By Scott Meacham
Let’s raise our eyes and raise our goals Oklahoma.
Christian Kanady is a fourth-generation Oklahoman. “My roots don’t touch any state besides this one,” he said. “Like most Oklahomans, I grew up steeped in this state’s sense of being both an underdog and a pioneer.”
These days, Kanady is channeling that pioneering spirit toward making the rest of the country, and even the world, recognize that Oklahoma has the potential and momentum to become an international juggernaut in bioscience innovation and commercialization — that Oklahoma City has the biotech infrastructure, research facilities, know-how and drive to compete with any city in the country — that the time is right and the time is now.
A self-described “recovering oil and gas executive” with industry creds that include a career start at Chesapeake Energy and then founding Echo Energy, the largest mineral rights owner in the state, Kanady draws on the quote from the great petrol-industrialist J. Paul Getty: “In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy.”
Diversifying our Economy
Kanady believes it’s critical that Oklahoma diversify its economy away from a single industry and offers a unique perspective on doing so by tapping into an entirely different 21st century natural resource: Oklahoma’s existing biotechnology infrastructure and capabilities.
“COVID-19 and the mRNA vaccines have changed the way we think about the importance of medical development and manufacturing,” Kanady said, adding that the pandemic has brought the pitfalls of global supply chains into sharp focus, giving us a new appreciation for the fact that around 70 percent of all active pharmaceutical ingredients are made outside the United States.
“What if, instead of investing in only drug development, we invest in how drugs are made? What if we made medicine faster and cheaper by making it in one place?” he said.
That place could well be Oklahoma City; our bioscience infrastructure gives us a lot to work with. Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF) is a center of excellent in immunotherapy. The Dean McGee Eye Institute has been named in the top 12 eye institutes in the nation by Ophthalmology Times. The Stephenson Cancer Center is a national leader in Phase 1 clinical trials.
“These are things not found everywhere,” Kanady said. “Here in Oklahoma City, they are physically within walking distance of each other. The thing that is necessary to get new cures to market is the ability for really smart people to share ideas with other really smart people. That’s baked into Oklahoma’s ecosystem and community. Oklahoma is really high on the collaboration quotient.”
For years, the economic forces in Oklahoma, from our state legislature’s creation of the Oklahoma Center for Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST), to our world-known research institutions, to private industry, have been investing dollars and talent in infrastructure, initiatives, and startup companies to expand innovation here. We’ve been pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps.
Let’s raise our eyes and raise our goals. There is no reason that Oklahoma City can’t compete with the other ascendant American cities. We have the assets, plus a collaborative spirit. Why wouldn’t that appeal draw talent and institutional capital from either coast?
We need to up our recruiting game. We can make this time of change and disruption work for our state. We are our own secret recipe.
Scott Meacham CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.