July 9, 2007
Technology Innovation Center Company Focuses On Childhood Disease Therapies
A husband-and-wife team has recently formed KemPharm, Inc. to become the 17th tenant at the University of Iowa's Technology Innovation Center. KemPharm, an early phase biopharmaceutical company, is focusing on the discovery and development of new, safer therapies for childhood disease, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
In October 2006 Travis and Christal Mickle moved to Iowa to begin their own company, which started operations at the Technology Innovation Center in April 2007. A native Iowan, Travis knew the UI community would be a good place to start their new company. "The proximity to the university and other researchers and the opportunity to be close to home is what we both wanted," he said.
The couple met while working at New River Pharmaceuticals in Virginia. Travis received his doctorate from UI in bio-organic chemistry studying under one of the leading anti-viral researchers, Vasu Nair, formerly of the UI and now at the University of Georgia.
Travis has authored more than 50 U.S. and international patent applications. He was the primary inventor of an approved drug, Vyvanse, a medication for ADHD, and has several other patent applications pending. Previously, Travis worked as a senior research scientist and director of chemistry where he supervised a scientific team completing research activities in multiple therapeutic areas. He was active in FDA approvals and in DEA meetings representing New River Pharmaceutical's discovery and chemistry group.
Also a chemist, Christal received her master's degree in chemistry from the University of Virginia, where she worked under Timothy Macdonald studying the design and synthesis of compounds used to combat autoimmune diseases such as organ transplant rejection and multiple sclerosis. She has six pending U.S. and international patent applications.
The Mickles say the KemPharm name represents the chemistry field and symbolizes what they both do best in a state they love: Cultivate and engineer older, established drugs to improve safety or reduce side effects.
They don't plan to manufacture their new drugs, but will conduct clinical trails on the drugs they research and test. Christal says, "It's a novel approach to biopharmaceutics that few in the industry are doing today."
Pediatric populations and various forms of cancer treatments are the center of their research. Their interest in childhood disease and ADHD is "a real tug at your heartstrings," says Christal admitting their goal and preference is to improve medicines for young children.
The company is also working to increase patient compliance by improving dispensing methods and how children's medicines are taken. New technologies, such as dissolving oral strips, help children absorb medicines more efficiently.
Travis says KemPharm's management team completed an early round of fund-raising to establish internal research and begin operations. They've developed a working relationship with owners of ViraQuest and Lifetime Research, North Liberty bioprocessing companies, to lease laboratory space.
KemPharm is in the process of appointing advisors who will serve on its board of directors, and the company has hired a CEO to assist operations. Additional employees will be hired during the first three years of operation.
The Mickles say they appreciate the support they've received from others in the area.
Tom Bauer, associate director of the Technology Innovation Center, said, "We're pleased to welcome Travis and Christal and their new venture to the business incubator. They bring scientific expertise along with business savvy from working in a previous venture and we look forward to helping them grow in the Technology Corridor."
Travis said ViraQuest's staff, President Richard Anderson, and Ron Haskell, vice president of research, were encouraging. "Richard and Ron have been a big support. They've discussed a variety of topics that have helped speed up our learning curve."
Anderson, owner of the six-year-old company, had to wade through programs and organizations designed to help start-up companies, but not necessarily bio-tech companies, on his own. "Each bio-tech company is unique," Anderson says. "Space is an issue in the Corridor, mostly because of the cost and building availability."
Anderson is an enthusiastic mentor and ready to fill the gap he experienced starting his company. "We can relate because six years ago we were in their position. Helping startup companies is a small way for us to give back to people who have a passion and a drive to jump off the deep end and start something on their own."
Anderson and Haskell have mentored the Mickles through professional infrastructure issues to find service providers representing financial, legal and insurance services for a new life science company. "Even in an insurance state like Iowa, it's difficult to find coverage for a bio-tech company," Anderson says.
Joe Raso, president of Iowa City Area Development Group, said KemPharm has great potential for growth in the corridor. "They're very entrepreneurial and they've defined their focus within their industry. They'll be a great addition to the corridor community."
The Iowa City Area Development Group helped facilitate office and laboratory space arrangements with UI representatives and continues to work with the couple as the business develops and grows.
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa email@example.com