A handful of employees at a family owned drug research company at East Tennessee State University’s Valleybrook Campus are poised to make a big impact on the pharmaceutical industry.
Eric Latham, founder and CEO of Intellectual Property Executives Inc., said his family business has been the development of new drugs to treat a range of ailments and diseases, including breast cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
None of these drugs in the company’s pipeline have been to market yet, but recently an IPE drug to treat hypothyroidism was submitted for what is known as phase II testing.
Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland does not produce enough of certain hormones. Untreated hypothyroidism can cause obesity, joint pain, infertility and heart disease over time. This disorder affects around 10 million patients in the United States.
This drug being developed at IPE would treat hypothyroidism by using the same active ingredient to treat the disease that has been used for decades. The difference is that this new drug improves upon current treatment by only requiring one pill per day and extending the shelf life of the drug.
If the hypothyroidism drug is approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the next year, the company could begin seeing serious profits that would allow expansion and pursuit of those other drugs in the pipeline, Latham said.
The breast cancer drug being developed at IPE is designed to make cancerous cells easier to see by the surgeon. This would allow the surgeon to remove only the cancer and no healthy tissue, potentially eliminating the need for radical mastectomies.
The Alzheimer’s drug is being designed as a cure, Latham said.
Other drugs in the company’s pipeline include ones that improve wound healing and treat various aging diseases.
“We have a lot more drugs that we think can help people ... but we can’t do this as a hobby,” Latham said.
Local investors have supported IPE and that has allowed the company to bring the hypothyroidism drug to phase II testing, which consists of serious clinical trials to determine drug efficacy in humans. Phase I testing determined the drug was safe.
If phase II testing is successful, IPE will need more investment to be able to bring the drug to market.
That IPE has made it this far is noteworthy in an industry dominated by massive pharmaceutical corporations that can spend hundreds of millions of dollars on research and development, testing, marketing and distribution.
IPE is a public/private partnership with ETSU, which was gifted the Valleybrook property from Eastman Chemical Co. in summer 2010. IPE is the only company to locate at the property, but Latham hopes IPE’s success will foster other entrepreneurs to venture out to Valleybrook, located off Eastern Star Road in Sullivan County.
Latham’s father, Keith, is the lead scientist at IPE. IPE’s management team consists of five people, including Latham.
Latham hopes to manufacture the hypothyroidism drug at Valleybrook or at least in Northeast Tennessee. Success with this drug would mean more IPE jobs.
Part of his and his family’s passion stems not only from a desire to help people with useful medications but to also prove Northeast Tennesseans are capable of such a venture.
“Wouldn’t it be a statement if we could say to the pharmaceutical world or the business world or state of Tennessee ... we could get a drug approved and start marketing, manufacturing and distributing right here in Northeast Tennessee?” he asked.
Latham said he has encountered skepticism from time to time about IPE’s ability to successfully bring a drug to market. He said IPE is not out to strictly make a huge profit; profits are necessary to continuing research and development of beneficial medications.
“The Latham family motto is we want to help people first and foremost,” he said. “We are trying to buck the trend here. We are trying to revolutionize the way pharmaceuticals are developed. We’ve made it this far and we’re going to scratch and claw to get there somehow.”