Indiana, PA - Indiana County

CARL KOLOGIE: Indiana native reaps windfall

on February 27, 2011 3:00 AM

It's just like hitting the lottery, but not really.

This financial windfall didn't come from purchasing a ticket, it happened as a result of years of hard work, study and extensive research and, more importantly, is a benefit to mankind.

Ohio University announced recently that the university and inventors of the drug Somavert will receive up to $52 million from drug license transactions.

But this is only part of the story.

One of the inventors is Indiana native Dr. John Kopchick, an Indiana High School graduate who is an internationally recognized leader in the growth hormone field.

In 1987, Kopchick and his group were the first to discover and characterize the molecular aspects of GH antagonists, which earned him and Ohio University several U.S. and European patents.

This eventually led to the development of Somavert, a drug marketed as a treatment for acromegaly, a form of gigantism marked by excessive levels of growth hormone that result in excessive enlargement of the hands and feet, facial disfiguration and multiple organ disorders, which can lead to premature death.

Somavert also is expected to be useful in treating diabetic retinopathy and nephropathy as well as breast and other types of cancer, according to Kopchick.

After 15 years of research, development and clinical trials, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the drug, known in its injectable form as Pegvisomant, for use in 2003.

Last year alone, the university in Athens, Ohio, reported $8 million in royalty income from its license to Pfizer.

And in the years since the pharmaceutical firm's launch of the drug as Somavert, Ohio U. has received $34.5 million in royalty income from the license.

The funds have been used by the various university departments, colleges and administrative offices affiliated with the discovery to support new faculty and research programs.

In the most recent development, Ohio U. and its inventors (Kopchick and graduate student Wen Chen), sold partial royalty income rights to its license for Somavert to a private equity firm for the $52 million price tag.

Depending on the success of the sales, this amount could increase significantly.

The new monetization transactions will raise the total impact to the university and its inventors to up to $82 million, the largest royalty income in Ohio University's history, according to a release from the Office of Communication at the College of Osteopathic Medicine.

As the inventors, Kopchick and Chen, now a professor at Clemson University, stand to earn a third of the total amount.

"No one believed in it at the time (1987), and we formed a small company called Sensus to continue development of the drug," said Kopchick in a call to his home in Athens on Saturday.

"Now I am hoping that clinical trials for breast cancer will be held."

He said the deal with the private equity firm, DRI Capital Inc., from Toronto, Canada, is a win-win situation for everyone from the university to those throughout the world afflicted with the ailment.

"This is big … and is paying huge dividends," said Kopchick.

And to think the only number I was concerned with as his coach during his playing days in the Indiana County Senior Legion Baseball League was his batting average.

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