Oklahoma Biotech Innovation Cluster Awarded $35 Million from U.S. EDA

The Oklahoma Biotech Innovation Cluster (OBIC) Initiative, a coalition spearheaded by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber alongside primary partners including the University of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma City Innovation District, and with industry leadership from Echo Investment Capital, has been awarded $35 million through the Build Back Better Regional Challenge of the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

The OBIC coalition is supported by more than 40 partners across academia, tribal nations, government, industry, community, investors and other key stakeholders involved in the continued development of the burgeoning biotechnology cluster in Oklahoma. These partnerships support initiatives across a unique urban-rural region to foster inclusive access to high-wage career pathways, increase R&D programs and partnerships, and expand critical scientific infrastructure that make our region more conducive to commercialization of high-value innovations.

The grant proposal was designed to catalyze the bioscience sector in the Oklahoma City region, taking advantage of groundwork laid in the industry by Oklahoma City leaders over the last 25 years, the growth of new private investment in the region, and the opportunities presented by growing complexities and bottlenecks in the drug development and delivery process.

“This grant presents Oklahoma City with an opportunity to expand its role as a national hub for drug development, testing and manufacturing,” said Roy Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.

“Major scientific advancements are best achieved through strong public-private collaboration, which is exactly what will be accomplished through this coalition,” said OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. “This exciting initiative unites our region’s brightest minds in biotech, and we are grateful that it will leverage OU research expertise to develop life-changing solutions while also fostering economic prosperity for our state.”

OU Vice President for Research and Partnerships Tomás Díaz de la Rubia said, “We saw this as an opportunity to leverage the strong public and private research assets that exist at the University of Oklahoma, in Oklahoma City and in the region to create a vibrant ecosystem here that not only fuels our economy but supports increased commercialization and U.S. manufacturing for new drugs and therapies. This funding, and the strong partnerships cultivated through the coalition’s planning process, will dramatically increase our research output, our ability to connect that research with commercialization resources and capital and our capacity to train the workforce needed to sustain the industry’s growth. This grant moves us one step closer to realizing our vision of a strong biotechnology and biomanufacturing innovation cluster in Oklahoma.”

The interrelated investments in the grant unify the product development pipeline from translational research to testing and manufacturing while providing support (workforce, entrepreneurial start-ups and industry partnerships) to bolster the bioscience innovation ecosystem in the region.

“This kind of collaboration falls squarely within our mission at the OU Health Sciences Center,” said Dr. Gary Raskob, interim senior vice president and provost of the Health Sciences Center. “Through this grant, our researchers will pursue scientific discoveries which can be evaluated and applied in practice, with the goal of improving people’s lives. Biotechnology innovation makes critical contributions to both better health care and to the economic growth of Oklahoma City, and OU is pleased to be part of a team of very talented partners to bring this to fruition.”

The coalition’s plan was developed to seize upon industry shifts that are increasingly advantaging cost-effective and streamlined development ecosystems, enabling life sciences innovators to move seamlessly from ideation to clinical trials and manufacturing, and eventually to market without leaving Oklahoma.

“Many of the new drugs and therapies we need today are being developed in small, agile bioscience companies, which face significant challenges and financial hurdles,” said Christian Kanady, founding partner at Echo. “Oklahoma City has built-in cost advantages for business operation, and when you combine that with an infrastructure that supports the testing and development process, we become a great solution for growing bioscience companies needing access to clinical trial networks and to biomanufacturing, without relying on foreign providers.”

The grant will fund six core investment projects:

  • OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center for Therapeutic – Translational Research Labs: development of 10 translational research labs dedicated to drug discovery within the OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center.
  • Oklahoma Biotech Startup Program – supportive programming to build a vibrant regional biotech startup pipeline led by the University of Oklahoma.
  • The University of Oklahoma Biotech Core Facility – a new facility with state-of-the-art high-throughput, advanced bioprocessing equipment and services for instructors and researchers at OU, local nonprofit organizations like OMRF, and private companies like Wheeler Bio.
  • OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center Early Phase Clinical Trial Network – an initiative to double the size of the existing clinical trial program at OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center, commensurate with the demand for Phase I trials created through accompanying translational science investments and industry growth.
  • Biomanufacturing Workforce Training Center – a new program housed in the Oklahoma City Innovation District to meet the growing demand for skilled labor in the OBIC, which will enable the formation of inclusive, non-degreed career pathways into high-wage jobs.
  • Oklahoma Bioscience Cluster Initiative – an initiative to lead regular convenings of industry leadership, conduct needs assessments, encourage regional connectivity and spur policy advocacy.

The coalition members see their partnership as a real opportunity for success.

“We can strengthen the overall innovation ecosystem and create a high functioning industry cluster,” said Bill Lance, secretary of state of the Chickasaw Nation and a member of the coalition. “By connecting all these components, and creating strong links between the community, universities and industry to advance biosciences development, we will foster commercialization of university-based research and advance industry collaborations. We will also create new job opportunities for diverse populations across the region, a central goal of this initiative.”

This level of engagement recognizes the importance of “connectivity” across research, commercialization, new venture and product development with cluster growth spanning activities from technology development to clinical trials to advanced manufacturing and distribution.

“The coalition created around this work is exemplary of Oklahoma City’s success,” Williams said. “Today’s announcement is only possible due to the partners working together, and the guidance and support of central Oklahoma’s congressional delegation. We appreciate Representatives Bice, Cole and Lucas, as well as Senators Inhofe and Lankford for their support, and particularly our senior Senator Jim Inhofe. He has long championed the work of the Economic Development Administration, and this is truly a tribute to his efforts.  Thanks to the U.S. Economic Development Administration, our region is now equipped with the tools needed to scale this cluster and make Oklahoma a stronger, more inclusive, and resilient economy,” he concluded.

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