By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2019, The Oklahoman
Of the more than 120 types of brain and central nervous system tumors, Glioblastoma (also called GBM) is the most aggressive — a deadly brain cancer with no cure.
Glioblastomas often appear with no warning or prior symptoms. These Type IV tumors tend to produce their own blood vessels and are highly malignant. The cells spread fast and send tentacles to other parts of the brain, which makes complete surgical removal virtually impossible.
The typical prognosis is 12 to 18 months. In the U.S., about 12,000 people are diagnosed with glioblastoma each year. Recently, my mother, who is nearly 80 but an otherwise very healthy and active woman, became one of those 12,000.
This is a hard column for me to write as I face the loss of a constant source of love and support throughout my life, but my mother’s attitude — she is a woman of faith and takes each day as it comes — drove home to me, in a very personal way, the importance of the work that we do in life science.
The impact of state-funded research, spinning out new technologies, and supporting innovators and entrepreneurs goes far, far beyond patents, job creation, and risk adjusted rates of return.
As Sherri Wise, Osteopathic Founders Foundation President/CEO and chair of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST) Seed Capital Investment Committee, often reminds us at committee meetings, “Let’s not lose sight of the fact that we are saving lives and helping people.”
Last fall, as a commercialization partner with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF), our two organizations worked together to create a novel investment framework to manage a breakthrough drug therapy for glioblastoma. (I had no idea at the time that my family would be affected by this terrible disease.)
Oblato, Inc., the U.S.-based subsidiary of a Korea investment firm that focuses on rare disease indications, purchased all rights to OKN-007, an investigational drug for GBM that had been in clinical testing with patents at the University of Oklahoma’s Stephenson Cancer Center. Oblato will initiate additional trials in larger populations and has plans to develop an oral form of the drug, which is now administered as an infusion.
This project is noteworthy as, to my knowledge, it is the first of its kind in Oklahoma where a not-for-profit research institution without clinical infrastructure collaborated under a novel investment structure to manage a new drug therapy through clinical trials, delivering results that generate a commercial collaboration.
OKN-007 won’t change my mother’s situation. But quite possibly someday, we will look back and know that the research funding from OCAST, the seed funding from i2E’s Oklahoma Seed Capital Fund, and the creativity and flexibility of OMRF to champion a seamless collaboration between multiple institutions, did result in a treatment for glioblastoma that might help someone else’s mom.
The human side is the real reason that Oklahoma’s investment in life sciences matters. Therapeutics and diagnostics that improve people’s lives is the real reason we do what we do.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.