Capra Named Innovator of the Year: OMRF President Helped Turn Foundation into Economic Force

Article excerpt

The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation's J. Donald Capra received the overall 2006 Journal Record Innovator of the Year award at a ceremony honoring business innovation Thursday evening at the Reed Center in Midwest City.

Capra earned the award for his role in transforming medical research in Oklahoma into a major economic force.

Through his leadership as president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF) for the past eight years, the foundation has experienced a tremendous amount of success.

Seven companies have successfully spun off from the foundation - InterGenetics, Zapaq, Proteomtech, Riley Genomics, HealthAide, JK Autoimmunity, and Molecular Image. All are developing tests and treatments for life-threatening diseases, and most are doing so right here in Oklahoma City. In the process, these companies are creating high-quality, well-paying jobs that will be a major factor in Oklahoma's economy for years to come.

In addition, two other companies built on OMRF technologies - Bioenvision and Renovis - have gone public and are developing products that could have a major impact on many lives. Together, they have a market capitalization of almost $1 billion.

A pair of drugs based on OMRF discoveries reached the market under Capra's leadership, as well. One is the first-ever FDA- approved drug for severe sepsis, the leading killer in America's intensive-care units. The other is a revolutionary treatment for children suffering from a life-threatening blood deficiency. Together, these treatments have saved countless lives. They have also created combined annual revenues of more than $200 million for the companies that produce them - Eli Lilly and Baxter Pharmaceuticals.

As a result, OMRF is one of the few nonprofits for which technology transfer actually makes money. Last year, with 125 active U.S. patents and 35 active licenses, OMRF made a profit $4 million from technology transfer.

Since 1997, OMRF has more than tripled the amount of competitive grant dollars it received from the federal government. This has catapulted OMRF into the top 20 independent medical research institutes in the country. A newly released survey from the National Institutes of Health shows Oklahoma was among the top 10 fastest- growing states in federal research funding from 2000 to 2004.

There are about 90 independent medical research institutes around the country, and we stack up well against them in just about every category - new company formation, patents, research awards, Capra said. There are some on the coast that are bigger and have greater access to angel and venture financing, but when you look at institutions in the middle of the country, we are really at the very top of the class.

Capra is calling for help from the state Legislature to help accomplish his next goal.

I would love to have the funds to start construction of a research tower, which would allow us to expand our faculty, create a critical mass of scientists and spin off more biotech companies locally. But to do this now rather than in the next decade, we need help from the state. I hope that our legislators have the foresight to see what a crucial investment in the state's future this would be, he said.

As we move forward, I hope we will see more Oklahoma investors step up to provide angel and venture financing in the biotech area, Capra said. …