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Pharmaceutical Company in Kentucky Receives SBA Funds for R&D

Photo of Ray Takigiku, Ph.D. co-founder of Bexion Pharmaceuticals

Brief description of the business:

New estimates show the cost of developing a single prescription drug that gains market approval at $2.6 billion. The further a drug goes into this process, from R&D to clinical trials to manufacturing, the more costly this financial roadblock becomes. Although it was a hurdle for Kentucky-based Bexion Pharmaceuticals, the team will not give up on what is shaping up to be perhaps a life-changing and sought after cancer treatment. This first-in-class biologic, BXQ-350, provides a novel mechanism of action for targeting and eliminating tumor cells.

“Our technology targets ubiquitous areas on tumors – all solid tumors express a certain type of fat molecule which our drug essentially attacks and causes the tumor to die,” explains company founder, Dr. Ray Takigiku. “It’s a synthetic structure that is identical to a human protein in managing cellular debris. First, through recognition of that fat molecule on tumor cells, this protein then proceeds to process the tumor cell as it would cellular debris, and in so doing disposes of the tumor cell.”

SBA Assistance:

The Bexion project began with a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Institutes of Health in 2009. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) helps Americans to start, grow and succeed with their own companies. One key way the SBA accomplishes its goals is through two programs: one the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the other Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR). Through these competitive programs, SBA ensures that the nation’s high-tech, innovative, small businesses are a significant part of the federal government’s research and development (R&D) efforts.

These programs have helped tens thousands of small businesses over the years. SBA recognizes the cream of the crop—those companies and individuals across the country that have used their SBIR/STTR funds to advance technological innovation and stimulate economic growth, with its Tibbetts Awards. Bexion Pharmaceuticals received a Tibbetts Award for its participation in the SBIR Phase I and II award programs.

Staying power:

Since 2009, Bexion has leveraged several SBIR grants to help pay for the costly process of drug development and clinical trials, which are specially targeted for brain tumors. In 2013, Bexion was the only therapeutic recipient of the prestigious “Bridge Award” for $3 million to support testing of BXQ-350 in the clinic. Takigiku admits that the focus is not necessarily linked to market size, but rather tailored to those sorts of cancers where treatments just simply do not exist.

“We were really gutsy enough to throw some pretty vicious tumors at this technology, and we saw enough of an improvement where we said, you know, we really have to keep going on this,” added Takigiku.

Perhaps one of the most serendipitous points was being located in the state of Kentucky – one of the only states in the nation that has a matching funds program. The Kentucky SBIR/STTR  Matching Funds Program is funded by the Cabinet for Economic Development, Office of Entrepreneurship, and provides matching funds up to $150,000 for Phase I grants and up to $500,000 per year for two years for Phase II grants. This dollar for dollar match was invaluable for Bexion getting off the ground and positions Kentucky as a preeminent state in which to conduct biomedical research and development.

“We received our matching funds from Kentucky just three weeks after we received the federal Phase I grant,” stated Takigiku. “That equated to another year’s worth of life for us. When we were deciding whether or not to set up shop in Kentucky or across the river in Ohio, this was a no-brainer.”

After receiving three Phase I awards, one Phase II award, and a Phase II Bridge award, Bexion has gone on to attract $17 million in both private investment capital and state funding. The company has also received funding from the Kentucky Enterprise Fund (KEF), a state-sponsored, venture capital-like fund that invests in Kentucky-based seed and early state technology companies.

Response to adversity or problems:

With the company at a pivotal point, Takigiku was proud to accept the 2015 SBA Tibbetts Award for excellence in SBIR/STTR and attributes the program for the success of Bexion thus far. “This is make or break time for us, it’s a milestone type of event, and this is where the strengths of the SBIR program really show – they are not afraid to try something new and unique and test the waters.” Takigiku is focused on the next 2 – 5 and hopes to find the right large pharmaceutical or biotechnology partner with which to partner.

“Bexion is an example of exactly why the SBIR/STTR program exists,” said Ralph Ross, Director for the SBA Kentucky District Office. “Without this program, small businesses would be severely challenged in obtaining funding for such cutting edge research.”

Number of employees:

Bexion Pharmaceuticals was founded in 2006 with two employees and technology licensed from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Today, Bexion is a small team of five individuals with advanced degrees in science and business who are readying the company for its first stages of clinical trials later this year. Clinical trials for BXQ-350 will include treatment of Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM), a deadly form of brain cancer. Further clinical studies may expand the market for other types of cancers, both as the primary or adjuvant therapy. In February of 2015, Bexion obtained FDA Orphan Drug Status for the primary active in BXQ-350 against GBM.

Learn more about SBA’s loan programs, free counseling services and other small business programs at www.SBA.gov, your lender, and your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC), SCORE Chapter or Women’s Business Center.

Company Name: 
Bexion Pharmaceuticals, LLC
Location: 
632 Russell Street, Covington, KY 41011