Last week was the annual Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) International Convention. Every year BIO brings biotechnology leaders and innovators together to showcase cutting edge technologies and to offer a week-long opportunity for participants to network and create partnerships. Attendee’s at last year’s convention included over 15,000 people from more than 60 countries, 300+ academic institutions, top 25 pharma companies, top 20 CROs and CMOs, and 1,800 exhibitors.
This year’s convention was held in Philadelphia, and members of the Bluegrass Business Development Partnership (BBDP) were in attendance. The BBDP includes representatives from Commerce Lexington Inc., the University of Kentucky, and the City of Lexington. The BBDP delegation traveled to BIO to advocate for Lexington and Kentucky, to meet with current prospects, and to develop new leads to bring businesses to the Bluegrass.
Lexington is an ideal location for innovative and high-tech companies, largely for its human assets. In fact, 40.1% of Lexingtonians have a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is considerably more than the national average of 28.8%. Lexington consistently earns high praise for its educated citizens. In 2014, Lexington was ranked the 23rd Most Educated City by Wallet Hub and the World’s 24th Smartest City by National Geographic. Lexington has also ranked #7 Best City in Terms of Business Cost (2014), #7 Best Midsized City for Jobs (2013), and #17 America’s Top 25 High-Tech Hotspots (2013).
Over 50 biotech companies have chosen to locate in Lexington, but two have recently made the news: AntiOp Inc. and Transposagen Biopharmaceuticals.
AntiOp Inc. founder Daniel Wermeling created an anti-overdose nasal spray to help save lives from heroin overdoses and has sold the life-saving product to the biotech firm Indivior, PLC. Depending on FDA approval, it may be on the market within six months. The FDA has fast-tracked the spray because there is an unmet medical need for heroin overdose treatment and the spray offers an innovative response with several advantages over existing injection-based anti-overdose methods. By removing the need for a needle, Wermeling’s invention can be used quickly, safely, and successfully by pre-hospital responders (i.e., on-the-scene law enforcement, paramedics, or even family members), and reduces the recipient’s risk of contracting hepatitis or HIV.
AntiOp, Inc. received approximately $4.5 million in SBIR/STTR funds to create the overdose antidote ($650,000 was returned because Indivior is not based in Kentucky). Wermeling, a University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy professor, created the life-saving nasal spray with support from the University of Kentucky and over $5 million in federal and state tax workers.
UK’s College of Pharmacy is the 5th Best Pharmacy Program in the nation and is an asset to Lexington. The cutting-edge medical research on disease and drug development performed by the grad students, faculty, and staff has benefited the area and the nation. Graduates enrich the workforce and faculty members have created 25 startup companies since 1989, including Wermeling’s AntiOp.
Another excellent example is Transposagen Biopharmaceuticals, a Lexington-based biotech company that has been honored with the Tibbetts Award. The Tibbetts Award is granted for exemplary technological innovation and SBIR achievement. This year the U.S. Small Business Administration granted the Tibbett Award to six individuals, three supporting organizations, and 23 small businesses, one of which was Transposagen.
Transposagen Biopharmaceuticals is a privately held biotechnology company that specializes in genetic manipulation technologies, stem cell engineering services, and creating genetically modified laboratory rats. Altering the genetic code of rat models allows scientists and researchers to compare modified organisms with normal organisms to better understand gene functions and advance medical research on disease and drug discovery.
“We at Transposagen are dedicated to providing improvements to the nation and to the world through application of our industry-leading genome engineering technologies. Receiving the Tibbetts Award is a great honor and further fuels our drive to produce high-quality, versatile gene editing tools that play a significant role in improving the quality of human life,” said Eric Ostertag, M.D., Ph.D., founder and CEO of Transposagen, reported by Globe Newswire.
Last year, Transposagen entered into a multi-million dollar research collaboration and worldwide license agreement with Janssen Biotech, Inc. to develop allogenic cells that may one day be “on the shelf” cancer treatments that will not require a donor-recipient match. Transposagen’s genome editing technologies will be used to create allogenic Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cells (CAR-T) therapies, and Janssen will pay up to $292 million per CAR-T therapy.
AntiOp, UK’s College of Pharmacy, and Transposagen are only a few examples of Lexington’s thriving business industry and the success that entrepreneurs and small businesses can have here in Lexington.