By Paula Burkes
Copyright 2017, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
Annual sales for 2-year-old Oklahoma City-based Ultra Botanica dietary supplement manufacturer are on track to hit $1 million this year, CEO Adam Payne said.
Every month, he said, thousands of customers — via Amazon.com, ultrabotanica.com, international distributors or through their doctors’ offices — are buying $29.50 or $56.50 bottles of “UltraCur” branded capsules that contain a highly absorbent form of curcumin, an ingredient in the Asian plant Tumeric that’s been shown not only to relieve inflammatory aches and pains, but also to lower the incidence of Alzheimer’s and prostate and pancreatic cancers.
“Doctors are starting to understand how the material works,” Payne recently said from his office at 120 NE 26, where the product is made and he employs nine others.
“It’s not just nutritional support, but — like clowns in a rodeo — curcumin helps balance out the negative aspects of the immune system in a positive way,” he said.
The company recently introduced a new product to help relieve arthritis in older dogs.
By all accounts, 52-year-old Payne — who speaks fluent Russian and holds a master’s degree in business administration — is on top of his game in the biotech industry.
But that hasn’t always been the case. A former leading management and marketing consultant in Russia, veteran entrepreneur and half the former Alpha-Bio Partners that helped start up several Oklahoma City biotech companies in the 2000s, Payne in 2008 stepped down from Altheus Therapeutics, a company that he co-founded and venture-funded and that manufactured a drug to treat inflammatory bowel disease.
The drug ultimately failed in 2014, in Phase 2 of clinical trials. It was proved to work in animals, but not in humans.
But drinking and drug use were behind Payne’s collapse.
“2008 was a dark moment for me,” Payne said. “I thought I was at the top of my game, but I was still battling, losing and struggled so hard. I was out of control and couldn’t stop,” he said.
Payne already had lost his first marriage and family, because of his addictions, four years before. Then, he lost his reputation in the industry.
“Nobody trusted my leadership or wanted to invest in my startups,” Payne said. “I needed a relationship with i2E (an Oklahoma City organization that helps move ideas from innovation to enterprise), and nobody wanted to have anything do with me for years,” he said.
With the support of his second and current wife — a physician assistant — Payne checked himself into a 30-day inpatient recovery program at Valley Hope in Cushing, and eventually — gradually — things changed.
Along with a leadership change at i2E, Payne built a solid track record, including serving with Mike Centola as co-CEO of Haus Bioceuticals, which manufactures MetaDerm ointment to treat eczema and psoriasis, using natural herbs from India.
Payne separated from Haus to focus on Ultra Botanica and the curcumin-rich UltraCur capsules — a focus that he said was a calling from God.
“I didn’t do this to make myself rich, or prove how great I am,” Payne said. “There’s a greater purpose to what we’re doing than making money for shareholders,“ he said. “We’re helping people have better lives.”
A Boston native with Russian Jewish roots, Payne said he grew up in a Jewish home but, after the accidental death of a good friend, found Christianity and a purpose for life, when Jesus came to life for him through a Christian he met at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
But, despite his lifelong faith, Payne struggled with drugs, he said, until reaching a low point in 2008, when he joined Alcoholics Anonymous. It was 2012 before he finally had no desire or need to use, he said.
“Until then, I didn’t know how to surrender,” Payne said, “and to win, I had to surrender, let God be God, and get out of the way.”
Today, Payne not only leads a promising biotech startup, but also has strong relationships with all four of his children, ages 7 to 25. The two oldest live and work in Russia, which is their mother’s homeland.