola was not done. He began researching the cardiovascular disease risk of rheumatoid arthritis patients and possible solutions. In 2010, the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST), a state agency whose sole mission is technology-based economic development, awarded Dr. Centola a $300,000 research grant to further this work.
Dr. Centola’s previous successes and funding from OCAST and its partners set the stage for what happened next. In 2014, Crescendo Bioscience was acquired by Myriad Genetics in a deal valued at $270 million. Dr. Centola and his Oklahoma team of researchers were handsomely rewarded for their pioneering research.
While Dr. Centola may have set the standard for Oklahoma health research funding success, his is but one of hundreds of projects that have created wealth and high paying jobs across Oklahoma.
For instance, with the help of OCAST funding, Selexys Pharmaceuticals received two NIH grants totaling more than $6.5 million. This spurred an agreement with pharmaceutical giant Novartis to buy the company for a deal potentially valued at $665 million depending on the outcome of its Phase 2 clinical trial of a therapeutic for sickle cell disease.
Other success are still in the making.
Madeleine Cunningham created a series of tests in her University of Oklahoma laboratory for a childhood disorder known as PANDAS/PANS, which are treatable neurological conditions that may be associated with motor tics, obsessive compulsive disorders and sometimes Autism Spectrum Disorders. Her work was funded in part by OCAST.
Cunningham went on to co-found Moleculera Labs, which today is testing thousands of children worldwide who are suspected of suffering from PANDAS/PANS disorders.
“OCAST doesn’t award grants for projects and hope for the best,” said Michael Carolina, executive director of OCAST. “It vets them thoroughly and carefully, weighing project merit and the potential for commercialization.”
In its 27-year history, OCAST has invested $245.4 million in 2,519 Oklahoma projects. Those projects have returned $5.2 billion in private and federal investment, a ration of 20-to-1.
“We are proud of this track record, and are excited to see Oklahoma’s researchers generating these types of returns. Our model has been proven, and the results are job and wealth creation that benefits the entire state,” Carolina said. “Between our research universities, OMRF, and the multitude of funding sources the state has to offer, Oklahoma is truly a great place to launch a bioscience venture.”
Today, Dr. Centola and many other successful researchers remain in the state, developing new therapeutics and spinning out new companies.