Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Innovators: Oklahoma City-Based Selexys Pharmaceuticals

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Innovators: Oklahoma City-Based Selexys Pharmaceuticals

Article excerpt

Oklahoma City-based Selexys Pharmaceuticals has clarified a glass ceiling with the development of a new sickle cell treatment drug.

It's not that Oklahoma lacks for creativity, genius, hard work and economic support to make pharmaceutical development successful, said Rick Alvarez, co-founder of the company and vice president of operations and research. It's a matter of scale.

"We don't have the big firepower of the East Coast or West Coast," he said. "Discovery events are a great limiting step. We have only so many investigators at OMRF (Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation), for example, that are doing biomedical research. So the pace at which discoveries that have the pedigree for drug development isn't great.

"And then there are hurdles after the discovery," he said. "Once a spin-out company is formed, for example, a management team has to be put in place and they have to be able to identify money from state, federal and private investors."

Alvarez said Selexys has been fortunate in tapping state and federal funds - for example, the company's SelG1 program has been supported by a Small Business Innovation Research fast-track award through the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute - but the scale of investment in the final steps of drug development exceeds what is readily available in Oklahoma.

"We've reached the stage now where we've reached tens of millions of dollars," he said. "There's not a place in Oklahoma that I'm aware of that you can raise $20 million. The sophisticated money is on the coasts. So our money will have to come from outside of state."

In 2008, Selexys received the designation of "orphan-drug" for its SelG1 chemical composition from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The SelG1 drug treats vaso-occlusive crisis, a severe and painful complication of sickle cell disease. The orphan drug designation is akin to a small market niche in the medical world, awarded to therapeutics with the potential for treatment, diagnosis or prevention of rare diseases and disorders that affect fewer than 200,000 people. …

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