Biotech in OKC: driven by discovery
Editor's note: this history of scientific discovery in Oklahoma City is a first chapter in our multimedia feature "Brilliant: Soaring Science from a Rising Bio Campus". We hope this intro on Biotech in OKC encourages you to check out the "Brilliant: Soaring Science from a Rising Bio Campus" feature story on greateroklahomacity.com and share it with family, friends, neighbors and potential residents/investors.
The bioscience industry of discovery has discovered the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF). Given its exciting findings and the remarkable array of resources it offers the pharmaceutical world, the institution has long since transcended its Oklahoma roots - i.e. the ‘O’ in OMRF.
One of the latest examples of OMRF’s far-reaching impact is a prestigious agreement with the pharmaceutical maker GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) in London. As part of its program to connect with international academia’s most promising investigations, the British GSK seized the opportunity to collaborate with OMRF’s Dr. Charles Esmon and his team, which includes Xiaomei Zhang, Ph.D. and Jun Xu, Ph.D. What brought GSK to OKC? The promise of preventing organ damage and death caused by acute conditions like pancreatitis, lung injury and trauma – based on the discoveries of Esmon and his colleagues at OMRF.
Of course, OMRF’s new collaborative partner, GlaxoSmithKline, has likewise grown well beyond its “G” stage and succumbed to mere initials.
Glaxo dates back to 1873 in Bunnythorpe, New Zealand. With the 2000 merger of Glaxo Wellcom with SmithKline, the brand became GSK.
GSK’s goal is to advance Esmon’s latest findings on pathogenic-fighting proteins to prevent multi-organ failure and use them to create a marketable therapeutic. The result will hopefully prevent organ damage and death caused by conditions such as acute pancreatitis, lung injury and trauma.
With some of the world’s foremost immunologists and cardiovascular biologists, OMRF has become one of the nation’s leading independent medical research institutes. OMRF scientists have helped develop medications that fight deadly illnesses and change lives.
In the realm of scientific partnerships, OMRF’s work touches nearly every corner of the globe. Each year, OMRF researchers publish papers or join on grants with scientists across the U.S. and in dozens of countries. Research topics range as far and wide as its collaborators investigations, from rare diseases to the most prevalent diseases facing patients today. The work illuminates pathways to improve the human condition in countless ways.
FEATURED SCIENTISTS FOR COLLABORATION
OMRF’s Technology Ventures program presents more than a dozen of its scientists, detailing their areas of interest, research highlights and recent publications including associated abstracts.
Featured Technologies for Collaboration offers OMRF investigations of Sjögren’s Syndrome; lupus, stroke and cancers of the brain, liver and breast; and colorectal cancer.
ALZHEIMER’S AND BRAIN DISEASES
Scientists in the Aging and Metabolism Research Program have a common interest in the metabolic basis of age-related disease and in extending the health of an aging population. Investigators study a variety of age-related diseases integrated across multiple organ systems, including heart failure, diabetic cardiomyopathy, macular degeneration, osteoarthritis, muscle loss and neurodegenerative disorders.
The Nathan Shock Center for Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging was established in 2015 with a grant from the National Institutes of Health. It is one of only six Shock Centers nationwide. Through the center, researchers from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, OMRF and the Veterans Administration Medical Center work together to address the ways aging impacts disease and changes that occur in aging that predispose people to disease.
BATTLING BRAIN CANCER
At the forefront of cancer research nationwide, OMRF scientists discovered a compound that, in laboratory animals, has been effective at shrinking a deadly form of brain cancer known as glioblastoma.
OMRF has partnered with OU’s Stephenson Cancer Center to conduct clinical trials on the compound. An estimated 12,000 Americans are diagnosed with glioblastoma each year, according to the American Brain Tumor Foundation.
HEART/BLOOD DISEASES AND BEYOND
Researchers in OMRF’s Cardiovascular Biology Research Program have made findings related to many human diseases, including heart attack, stroke, septic shock, cancer, lymphedema and inflammatory bowel disease. Studies are also underway to develop therapies to treat ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and colon cancer.
OMRF led the development of the FDA-approved drug Ceprotin, a therapy for children suffering from protein C deficiency, a life-threatening blood-clotting disorder. With a new grant, OMRF researchers are studying the role of an immune cell linked to asthma, which affects more than 10 percent of children ages 5-14.
OMRF scientists are exploring ways to stop the diabetic’s inability to process sugars – since it creates a constant over-activation of the heart. Their new findings are providing a better understanding.
“This discovery helps us build models of what causes lupus, which can spark other ideas for targeting pathways with interventions and drugs,” said OMRF researcher Patrick Gaffney, M.D., on the team’s collaborative discovery of NCF1, a gene that plays a role in lupus.
OMRF physician-scientists treat more than 6,000 patients suffering from lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases at clinics here and conduct more than 40 clinical trials.
Led by principal investigator Judith James, M.D., Ph.D., and her team, OMRF is one of only 10 Autoimmunity Centers of Excellence (ACE) sites nationwide, including the University of Chicago, Harvard and Stanford. One of James’ most passionate recruits, Dr. Eliza Chakravarty, moved to OKC from Stanford.
Based on those findings, OMRF won a $7 million NIH grant to build a vast biorepository “deep freeze” and attendant clinical facilities.
TOP SCIENTIFIC TALENT IN OKC
OMRF has been a magnet for some of the top researchers in America, like Bob Axtell, Ph.D., who joined OMRF from Stanford University in 2013. He works closely with physicians at OMRF’s Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence to understand why MS behaves differently from other autoimmune diseases. By combining their strengths in clinical medicine and basic research, Axtell hopes to identify and develop prognostic tests that will bring personalized clinical care for patients with MS.
In 2015, Axtell and OMRF physician Gabriel Pardo, M.D., published their first collaborative paper in the Journal of Immunology. It provided a landmark moment in translational medicine for a pair of scientists at OMRF.
OMRF AT A GLANCE