Stephen Prescott: A decade of Oklahoma research milestones
It’s been a big decade for medical research and biotechnology in Oklahoma. If you haven’t been keeping score, here’s a recap of major developments in our state since 2010.
A towering achievement
Yes, this is banging the drum for my own Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, but when OMRF opened a new 186,000-square-foot research tower in 2011, it represented a transformative moment in the foundation’s history.
It paved the way to bring in almost three dozen new principal scientists since that time and created the OMRF Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence, which now serves more than 3,000 patients from Oklahoma and surrounding states who suffer from MS.
Center of excellence
That same year, the University of Oklahoma opened the Stephenson Cancer Center building. This enabled Stephenson to move patient services, clinical research and administrative functions that had been scattered across the OU Health Sciences Center campus into a single (beautiful) building.
That consolidation eventually played a key role in …
Joining the club
In 2018, Stephenson earned National Cancer Institute designation, making it the first Oklahoma institution to join this elite club of 70 cancer centers around the country.
“It’s critically important that Oklahoma has an NCI-Designated Cancer Center as a resource to address the state’s high cancer incidence and mortality rates,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore. “In addition, NCI designation will have a significant economic impact by opening the door to millions of dollars in grant funding.”
Rejoining the club
This past summer, the National Institutes of Health once again named OMRF one of only 10 Autoimmunity Centers of Excellence in the U.S.
The designation came with a five-year grant of up to $36 million, which will enable a team of scientists led by Judith James, M.D., Ph.D., to conduct projects focused on improving understanding of and treatments for conditions such as lupus, where the body attacks its own tissues.
Back to its roots
The Presbyterian Health Foundation sold its research park to OU in 2013 to provide the university with more lab space for its researchers. With the $85 million from the sale, the foundation returned to its roots as a grant-making philanthropy.
Since that time, PHF has awarded almost $20 million in grants to Oklahoma scientists, with the aim of bringing discoveries to market that enhance the lives of patients.
At the beginning of the decade, Oklahoma-based Crescendo Diagnostics launched its groundbreaking rheumatoid arthritis test, Vectra DA. Used to assess RA disease activity, the test provides rheumatologists with a powerful tool to more effectively monitor and treat patients.
Four years later, Myriad Genetics acquired the company for $270 million.
In March, the state agreed to drop its lawsuit against opioid maker Purdue Pharma in return for $177 million to create the National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment at Oklahoma State University’s Center for Wellness and Recovery in Tulsa. With those funds from Purdue and its owner, the Sackler family, OSU researchers can look for solutions to a statewide and national epidemic.
“Last year alone, out of the more than 3,000 Oklahomans admitted to the hospital for a nonfatal overdose, 80 percent involved a prescription opioid medication,” Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said. “Deploying the money from this settlement immediately allows us to decisively treat addiction illness and save lives.”
A sickle cell breakthrough
Just before Thanksgiving, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new drug from Novartis to treat sickle cell disease. The drug, Adakveo, is based on discoveries made by OMRF’s Rodger McEver, M.D., and developed by Oklahoma City biotechnology company Selexys.
Novartis acquired the company in 2016 for $665 million.
In clinical trials, the new drug significantly reduced pain crises in people with the painful condition, which can lead to stroke, organ damage and even death.
“It’s the dream of every physician, and certainly every scientist, to do something that can make a difference with patients,” McEver said.
Here’s wishing a happy and healthy New Year to you and yours — and another decade of medical research progress to all of us!
A physician and medical researcher, Prescott is president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.