When James Lucot, Ph.D., oversaw the work of undergraduate David Helton in his laboratory in the early 1980s, he admired Helton’s intelligence and self-motivation.
He never imagined that two decades later, Helton would found a biomedical research company and approach his former mentor to establish a novel and very promising partnership.
“Typically, when we interact with business, it’s fee-for-service. We pay them for something, or they pay us for data,” said Lucot, now a professor of pharmacology and toxicology and director of the medical school’s Dilute Nerve Agent Facility.
In contrast, a new agreement between Wright State and Cenomed Research, the company Helton founded, establishes a much more cooperative and wide-ranging working relationship.
“This is a collaborative effort in which the company and the university co-develop and co-own (new drugs),” Lucot said. “We will share patents, royalties, bonuses for meeting government contract milestones— with this kind of arrangement, we benefit from all of the additional income from success.”
In addition to long-term profit potential, the agreement allows each partner to draw on the specific strengths and capabilities of the other. For example, Lucot’s lab is one of only a handful in the nation certified by the government to perform certain types of studies involving chemical warfare agents. A primary initial focus of the collaborative research will be to develop more effective central nervous system-active drugs to treat patients poisoned by such substances.
“The treatment for chemical warfare agents has been around, unchanged basically, for 40 years,” Lucot said.
He hopes his research with Helton will lead to significant improvements in two of the three components involved in treating people exposed to nerve agents, which are also key to treating pesticide exposure. Assuming their efforts bear fruit, the partnership should allow Lucot and Helton to develop, test, and bring new drugs to market much more quickly than they could otherwise, possibly within three to four years.
The accelerated timeline is possible because of the expertise, perspective, and resources Helton brings to the partnership. For example, he knows which vendors to approach to obtain critical components such as synthesized molecules to study directed motor receptor mechanisms. He also has a detailed understanding of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s needs and processes, and he enables Lucot’s lab to compete for government research grants that require industry involvement.
Building on the initial agreement, Helton also hopes to establish new private research labs in Ohio, attract venture capital, and apply for an Ohio Third Frontier grant. Doing so would mean setting firm goals to create approximately 80 new jobs and produce a drug that could earn FDA approval to commence clinical trials within three to five years.
This kind of ambitious effort is possible, in large part, because Helton and Lucot worked with Jack Bantle, Ph.D., Wright State’s vice president for research and graduate studies, to make the agreement flexible enough to allow the partners to pursue new opportunities together quickly and easily.
“Whenever something comes down the road, we just add an amendment,” Lucot explained.
In addition to the many benefits to his research, Lucot has personally enjoyed reconnecting with his former student and learning about his success since those early days in the laboratory. Their shared history is a big part of what makes the agreement effective, Lucot believes.
There has to be trust on both sides,” he said, and having that early experience in common “really increases the level of trust from the get-go.”
In fact, he added, even after so much time, “it’s amazing how much we think alike. He reminded me of some valuable lessons that I had lost track of.”
Lucot admits that two decades in environments as different as industry and academia have certainly had their impact, but he considers their varied experience and perspectives an advantage. “We sort of balance each other out in terms of our enthusiasm versus focus,” he said. VS