By Scott Meacham
As i2E has been closing our latest round of new investments over the last few weeks, I am reminded of how in the startup world and the venture industry, investment events attract attention.
I don’t usually write about investment events. The celebratory milestones have already occurred over the weeks, months, and years that we have been working side-by side with the entrepreneurs as they de-risk and build investable companies. The actual close of a round can feel almost anticlimactic.
Having said that, I am going to write about one of our recent funding events.
In January, we announced a multi-million dollar Series A investment in Progentec Diagnostics, an Oklahoma City company commercializing several new lupus diagnostics out of OMRF. (i2E had previously led several seed investments in the company.) We and Plains Venture partners led the syndicated round, with participation by OMRF, Stanford University, Mayo Clinic, and other Midwest venture capitalists.
“The first money is always invaluable, but it is not just about the money. When it is from someone who sits across the table for that initial conversation, sees the work we have done and then says I’ll put in money based on the confidence we have been able to generate, that’s a huge start to a successful collaboration. That’s the level we have been able to establish with i2E” said Mohan Purushothaman, Ph.D., President, and CEO of Progentec.
“i2E created the atmosphere for us and worked with us” he said, “creating the right pitch and all the documents, serving on our Board, and being willing to come in and pitch our company to other investors when we were growing faster than we thought. All of these represent a huge value that we can never quantify.”
Progentec is developing new technologies to provide highly accurate tests for lupus diagnosis, predictive tests for lupus flares, and a comprehensive care platform to help lupus patients better manage the realities of living with the disease.
Much of bioscience is about finding cures—and increasingly, there are researchers seeking a cure for lupus. But while research is progressing, there are an estimated 5 million people with some form of lupus whose lives can be improved through better disease management —and those are the patients that Progentec will be benefiting soon.
Support from the lupus community has been overwhelming. The Progentec web site receives about 90,000 visits per quarter and more than 350 people have signed up for participation in the company’s Patient Innovation Council.
Funds from this investment round will help Progentec launch its aisle DX biomarker assay for early prediction of lupus flares. Later this year the company will launch an enhanced lupus disease diagnosis assay to correctly diagnose and classify lupus patients.
Progentec is replicating the company’s lupus model into other disease areas such as MS and IBD – the company has licensed technologies from Stanford and other universities to develop comprehensive disease management solutions in these disease areas.
“For us, the transfer from lupus to MS and IBD is natural,” Purushothaman said “As a company, we are focused on diseases that are chronic, autoimmune, and have a disease progression pattern similar to lupus. These diseases tend to affect patient lives in a unique way. They tend to have devastating ups and downs. They go into remission and then they keep happening. You can’t treat them the same way you treat acute or even some chronic conditions that stay in control over a period of time.”
i2E ‘s public/private mandate permits us to serve a unique role with companies like Progentec. It is about more than making the right investments; it is about doing what is good for Oklahoma and walking beside our companies to help them succeed. We leverage our 20-plus years of working with Oklahoma companies to connect our capital with other investors so that companies like Progentec can change the lives of people around the world.
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