Selexys a local success story for entrepreneurship
By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2016, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
The “exit” is the holy grail for any startup, especially for a biotechnology company.
Millions of dollars and years of time go into the development of a new therapeutic. If it works, a pharmaceutical company will take a new drug to market; if not, the time and money spent in development and testing will be lost.
For early stage biotechnology investors like i2E, it is a very long game.
But when one of those long games concludes with the startup being acquired by the second largest pharmaceutical company in the world with the resources to take a potentially groundbreaking therapy to market to improve millions of patients’ lives—the long game seems well worth it.
Last week Novartis (with a reported $57 billion in revenue and $9.9 billion in R&D) announced the acquisition of Oklahoma-based Selexys Pharmaceuticals Corporation and its SelG1 antibody for the reduction of pain associated with sickle cell disease (SCD).
SCD, a life-long hereditary blood disorder, can cause horrific, even life-threatening pain. Novartis exercised its exclusive right, granted in 2012, to acquire after Selexys reported the results of a Phase II trial linking SelG1 to a significant drop in sickle-cell related pain crisis.
The Selexys exit (which could exceed $650MM in acquisition and milestone payments) is of tremendous significance to Oklahoma. It’s a remarkable story of a great team and a great technology, and a testimonial to the ability of Oklahoma researchers and Oklahoma-based startup capital to create world-class therapeutics.
This has not always been the case in Oklahoma as Scott Rollins, now the former President and CEO of Selexys after the Novartis acquisition, well knows.
Born and raised in Oklahoma, Scott started his career as an immunologist, earned his Ph.D. in microbiology/immunology from the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, and discovered and patented a new therapeutic. However, at the time, there wasn’t the infrastructure to support a biotech startup in Oklahoma.
So, Scott went East and joined the faculty at Yale. He and some other principals co-founded Alexion (NASDAQ: ALXN), a Connecticut company based on that Oklahoma technology. Alexion now reports $2.54 billion in annual sales and 2,924 employees.
After Alexion’s drug Soliris received FDA approval in 2008, Scott brought his nearly two decades of experience back to Oklahoma, taking the job of CEO of Selexys. After his 17 years at Alexion, Scott knew what to do.
He found partners in the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) and i2E. OCAST provided early grant funding; i2E was the first private institutional investor and participated in each of Selexys’ fund raising rounds.
This first big exit in the biotech space validates i2E’s efforts to launch new therapeutics in Oklahoma while we invest our returns in more startup companies through the next long game. As for Scott, he is leading another new Oklahoma bioscience company.
This is the virtuous cycle of entrepreneurship—and it’s happening right here in Oklahoma.
Did you know? More than 100 million people worldwide carry the sickle cell trait. Source: American Society of Hematology
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 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.