OHIO alumnus develops biotech companies in Southeast Ohio
By Andrea Gibson
October 24, 2011
When Ohio University’s Edison Biotechnology Institute was searching for a new Executive-in-Residence to help nurture young biotech companies in Southeast Ohio, Jeff Wiseman seemed like a perfect fit.
Wiseman, an Ohio University alumnus and Chillicothe native, has more than 30 years of experience in drug discovery research for the pharmaceutical industry, including GlaxoSmithKline. He’s also the CEO of his own biotech start-up firm, Pharmatrope, which has developed software that can swiftly identify toxic substances.
Wiseman returned to Athens two years ago to help regional entrepreneurs develop drug discovery, medical device and other biomedical science companies.
“It’s unusual to devote your life to science and business at the same time,” he said. “We help these companies get over the hurdles of learning the basics of business.”
The Executive-in-Residence position is funded by the Edison Biotechnology Institute, the state Edison Incubator program and TechGROWTH Ohio, a state Third Frontier-funded program administered by Ohio University. TechGROWTH provides business assistance and funding to early-stage, high-tech companies. Wiseman works with TechGROWTH and affiliates such as the Technology Transfer Office and Innovation Center as part of a growing “entrepreneurial ecosystem” at the university.
“I’m impressed with the incredible amount of effort we can expend on companies,” he said. “You get an enormous amount of time and assistance from us.”
Wiseman currently is developing business plans for five companies, including three that are offshoots of biotech or high-tech firms in Columbus and Cincinnati. He’s also working closely with two companies based on Ohio University faculty research: Promiliad Biopharma, Inc., a drug discovery firm, and Sanuthera, Inc., a medical device start-up.
Wiseman seeks to develop a variety of biomedical companies that may mature and impact the regional economy in stages. While drug discovery companies typically take longer to launch, due to the lengthy process of acquiring U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approvals, companies that design medical devices or reagents for use in laboratories may have shorter-term potential, he explained.
Finding a manufacturing firm that can develop medical devices invented by university researchers and area entrepreneurs has been a major focus of Wiseman’s recent work. Sanuthera, Inc., for example, is seeking to manufacture an iPod-like device that can treat both hearing loss and tinnitus. Researchers and students in the university’s College of Health Sciences and Professions and the Russ College of Engineering and Technology are designing a range of potential medical products, from diagnostic tools for patients with brain injury to modified wheelchairs for individuals with disabilities.
These projects, coupled with the innovations of a company such as Sanuthera, may provide a steady stream of clients for a manufacturing operation, Wiseman said. He envisions business students, such as those affiliated with Ohio University’s new Center for Entrepreneurship, assisting with creating business plans for these emerging companies.
“Are there a lot of little projects we can identify (for manufacturing)? What if we think small?” he said.
The region is home to not only innovative ideas, but a capable workforce willing to be trained for the life sciences industry, Wiseman added. In addition, the local network of angel investors, the region’s connections to initiatives in the major Ohio cities, and the state’s ongoing efforts to become more business friendly will benefit these emerging companies, he said.
As an affiliate of BioOhio, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the state’s bioscience industry, the Edison Biotechnology Institute has provided business assistance to entrepreneurs since the late 1990s, said David Wight, the institute’s director. Wiseman’s work in the Executive-in-Residence position has significantly enhanced the institute’s support to companies and entrepreneurs.
“Because of his extensive experience in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, he can provide really relevant advice and expertise to the clients,” Wight said. “He’s expanded the breadth and depth of the biotech pipeline in the region.”