RALEIGH – Another biopharma firm is picking the Oak City region for its new headquarters.
OakLabs, a Berlin-based biopharma company using artificial intelligence (AI) for drug discovery, is set to establish its primary base in the Triangle this month.
The company, founded by husband-wife team Drs. Martina Schad and Jim Kallarackal, will be registered as a public entity called OakLife. It joins a growing list of new and recent arrivals that have helped make the Triangle one of the country’s largest life science hubs.
Research and development, under the sister company OakLabs, will remain in Berlin.
“Berlin is a good place to live, but it’s not the strongest region, commercially or economically,” said Kallarackal during a Zoom call from Berlin. “We [wanted] to relocate to an area where we have the opportunity to scale globally and have the highest impact.”
The Triangle beat out Boston as a relocation spot, he added, because of “access to talent” and affordability.
“We don’t want to downscale our life, and that would be the case in Boston because everything is more expensive there.”
The couple also has some serious Triangle connections.
They’re teaming up with serial entrepreneur Jay Madan, a well-known entity on the Triangle pharma scene, whom they met at a conference a few years back.
Most recently, Madan made headlines as founder and president of Raleigh-based gastrointestinal drug company Innovate Biopharma, which merged in October 2019 with Israel-based RDD Pharma to become 9 Meters Biopharma, headquartered in Raleigh.
Madan says he will be advising the company as it heads into this “new phase of life.”
The company is currently scouting for office space and is hiring.
“There will be some initial staffing to support various administration functions,” said Madan. “We anticipate about 8-10 people by the end of the year, and we will grow to about 20 high skilled and professional level teams.’
Meanwhile, raising fresh capital is also in the cards.
“We plan to do an initial fundraise, more of a cross over prior to going public in 2021,” he said.
Schad and Kallarackal founded OakLabs back in 2011.
It was started as an interdisciplinary team of quantum physicists and life scientists focused on developing biopharmaceuticals for treatment of oncology and central nervous system indications.
Today, the firm has two drug compounds in the pipeline using its complex AI-derived “biomarker feasibility screening.”
Both compounds are monoclonal antibodies (mAb), a type of biological therapy. One treats metastatic colorectal cancer, head and neck squamous cell carcinoma; the other is for breast and gastric cancer.
OakLabs has developed a novel biomarker that is capable of classifying which patients will respond to the therapies, and those who won’t.
“This will avoid patients from being treated with unnecessary medication with side effects. They also won’t lose time for getting another potential treatment,” said Schad.
She and her husband, with their two children, plan to move to the Triangle in the coming year.
“In the last 10 years, we have demonstrated that what we do is really superior,” she said. “I see moving to the States as the only opportunity to build a real pipeline of drug candidates that can be leveraged with our biomarker-AI approach.”