Bri Heron, technology marketing manager at Indiana University’s Innovation and Commercialization Office, contributed to the following story.
In the last 30 years, Indiana University researcher Mark Kelley has disclosed 61 inventions, been awarded 19 patents, created a startup and licensed three of his technologies. He credits partnerships with IU’s Innovation and Commercialization Office (ICO) and IU Ventures for helping to advance his research innovations, bringing them to market and ultimately allowing him to positively impact lives here in Indiana and beyond.
The IU ICO works to identify, protect and commercialize technology developed by IU researchers. IU Ventures, IU’s early-stage venture and angel investment arm, invests in new high-potential ideas and innovations with strong IU connections.
“IU’s Innovation and Commercialization Office has been a tremendous resource over the years, particularly with launching my startup,” said Kelley, Betty and Earl Herr Professor of Pediatric Oncology Research at the IU School of Medicine, associate director of basic science research at the IU Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center, and chief scientific founder and officer of Apexian Pharmaceuticals. “They have stuck with me since the mid-1990s, and especially during challenging years, including the market crash of 2008-2009 as my startup was just getting going.”
“The ICO has helped me effectively explore the commercial potential of my research and getting innovation to the marketplace, while IU Ventures has proven to be a great partner in pushing my startup company forward through financial investment and the valuable connections it has with other entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders. Working in close tandem with these two IU entities has truly been a win-win, enabling our team to advance the development of therapies that we hope will improve the lives of patients with debilitating or life-threatening ailments.”
Kelley’s research focuses on how DNA damage and repair and redox signaling can be utilized therapeutically to treat a variety of diseases. More specifically, he has focused on the enzyme APE1/Ref-1 as a therapeutic target for a number of cancers such as pediatric sarcomas, pancreatic, and bladder, and for other diseases where preclinical data suggests APE1/Ref-1 could play a major therapeutic role.
His latest success involves the advancement of a possible preventative therapeutic oral drug (APX3330) to slow progression of diabetic retinopathy, which is pending further clinical studies.
Currently, eight million adults in the U.S. are affected by diabetic retinopathy, and Kelley’s drug can be utilized as a treatment option for those in earlier stages of the disease.
“While we have spent most of our time and research efforts in cancer studies, some of the same pathways and particularly the target APE1/Ref-1 are also important in other diseases like diabetic retinopathy and inflammatory bowel disease, which has given us a chance to broaden our potential clinical impact,” Kelley said.
Kelley’s startup, Apexian Pharmaceuticals, which is headquartered in Indianapolis, is focused on the treatment of life-threatening diseases mediated by the APE1/Ref-1 protein. It recently entered into an agreement with Ocuphire Pharma, a public clinical-stage ophthalmic biopharmaceutical company, to license APX3330. Recently, Ocuphire released its Phase 2 Clinical Trial Results of Oral APX3330, which evaluated the safety and efficacy of the oral drug to benefit patients living with diabetic retinopathy.
In recent years, IU Ventures has made investments in Apexian totaling $400,000, though the organization’s relationship with Kelley dates back more than a decade. From 2008 to 2010, he served as a member of the board of directors and the executive committee for the IU Research and Technology Corporation, which now operates as IU Ventures. Kelley has also had an active role in networking and panelist events hosted by IU Ventures to speak about his experiences and provide mentorship to other IU inventors. To this end, he will be a featured panelist at the upcoming IU Founders & Funders Network Venture Summit, which will bring the best of IU’s startup community to Bloomington for a two-day event, May 18-19.
“The support IU has given me has been critical in furthering my research to find more effective therapeutics for hard-to-treat cancers and diseases,” Kelley said. “Bringing laboratory research to market and getting investors interested in your scientific discoveries, especially at the earliest stages, can be incredibly tough sledding, and it takes a tremendous amount of time and energy. That’s why it’s been so important to have the talent, expertise, connections and resources that IU has made available to innovators. It’s ensured that great discoveries don’t just die on the vine and that IU research is used to dramatically improve the lives of the people of Indiana and beyond.”