A look at three Oregon health care profs-turned-entrepreneurs

This week, the Portland Business Journal is highlighting the work of professors-turned-entrepreneurs.

The Special Report section of our weekly edition this week includes profiles of four academics who helped launch startups from within the halls of academia. Unfortunately, we didn’t have room to fit all of the interviews we gathered.

What follows is a look at the work of three more Oregon professors, all of whom work within the world of medical research.


Dr. Markus Grompe | Oregon Health & Science University

Title: Professor of pediatrics and molecular and medical genetics, OHSU School of Medicine; Ray Hickey Chair of Pediatric Research and Director of the Papé Family Pediatric Research Institute, OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital; and director, Oregon Stem Cell Center at OHSU

Spinoff company: Yecuris Corp.

What it does: Portland-based Yecuris was formed in 2007 to commercialize transgenic mouse technology developed in the Grompe’s lab at OHSU. FRG mice are a model of Hereditary Tyrosinemia Type 1, a severe genetic liver disease. The liver of FRG mice can be completely replaced with human liver cells, providing a platform to study human liver function in a small rodent model.

Capital raised:$2.5 million

How your work turned into a commercial business:“Seed funding was used to hire key employees and move the business into our own facility. The production of FRG mice with highly humanized livers was optimized and early adopter pharmaceutical companies tested the model. Consistent success has resulted in a steady increase of paying customers making our model the industry standard.”

Biggest challenge to being an academic entrepreneur:“Investing energy in a business venture can detract from grant writing and other academic activities. Incentives from the university for taking this career risk are minimal. Venture funding in Oregon is poorly developed. No help from state or regional government.”

Biggest reward: 1) “Creating new family-wage jobs in Oregon ex nihilo (out of nothing). At this point, we have made 10-plus well-paying jobs that would otherwise not exist here, or anywhere.” 2) “Significant acceleration of malaria and hepatitis research that would be impossible without our model.”


Rich G. Carter | Oregon State University

Title: Chair and professor, OSU Department of Chemistry

Spinoff company: Valliscor (co-founder, CEO)

What it does: A smart chemical manufacturer of fluorinated building blocks for pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries.

Capital raised: ONAMI GAP grantee, self-funded

How your work turned into a commercial business:“Valliscor was founded by myself and Mike Standen based on ideas from both of us. It was a concept that Mike initially came up with — bromofluoromethanen (BFM) — that turned out to be our big success. BFM is a key ingredient in the synthesis of the active ingredient (fluticasone proprionate) in Flonase and Advair.”

Biggest challenge to being an academic entrepreneur:“Early on, there are headwinds that academics face in entering the business/startup world. Several people definitely wondered what a chemistry professor was doing as CEO of a startup. The key is to believe in what you are doing and stay focused on your goals. OSU, ONAMI and Oregon RAIN created a wonderful, supportive environment that helped to make it possible.”

Biggest reward:“There is tremendous satisfaction in knowing something we make goes into a drug that really helps improves people’s lives. I still take great pride every time a new shipment goes out or we hire a new employee. I still remember the day that we finally figured out the large-scale commercial process — 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday night.”


Thomas Scanlan | Oregon Health & Science University

Title: Professor of physiology and pharmacology, OHSU School of Medicine; director of the OHSU Program in Chemical Biology

Spinoff company: NeuroVia Inc. (founder)

What it does: NeuroVia, according to Scanlan, is working to develop sobetirome, a selective thyromimetic agent discovered in Scanlan’s academic lab, for the treatment of X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD), a rare genetic disease that primarily affects pre-adolescent boys and young men with a spectrum of debilitating neurological symptoms and deficits.

Capital raised:$12.45 million ($1 million seed; $11.45 million series A equity financing) See more on this here.

How your work turned into a commercial business:“My academic lab created a novel thyromimetic drug, sobetirome, that was able to penetrate into the brain and central nervous system from an orally administered dose. We then studied the basic pharmacology of this drug in biological model systems related to X-ALD and found that the drug acted in a way that could be therapeutically beneficial.”

Biggest challenge to being an academic entrepreneur:“First is the challenge of obtaining the funding required for the academic basic science research needed for the initial discovery. Second is knowing if and when an academic project has commercial potential. Third is finding the right people needed to help commercialize the technology.”

Biggest reward:“Being a successful academic scientist is a rewarding career. However, translating an academic discovery into something that has the potential to help people, especially people afflicted with a horrible disease like X-ALD, is incredibly rewarding, and difficult — if not impossible — to do in academia.”


Erik Siemers

Managing Editor

Portland Business Journal

Jan 15, 2016



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