Rochester-based OyaGen Inc. Works to Find HIV and Viral Disease Cures
OyaGen Inc. had humble beginnings in conducting basic research in incubator space at the University of Rochester. Founder and CEO Dr. Harold Smith was conducting research on HIV when he and his fellow scientists discovered methods where viral proteins could be targeted to prevent their attack on proteins in human cells that allow us to ward off viral infections.
“This was the ‘a-ha!’ moment,” he said that led his company to focus its resources on drug discovery. OyaGen is now doing cutting edge drug development work that could find the first functional cure for HIV and potentially other viral diseases.
As it makes progress toward a clinical trial for what will be a first in class product, Rochester-based OyaGen is benefitting from a $1.4 million investment from the New York State Common Retirement Fund’s In-State Private Equity Program.
The unique emphasis by Smith and his five colleagues at OyaGen is on anti-viral proteins as a way of stopping HIV. They are looking at ways of drugging viral proteins to enable our natural defense mechanism to ward off infection.
“This is a clear case of good guy versus bad guy,” said Smith, who also serves as OyaGen’s chief science officer. “Can we prevent the bad guy from attacking the good guy and get to a functional cure for HIV? Activating our host defense and compromising viral attackers is the ‘double whammy’ that should be able to prevent viruses from infecting us in the first place. Really, this is the long-sought goal in the viral war we’ve been fighting for 40 years or so.”
Smith, a longtime professor at the University of Rochester with his Ph.D. from the University of Buffalo, says the support provided by the Fund to companies like OyaGen could provide the future for New York’s economy. As far as jobs creation, Smith says that “Everyone who has worked with OyaGen and is currently working with OyaGen is a graduate of a New York higher educational institute.”
“Biotechnology could be the parallel rail across the State to education that helps people educated in New York find jobs and stay in New York,” he said. “We were able to build a company in Rochester, stay in New York, and come to a point of international recognition. The Comptroller’s vision to invest in biotech has allowed business growth and retention in the State of New York.”