By Kevan Goff-Parker
Copyright © 2019, The Oklahoman
PHILADELPHIA — Three Oklahoma State University researchers this week have been connecting face-to-face with some of the world’s top bioscience companies during the 2019 BIO International Convention in Philadelphia.
As part of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber’s branded Oklahoma Bioscience Association (OKBio) delegation, the three OSU-based delegates have been making the most of their meetings with top pharmaceutical and bioscience company representatives.
The team consists of Jacob Mahaffey, assistant director of OSU Research Foundation’s Cowboy Technologies LLC; Joshua D. Ramsey, associate professor and Robert N. Maddox Faculty fellow; and Heather Gappa-Fahlenkamp, professor and interim head, Anadarko Petroleum chair, Graduate Program director at the Laboratory of Tissue Science and Engineering.
OSU’s goal is to make people’s daily lives better, Mahaffey said. Cowboy Technologies has more than 40 technology research projects in its portfolio that researchers are working to get to market for medical applications.
Ramsey said Cowboy Technologies and the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) both are $150,000 grant investors in supporting an innovation he’s helping to develop with one of his former OSU lab students, Momen Amer, who recently finished his Ph.D. The application is a newly designed multichamber, single-use bio (cellular) reactor containing disposable bags that eliminates the need for sterilizing and cleaning in place.
“We’re working to commercialize our product and basically translating it from the lab into the commercial sphere where the product can benefit the people of Oklahoma and beyond,” he said.
He said OCAST, Cowboy Technologies and OSU’s new product development center are working to start a new company based in Oklahoma.
“We’ve a great time at the conference,” Ramsey said. “It’s allowed us to sit down across the table from high-level decision makers from companies that might be interested in supporting our research or supporting our technology.”
After Gappa-Fahlenkamp earned her Ph.D. in chemical engineering from OSU, she worked for an Oklahoma-based engineering and biotech company, Sciperio Inc., but later transferred to Florida after the original company spun off its bioscience arm. The new company was renamed VaxDesign.
Although she stayed a couple of years working on a contract related to the rapid vaccine assessment program for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), she eventually wanted to return to Stillwater and to work at OSU.
“A lot of us moved to Orlando, Florida, from Oklahoma because there wasn’t a lot of bio support from the state at that time (early 2000s),” Gappa-Fahlenkamp said. “Florida wanted to specifically grow bio and had lots of incentives for new companies, so that’s unfortunately why we relocated there. We worked on what’s called an artificial immune system, part of an initiative through DARPA, where they wanted to rapidly develop vaccines for U.S. military’s armed services.”
Once she returned to work on the faculty at OSU, Gappa-Fahlenkamp continued her research on tissue engineering by mimicking human cells and eventually developed a blood testing system (rare event imaging) that will help provide drug companies and others with additional platforms to test different cell models that are not dependent on testing the human body or animals.
“I was happy in the bio industry, but I decided that if I was going to go back into academia, I wanted to go back to OSU,” Gappa-Fahlenkamp said. “I’ve continued in the same area of tissue engineering to design better models to predict what’s going on in the body.”
Gappa-Fahlenkamp hopes bioscience companies eventually will be interested in partnering with her and OSU on licensing the intellectual property involved in her research.
“I’m originally from Oklahoma, and I believe that the people here and at OSU have a good opportunity to grow in biomedical engineering,” she said. “There’s a lot of great things going on in this state that are being well-supported. I believe we can have a significant effect on the health care industry, and we have a lot of people at OSU working in tissue engineering, drug delivery applications and drug design.