When Charlie Streckfus, a professor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMC), discovered a way to identify markers in saliva to serve as a tool for diagnosing breast cancer, he wanted to keep the licensing and manufacturing in Mississippi.
But there was no such opportunity. After searching in Mississippi, UMC eventually licensed the intellectual property to a Wisconsin company that, shortly after, went bankrupt.
“We weren’t sure what we were going to do next,” said Streckfus.
ZoXen Corporation (www.ZoXen.com), one of Mississippi’s first biotech firms, was formed around the concept of commercializing the intellectual properties available in Mississippi.
“Six of the seven founders of Zoxen live and work in Mississippi and have been trying for years to find the right idea and product to create a successful template in order to bring high-tech, high-paying jobs to the state,” said Bob Matthews, chief operations officer for ZoXen Corporation.
David Frank of Boca Raton, Fla., who serves as president and CEO of the company, established ZoXen Corporation with Matthews, CFO Russ Gatlin and four UMC physicians: Streckfus, Lenora Bigler, Stanley Chapman and John Cleary. The name is derived from Zo and Xenios, Greek terms for “life protector.”
“Russ, Stanley and I served together in the Mississippi Air National Guard,” explained Matthews. “I retired a couple of years ago, and we’d been looking for ways to promote Mississippi, so with Dr. Chapman’s influence in the medical community, this was a project we all wanted to get started to bring high-tech jobs to Mississippi, along the lines of what the governor has been talking about.”
Last August, the group signed an exclusive licensing agreement with UMC to commercialize Streckfus’ diagnostic technology.
“We want to make this a poster child on how to develop intellectual properties within the state and within the university system,” said Matthews. “If we’re successful, we’ll use this blueprint to develop other intellectual properties. We’ve already met with folks from The Polymer Institute and people involved with the Mississippi State University technology center, and there are all kinds of possibilities.
“Right now, nobody has broken the nut on how to take intellectual properties to commercialization within the state. There are so many stovepipes and barriers within any university system that it won’t allow it.
“And, like everything else, it boils down to money and getting investors involved. We have a really good business plan, but it revolves around the almighty dollar.”
The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approval process for the Home Test Kit for Breast Cancer is scheduled to begin within the next 12 months. “That cost alone is about $1.5 million, just to get through the two-year approval process,” Matthews pointed out. “We’re fund raising now, and need between $2 million and $2.5 million to really get out of the gate.”
Usually, venture capitalists want 70% to 80% of the company to commercialize intellectual property for patent holders, leaving the founders and inventors out of the loop, said Matthews.
“We’ve had several offers to do that, but the first thing they want to do is take manufacturing outside Mississippi,” he said. “Our founders are adamant about having a Mississippi manufacturer.”
The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians’ Applied Geo Technologies (AGT) recently agreed to manufacture Mobile Medical Gas Utility Stands, invented by Jerry Bridgers, manager of the University Medical Center Biomedical Equipment Department, who was also determined to keep the dollars in-state.
“We can save a lot of lives because of early breast cancer detection that Streckfus’ kit offers,” said Matthews. “Angel investors in Mississippi who want to see their money grow in Mississippi should look into it.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.