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Alumni Spearhead Breakthroughs in Medicine

Two University of Oklahoma-educated scientists have spearheaded research efforts behind the development of a promising new therapy.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Two University of Oklahoma-educated scientists have spearheaded research efforts behind the development of a promising new therapy for patients with sickle cell disease. Scott Rollins, Ph.D., and Russell Rother, Ph.D., with Selexys Pharmaceuticals Corp., an Oklahoma-based biotechnology company, have led a team of medical researchers in the development of a novel antibody for treating the illness. The medical breakthrough was based upon technology developed at OU Health Sciences Center.

The life-threatening disease affects over 100,000 people in the U.S., predominantly those of African American descent. “Sickle cell disease is very severe and debilitating and results in significant morbidity and mortality for this underserved population which has not benefitted from a new therapy for over 20 years,” stated Rollins.

In 2008, Rollins, who earned his Ph.D. from OU Health Sciences Center, joined Selexys Pharmaceuticals Corp. as President and CEO. He previously co-founded Alexion Pharmaceuticals in New Haven, Connecticut, where he led the discovery and development of a novel drug for a rare blood disorder through use of medical technology developed in Oklahoma. In 2011, Rollins was joined by Rother, also a Ph.D. graduate of OU Health Sciences Center, at Selexys.

Selexys Pharmaceuticals Corp. develops novel antibody therapeutics for life-threatening diseases such as sickle cell disease. The company was founded in 2002 by three OU faculty members based on their discoveries of selectin technology created while they were at OU Health Sciences Center. In 2012, Selexys signed an option acquisition agreement with Novartis Pharmaceuticals, headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, through which Novartis would acquire Selexys based on the results of a Phase 2 clinical trial in patients with sickle cell disease. The international clinical trial, known as the SUSTAIN study, enrolled approximately 200 patients. Based on its results, Novartis announced that it will acquire Selexys and continue the development and commercialization of the novel antibody.

Following the acquisition, the Selexys management team, that includes Rollins and Rother, transitioned to oversee leadership efforts for another selectin based company, Tetherex Pharmaceuticals. Rollins currently serves as the President and CEO of the company, which is developing novel inhibitors for the treatment of other severe diseases such as Crohn’s disease and cancer. The Tetherex technology also was developed at OU Health Sciences Center. “We will continue to advance the OU-based technology into other diseases such as cancer in the near future. Selexys and Tetherex are great examples of how the Sooner spirit and technology are being brought to bear across the state, the country and the world for the benefit of humanity,” said Rollins.