By Jim Stafford
BOSTON – Every one of the more than 16,500 attendees at the BIO 2018 International Convention received a backpack prominently adorned with the name “AbbVie” on the front.
AbbVie is a major player in the biopharmaceutical industry with more than 50 compounds in clinical development, across significant areas of health care such as oncology, immunology, neuroscience and virology.
For one Oklahoman among in the OKBio group here this week, the AbbVie name has a special connection. William Hildebrand, Ph.D., a University of Oklahoma microbiology and immunology professor, is founder and chief scientist at Oklahoma City’s Pure MHC, LLC.
Hildebrand’s company signed a major licensing deal with AbbVie in 2017. Pure MHC is a platform technology based on technology developed in Hildebrand’s laboratory and licensed from OU.
Funded and managed by Austin, Texas-based Emergent Technologies, Pure MHC has expertise in disease-specific target identification and validation as well as drug development for cancer, infectious and autoimmune diseases, and allergy.
“We’ve been working to discover targets on unhealthy cells for a long time — cancer cells and virus infected cells,” Hildebrand said. “So, we demonstrated that the targets we identified can be used to treat people with melanoma with a melanoma vaccine. AbbVie recognized the quality and value of our data and our targets. So AbbVie licensed pure MHC for four cancer indications.”
The AbbVie deal consumed so much of Pure MHC’s efforts last year that the company passed on the annual BIO show, said Kris Looney, president of Emergent Technologies and Pure MHC.
“We were busy last year getting this project moving,” Looney said. “We had secured our partners in oncology and were completely focused on execution of the project. We actually met AbbVie at BIO in 2016 when it was in Philadelphia.”
Pure MHC executives are back at the 2018 BIO show seeking new partnerships.
“With the success of the AbbVie platform, we have the opportunity to apply the same platform outside of oncology, outside of cancer,” Looney said. “So, we are here meeting with groups interested in using our discovery platform that Dr. Hildebrand developed at OU for autoimmune disease, infectious disease and allergy.”
Pure MHC was joined in pursuit of new partnerships at the BIO show by colleagues from another Emergent Technologies company, Oklahoma City-based Caisson Biotech LLC.
Paul DeAngelis, Ph.D., a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at OU, is founder and chief scientist at Caisson Biotech and three other Emergent-funded companies.
“We’ve actually invented a new molecule that could be a good way for fighting one of the enzymes that cancer uses to metastasize and grow,” DeAnglis said. “It’s a little bit upstream and early, but it’s always good to get partner feedback and interest early so that you don’t waste a couple years of your intellectual property.”
The Emergent Technologies entourage on the floor of the Boston Convention Center also included its CEO, Tommy Harlan, who said that participating with the OKBio group at BIO advances his company’s mission. Emergent is a life sciences technology investment and management firm.
“When we raised funds we said we wanted to make tech transfer better, we wanted to have a humanitarian impact and we wanted to make money for investors,” Harlan said as he prepared to step into another partnering meeting at the OKBio exhibition booth. “It wasn’t just ‘VC, make money.’ I think we are finally starting to see the benefit of all three, which is rewarding.”
OKLAHOMA FACES IN THE BIO CROWD
Luke Kittinger, marketing director, Norman Economic Development Coalition
I’m here mostly just to support OKBio and the Chamber as part of our partnership. If there are any connections that come out of conversations that I have, that’s kind of icing on the cake.
Ayyappan Subbiah, founder of SevenGenes Inc., a Bartlesville-based drug development startup that has developed technology that reduces toxicity of drugs that target pancreatic cancer
We’re here to meet companies with similar concepts who can help us grow further. We are also looking for investors to take our products further.