Workshop: Partnerships key to bioscience success

Published: Wednesday, November 18, 2009 7:00 am

The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY - A small bioscience company may make a revolutionary discovery that could alter the treatment course for a deadly disease.

But without partnerships with investors and pharmaceutical companies, the research might never make it out of the lab.

Members of Oklahoma's bioscience industry heard about successful partnerships Tuesday from several national leaders. The workshop was sponsored by OKBio, a nonprofit group that supports the state's cluster of bioscience companies.

"To help these companies grow, we're trying to provide them the information they need," said Robin Roberts Krieger, executive vice president of economic development, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. "Locally grown biotech companies tend to stay in the area, offer good-paying jobs and have a highly educated work force. Occasionally we can recruit in those businesses, but they are the types of companies we are looking to grow locally."

Dr. John "Wick" Johnson, senior director of worldwide business development for Pfizer Inc., said researchers need to attend biotech and pharmaceutical business meetings, of which there are 50 or more worldwide. During those gatherings, researchers and company leaders can pitch their concept to someone like Johnson, who can tell them if it's got a future.

"One thing that is underappreciated by companies is that you may think you're off the radar, but you're not," said Johnson, who earned his degrees at Oklahoma State University.

Smaller startup companies tend to have the tenacity to stick with an idea, even if they're told no by big pharmaceutical companies, Johnson said.

"They will usually try a different approach because of the resources they've put into it and their belief in it," he said. "In many cases, they will come up with something that gives them proof of concept in an animal model."

Johnson said the future of biotech startups may be in the fallout from mergers and acquisitions. Pfizer, when it merged with Parke-Davis, closed a large facility in Michigan and let go many employees, he said. The same consolidation will happen now that Pfizer has bought Wyeth, he said. If former staff members from the acquired companies can raise the money to get started, they will be viable biotech companies, he said.

In Oklahoma, the potential is good as well, Krieger said. The opportunities in Ardmore and Stillwater lean more toward plant and animal science, she said, and in Oklahoma City, it's life and human sciences, because of nearby entities like the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.

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