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OU College of Medicine Researcher Continues Commercialization Success

Monday, April 17, 2017 - Campus News -
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Immune therapy research developed by University of Oklahoma College of Medicine scientist William Hildebrand, Ph.D., has taken a significant step toward becoming a therapeutic that could one day help cancer patients.

Hildebrand, a George Lynn Cross Research Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, first began commercializing his research in 1999 with the licensing of his technology to the start-up company Pure Protein. A subsidiary of that company, Pure MHC, this year entered into a research and license agreement with AbbVie, a global biopharmaceutical company. The agreement is to discover and validate peptide targets for use with T-cell receptor therapeutics in several types of cancer.

The agreement marks another success for Hildebrand’s research and OU’s commitment to helping researchers commercialize their discoveries. When Hildebrand arrived at the OU College of Medicine in 1993, he began following a three-phase approach for his research, each of which is still evolving. The first phase was to develop a system to identify targets that distinguish the surface of an unhealthy cell (cancerous or virus-infected) from a healthy cell. The second phase was to find and validate the targets, showing that they could successfully transition into immune therapies. The third was to build actual immune therapies that can be used to treat patients, a step that requires commercialization.

“I have always been a proponent of immune therapies,” Hildebrand said. “They are very specific, very targeted. The immune system has an exquisite ability to target unhealthy cells with very little collateral damage. That’s the goal of immune therapies and vaccines – to target just the cancer cell, the virus-infected cell or the tuberculosis-infected cell -- without harming the healthy cells. To potentially have the specificity component added to immune therapies for cancer is very exciting to me.”

Hildebrand has led a well-funded research laboratory at OU. Since he arrived, he has attracted more than $50 million in funding, is listed as an inventor on 77 patents and has written more than 120 publications. His success with commercialization began in 1998 with the passage of Oklahoma State Questions 680 and 681, which allowed university research to be transformed into start-up companies. With the help of OU’s Office of Technology Development, the OU Health Sciences Center Vice President for Research, James Tomasek, Ph.D., and the Office of Research Administration, Pure Protein and its subsidiaries continue their growth and success.

“We are pleased to be a part of another successful step forward by Dr. Hildebrand and his work,” Tomasek said. “Oklahoma’s biosciences industry is growing in no small part because of the state legislation that allows commercialization of university research. Commercialization is crucial for taking science to the marketplace, and we are pleased to see that Dr. Hildebrand’s research is another step closer to being able to help patients.”

Hildebrand serves as chief scientist for Pure Protein and its subsidiaries. In addition to Pure MHC and its oncology focus, other subsidiaries include Pure Transplant, whose goal is to reduce and potentially eliminate rejection in organ and tissue implantation, and Pure Vaccine, which tests peptide targets in vaccines under development. 

The management company for Pure Protein and Pure MHC is Emergent Technologies. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, Emergent Technologies is an innovative solutions and technology commercialization leader.

“We’re tremendously proud of the effort by the Pure MHC team and Emergent Technologies,” said James Bratton, Assistant Vice President for Economic Development at OU and executive director of its Office of Technology Development. “Without their vision, expertise and dedication, none of this would have been possible. This collaboration with AbbVie demonstrates how commercialization of university research can have a lasting, positive impact on the world.” 

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