By Jim Stafford
Copyright © 2013, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
The North Carolina drawl in Clayton Duncan’s voice is straight out of Chapel Hill, but at a recent luncheon he addressed an audience of Oklahoma City’s bioscience leaders as an Oklahoman.
The North Carolina native made a presentation to the Oklahoma Bioscience Roundtable, explaining why he chose Oklahoma to establish a biotech business accelerator rather than the Research Triangle Park.
After selling a North Carolina-based life science business, Duncan looked around to start his “next big thing” as a bioscience entrepreneur.
“I came to Oklahoma almost three years ago, looked around and said ‘this would be a great place to build something,’ Duncan told the audience. “There is a great spirit here.”
Duncan is founder and CEO of Accele Biopharma Inc., and managing director of its companion Accele Venture Partners L.P. venture capital fund.
In little more than a year, Accele Biopharma has invested in three promising life science ventures with a fourth deal about to close.
Turns out Duncan did approach the University of North Carolina about his idea to open a life science accelerator. But the school moved too slowly.
So, he sought advice from a friend and former business associate, Dr. Stephen Prescott, president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
Prescott urged Duncan to check out the possibilities of establishing his accelerator in Oklahoma.
“If Steve Prescott says do something, I’ll do it,” Duncan said.
“So I came out and met with Steve, the Presbyterian Health Foundation and i2E.”
After a couple more visits and the promise of financial support to get the accelerator off the ground, Duncan made the move in 2011 and began raising funds for Accele Venture Partners. By August 2012, he had raised about $10 million mostly from Oklahoma foundations and began making investments.
The companies in the Accele Biopharma portfolio are Pamlico Biopharma, Jortan, Synereca and, soon, Otologics. They have great pedigrees, with research that began in an OMRF laboratory or at the University of North Carolina.
Pamlico is developing an antibody mixture that treats pneumonia.
Jortan is founded on the research of Dr. Jordan Tang at OMRF and is a promising diabetes technology.
Synereca is creating a compound to fight drug-resistant bacterial infections.
When the next deal closes, the fourth company will be Otologics, which is advancing a compound that protects people who are exposed to high decibels from hearing loss and has a lot of interest from the military.
Duncan said Accele will welcome the first “win” from one of its investments, although that doesn’t have to mean an exit or a public stock offering.
“There are some interim steps,” he said. “The first financing we do that brings in dollars to Oklahoma from other venture capitalists outside of the state will help validate what we are doing.”
Meanwhile, he is excited that Accele Biopharma found a home in a state that is committed to nurture life science companies. Oklahoma has life science expertise at OMRF and the University of Oklahoma, protein manufacturing at Cytovance Biologics and the University Research Park in which to grow a business.
“I think this is a good time to be in Oklahoma,” he said. “You have a community that wants to do this, that has put their shoulder to the wheel and said ‘we are going to do something.’ That’s what impressed me.”
Jim Stafford is Communications Specialist with i2E Inc. in Oklahoma City.