Commercializing Research, Assets
Medical research that could help fight cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and even hemorrhaging is being advanced right here in Shreveport.
Segue, a group of five companies that are part of the Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program (EAP), is licensing technologies from area universities. Those assets are advancing medical research and commercializing North Louisiana’s academic and research assets.
Segue has secured more than $1.1 million in grants recently to further the research and commercialization of compounds that address Alzheimer’s, pulmonary fibrosis and cancer.
Oleolive, one of the companies under the Segue umbrella, recently received a Phase 1 AFWERX Small Business Innovation Research grant for technology to aid with the care of wounded special operations warfighters in austere environments.
“This opportunity came about in a discussion with someone who actually had a patent filed for production of powdered, platelet-rich plasma, which we think will be effective in not only wound care but also hemostasis, stopping bleeding,” said Jim Cardelli, co-founder. “One thing led to another, and we went in and filed for Phase One, which was to find an Air Force office that could back development of this product to bring it to the military. We found that office and have since filed a Phase Two application to develop this product more carefully, hopefully with the idea of bringing it not only into the military, but it may have applications in the civilian population.”
The work being done now with powdered platelets involved soldiers donating their blood and receiving it back as platelets. This eliminates the prospects of negative reactions, Cardelli said, since it is the patient’s blood. Oleolive plans to research and develop a universal application for the product.
“In the future, we're trying to make a product that could be drawn from anybody and pooled, and then we would make a universally available product,” said Dr. Alana Gray, co-founder. “That part's going to have a lot more FDA regulations involved and things like that. We're starting with what's called autologous right now, and then we're going to expand to something more universal.”
Cardelli said stopping blood loss is critical to surviving wounds suffered on a battlefield or in other austere environments. The civilian example he cites is a farmer who is injured in a remote field, without easy access to medical service. Cardelli said the team anticipates the product would have a huge impact on traumatic wound care.
“Right now, there is no powdered platelet commercially available,” he said. “There's powdered plasma, and that certainly has coagulation factors, and that's better than saline. Our product, if it works the way we think it works, people told us it would be gamechanging in terms of the treatment of wounded people.”
Oleolive was formed out of the first licensing agreement with the University of Louisiana-Monroe, negotiated by Segue Science Management. Oleolive extracts Oleocanthol from olive oil. Oleolive has received two grants from the National Institute of Health’s National Institute on Aging to research the compound’s effects on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
The other four companies under the Segue umbrella are: Segue Therapeutics, the parent company; Segue Tx Pancreatic Cancer, a drug-repurposing company; Segue Science Labs, the group’s research and development arm; and Segue Science Management, which handles licensing, commercialization and technology transfer. In three years, Segue companies have licensed four technologies from three universities — ULM, LSUHCS and Auburn University.
The Segue team uses its extensive experience with scientific research and grant writing to secure the funds for the research that they do. And they also tap into the commercial aspects of the technology and products to create revenue streams that support the business side of the operations as well. Oleolive, for example, markets products for healthy aging.
Gray said that’s how the work on powdered platelets came about.
“Even though it's a very lucrative technology that can help a lot of people, and there's some preliminary evidence to suggest that it's effective, nothing was really being done with it,” she said. “It's patented technology that was just sitting there and not being commercialized. So when it was brought to our attention, our first reaction was, ‘That's not really what we do.’ But we do have experience in getting funding for projects and moving things to a commercial point. It was all about getting the grant, because that's just not something that we had funds for or that we were focused on.”
Ultimately, the group wants to continue to build its relationships with local universities and startups to assist them in commercializing potentially life-saving technologies.
Dave Smith, executive director of EAP, said Oleolive’s model for growth and success is the kind of success story the BRF and EAP want foster and replicate.
“They are definitely a success story for the region,” Smith said. “One of the unique aspects of what they've done is they've gone out and licensed university technology. Then they've taken that technology and done their own research. They’ve generated even more intellectual property to coincide with what they licensed. You don't see that every day. In the end, that generates real value when they do that.”
Cardelli, Grey and Dr. David Coleman began working together as researchers at LSUHSC.
“We were doing research in several areas, including fibrotic disease,” Coleman said. “We knew we had an opportunity to continue developing our technology. But we saw that outside of the academic world would probably be best.”
They turned to the BRF and EAP as partners in their transition from academia to entrepreneurship.
“They're just a great fit for us at the BRF,” Smith said. “They needed the lab. When you look at us, we only deal in specialty space. We don't do general office space. If you need general office space, there's a lot of that downtown. But if you need specialty space, we’ve got specialty space for that, and all of our labs are full now. We're happy about that.”
It’s also where the Segue team found their CEO, Kiley Grant, who started out as Segue’s financial analyst with EAP.
“Jim and I developed a good relationship when I was at BRF,” Grant said. “All along, I had been interested in the biomedical space. Not by degree, but just very interested. That’s the area I thought I could enjoy being involved day to day. Jim had a great CV but no business experience. We brought different skill sets. They could understand the business side, and I could understand the science.”
Smith said Oleolive was one of the fastest growing companies in Louisiana in 2019. He added that growth curve for Oleolive and similar companies continues to climb.
“What's really great for us as a region is, the more research you're able to perform in your geographic area, the more opportunities you generate for scientists like Jim Caredelli, Elena Gray and David Coleman,” Smith said. “We need to win $100 million a year in that. That would change the landscape for us if we could do that.
“You start with Segues and Oleolives and you keep building on those, and at the same time you work with your academic institutions on the commercialization. They’ve got to be there. They're the ones producing the intellectual property that people like Segue and Oleolive can license. We've got to have that.”
Grant said Oleolive’s success is a tribute to the relationships that have formed.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “the reason we’ve gotten beyond the idea phase is because we have found a team that works insanely well together, and we’ve been able to execute.”