By Don Mecoy
Copyright © 2016, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
Some Oklahoma angel investors are getting their wings.
Those “angels,” a term for individual investors in early stage companies, will get payoffs ranging from about five times to about 20 times what they risked in the development of Oklahoma City-based Selexys Pharmaceuticals Corp.
Selexys has closed a deal to sell the company for up to $665 million to global drug giant Novartis.
Former Selexys CEO Scott Rollins said all the early investments in the company came from Oklahomans and state-based entities.
“It’s been a great story,” Rollins said Monday. “They’re all going to make a lot of money.”
Four years ago, Swiss-based Novartis obtained the exclusive right to acquire Selexys and the drug it was developing, SelG1, which treats pain among those with sickle cell disease.
Novartis opted to close the deal after seeing results from a major trial of the drug with 200 patients. The details of that trial will be disclosed next month at the annual meeting of American Society of Hematology, but that venue and the size of the deal make it clear that it was a success.
Rollins said it’s possible the trial’s success, combined with the rare condition that the drug treats, could allow Novartis to skip a third major trial to get the drug to market within a year.
Sickle cell disease affects more than 100,000 people in the United States who are predominantly of African American descent. Those with sickle cell disease have abnormal red blood cells that can stick to veins and arteries, blocking the flow of blood and oxygen, which leads to painful crisis episodes. Most of those who have sickle cell disease die early.
The drug developed by Selexys blocks the protein that makes blood cells stick to vessel walls. Rollins said there hasn’t been a significant advance for the treatment of sickle cell disease on more than two decades.
In addition to the local individuals who backed Selexys, the firm secured investments from the University of Oklahoma, the Presbyterian Health Foundation and i2E Inc., a nonprofit organization that manages two investments funds that include state money.
Scott Meacham, CEO of i2E Inc., said the Selexys deal will benefit other Oklahoma research firms. Through its investment funds, i2E backed Selexys starting about a decade ago and invested a total of about $800,000 in the firm, Meacham said.
Those investments will produce significant returns for i2E, allowing the company to back other local startup firms, he said. Meacham declined to speculate on the size of i2E’s return, which could grow as Selexys meets benchmarks of success.
The $665 million deal, “is a validation of all the work we’ve been doing for so long,” Meacham said.
“I think it’s going to be a really good shot in the arm for Oklahoma research,” Meacham said. “Success begets success.”
Rollins, who graduated from Moore High School and the University of Oklahoma before doing post-graduate work at Yale University, “is the superstar of Oklahoma in getting these deals done,” Meacham said.
Rollins co-founded Alexion Pharmaceuticals in Connecticut, which discovered and developed a drug for a rare blood disorder called PNH, also an outgrowth of Oklahoma technology.
Alexion now is a public company with annual sales of more than $3 billion and a market capitalization of $26 billion.
So what’s next for Rollins?
He and his team of six employees have formed a new company called Tetherex, which is seeking to develop a treatment for Crohn’s disease and cancer based on the same Selectin technology from the University of Oklahoma that led to Selexys’ success.
“Selexys and Tetherex are great examples of how Oklahoma-based technology is being advanced for the benefits of Oklahomans as well as for people in need across the globe,” Rollins said.