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Bellicum CEO Reflects on Rise From Baylor to Houston Biotech Darling

Xconomy Texas — 

The Houston biotech community welcomed Bellicum Pharmaceuticals at a BioHouston breakfast Wednesday, one of the first public events for its executives since the life sciences company went public in a $140 million offering late last year.

More than 100 people crowded an events room at Rice University’s BioScience Research Collaborative building to hear Bellicum CEO Tom Farrell talk about the company’s founding from Baylor College of Medicine technology in 2004 and how different parts of Houston’s biotech community provided help and advice along its commercialization path.

Today, the company has 40 employees and two drug candidates in Phase 1 or 2 clinical trials in both Europe and the U.S., with a few other candidates in development.

It has been a long time since Houston has seen such a high-profile success in biotech. Bellicum was the region’s first life sciences company to go public in about 15 years. (Tanox, a maker of an allergic asthma treatment, went public in 2000 and was bought by Genentech for $919 million six years later.)

Still, that drought played no role when Bellicum executives were on the Wall Street roadshow prior to the IPO, Farrell says. “We never had one question along the lines of, why Houston?” he says. “It was not an issue. If you’ve got the right story and the right team, being in Houston does not need to be a barrier to success.”

Bellicum is one of a group of companies developing a particular type of cancer immunotherapy in which a patient’s own T cells are extracted, genetically modified, and then inserted back into the patient with a new protein that helps them find and kill cancer cells. The approach is called chimeric antigen receptor therapy, or CAR-T, and it’s generated significant buzz because of impressive—but early—results treating certain leukemias and lymphomas.

Others competing in this space include Seattle’s Juno Therapeutics; Carl June’s group at the University of Pennsylvania, which is collaborating with Novartis; Summit, NJ-based Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG), via a deal with Cambridge, MA-based gene therapy company Bluebird Bio (NASDAQ: BLUE); and … Next Page »

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