A local biotech company has a $2 billion endowment and a mission to “de-risk” research

Finding a clinical-stage biotechnology company in the heart of Kansas City might seem incongruous. “People tend to think of us as ‘flyover’ territory,’” says Brent Kreider, president of BioMed Valley Discoveries. However, since 2007, this member of the Stowers group has been doing research that may lead to treating the world’s most deadly diseases.

Kreider says the company is committed to improving the lives of patients with difficult-to-treat diseases. BioMed Valley Discoveries is funded by the Stowers Institute, a medical research institute also located in Kansas City, where scientists are able to pursue research without worrying about constantly searching for grant monies. This unique situation is the result of the philanthropic vision of the institute’s founders, James and Virginia Stowers. James created American Century Investments, an investment management firm. As cancer survivors, the couple decided to invest their personal fortune in the creation of a center for scientific research. Their endowments, totaling over two billion dollars, made them among the world’s most generous givers.

Kreider, who has a Ph.D. in microbiology, came to Kansas City after having spent five years in Washington, D.C., fifteen years in Philadelphia and sixteen years in Boston working for three different biomedical researchers.

In an interview, Kreider described the unique approach BioMed Valley Discoveries takes to finding cures for diseases that are considered incurable. BioMed Valley works in what’s called translational science, which means applying laboratory discoveries to real-world use. Often, promising scientific discoveries aren’t given proper follow-up because there’s a gap in the path between those discoveries and profitability. With funding from the Stowers Institute, BioMed is in a unique position to confirm or disconfirm those discoveries, which is called “de-risking.”

How is the company structured? There are ten of us working with hundreds of people and dozens of companies around the world to deploy their resources, labs and skill sets toward finding treatment for some of the most difficult-to-treat diseases.

Do you anticipate submitting newly discovered drugs for FDA approval? We ultimately would want to de-risk a drug for what’s called “proof of concept,” meaning that it has demonstrated reasonable technical and commercial potential. Right now some of our work is focused on what is called an “orphan disease”—one that is extremely rare and therefore not typically studied. If successful, we could then be in a position to take the drug to registration.

What is one of the most interesting concepts you’re developing? We have collaborated with Johns Hopkins to develop bacterial spores that are injected into tumors. The spores then create an infection that destroys the tumor from the inside out. That’s a very unique therapy. The clinical work has been done in collaboration with MD Anderson Cancer Center, and we continue to discuss how best to deploy this technique. We’re also working with the National Cancer Institute to create antibodies to target tumor antigens not found on normal cells and then deliver a toxic payload to kill the tumor.

Do you also work with other facilities that approach you for collaboration? We are working with labs in Germany and the U.K. that are looking at our ERK inhibitor, which targets cancer cell growth on pediatric low-grade gliomas. It works really well in vitro, and we’re moving forward for justification to do a clinical trial in the EU.

How has the Stowers Institute enabled this type of research to progress? Jim and Virginia wanted to create a facility like ours in order to allow scientists to do their best work here. They wanted to put data and science first, and that’s really hard to do. Because of the funding the Stowers Institute provides, we have incredible resources. If we can eventually develop out-license therapies, then any profit would return to the Institute for continued funding.

Did the pandemic negatively affect BioMed Valley Discoveries? Covid actually reinforced the possibility of interacting remotely, which benefitted us because we were virtual to begin with. Otherwise, we would never have been connected so globally. We’re getting much more exposure because people are reaching out to us.

Why doesn’t Kansas City know more about BioMed Valley Discoveries? Because we’re not hype—we’re hope. Our unique funding model coupled with the fact that we are not publicly traded or trying to raise money puts less emphasis on publicity. But that might change; we hope to be much better known in the next twelve to eighteen months.

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