Kansas City-area psychiatric practice expands to Lawrence; local drug development firm has success in cancer trials
It was touch and go there for awhile, but my wife's dream of opening a psychic detective office in Lawrence is still alive (At least, I assume that's her dream. She loves the USA Network program "Psych," and she spends an inordinate amount of time rubbing her temples — especially when I'm talking — like she is receiving a psychic message.)
Regardless, I had heard that there was a new psych office coming to town, and I just assumed . . . But in reality, there is a new psychiatric office that has opened in Lawrence, and it really is no joking matter.
It was about 10 years ago that Lawrence Memorial Hospital closed its inpatient mental health unit, and a major reason behind the closure was a shortage of psychiatrists in Lawrence.
A Kansas City-area psychiatrist says the shortage still exists, which has led her to open Awakenings, an office that offers intensive outpatient mental health programs out of the Medical Arts building at 346 Maine St.
"This is a step down from an inpatient unit, but it is a step up from what can be provided by an ER visit for a suicidal patient, for example," said Dr. Maria Cristina Davila, who serves as the medial director for the Awakenings practice.
Davila has been a psychiatrist for more than 20 years. She opened her Awakenings practice in Prairie Village last year and quickly decided to expand into Lawrence after hearing about the need.
"I've been a resident of Lawrence since 1996, and we definitely have a large gap in services," said Angie Logan, a clinical therapist on the Awakenings staff. "I have seen a lot of KU students who have had to drop out of KU because they had to go to Kansas City or elsewhere to get treatment."
The Lawrence office will offer intensive outpatient programs for conditions such as bipolar, anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse, pain pill addictions and other issues. Awakenings offers both adult and adolescent treatment programs.
Davila will have regular office hours in Lawrence on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and other licensed mental health professionals also will staff the Lawrence office on other days. A big part of the treatment programs at Awakenings involve group therapy, which meet three times a week for three hours at a time.
Davila said the practice also hopes to have serious discussions with Lawrence Memorial Hospital about how her staff can provide services that complement the mental health treatment that is provided in the hospital's emergency room.
"There is a real problem when patients get sent out of town for treatment," Logan said. "A lot of time when they come back to Lawrence, they don't have that continuity of care, and that is critical."
In other news and notes from around town:
• There's also news on a different health front in Lawrence. We've been telling you for years to keep an eye on the Lawrence-based biotech company CritiTech. Well, the company has recently announced that its latest trials for a possible cancer drug have gone well.
The company put its Nanotax product through phase I clinical trials that involved providing doses to 21 patients with advanced forms of cancers. The trials were conducted in partnership with Kansas University's cancer center in Kansas City, Kan., which is a National Cancer Institute-designated program.
A majority of the patients were suffering from advanced stages of ovarian cancer, but the drug also is designed to treat pancreatic cancer, colorectal, liver and bladder cancers.
"The study results demonstrated that Nanotax was very well tolerated, and there were no serious adverse events related to the drug," said Charles Decedue, Crititech's chief scientific officer. With guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, we are looking forward to initiating the next steps to continue to advance Nanotax."
In other words, the company is still moving down a positive path to gain regulatory approval to sell the drug in the U.S. I reached out to company officials to get a better estimate of that timeline. Drug development is a slow-moving business, but this latest news is a positive development for the company, and there have been other signs that Crititech is optimistic about its future.
As we previously reported, the company purchased a new headquarters location in North Lawrence late last year. The move was billed as a strategy to provide room for the company to expand its laboratory and drug development space.
North Kansas City has employment giant Cerner Corp. Maybe in another decade, we'll be talking about how North Lawrence has employment giant CritiTech.
No pressure there for the leaders at CritiTech, but the KU-grown biotechnology company has announced that it has moved its headquarters and main laboratory space to North Lawrence. And like Cerner was years ago, CritiTech is a company to watch, or if you are still in the baseball mood, an exciting home run hitting prospect, so to speak.
CritiTech has taken over the space formerly occupied by Lynn Electric at 1849 E. 1450 Road to house its administration, management, research and development functions and its drug development services. If you are having a hard time picturing the space, it is just south of the Heetco propane facility along U.S. Highway 24/59.
The building provides 10,000 square feet for the growing company, and importantly, it is the type of space that CritiTech can use for manufacturing space in the future. Matthew McClorey, CritiTech's chief operating officer, said having space to manufacture active pharmaceutical ingredients was part of the thought process in taking the North Lawrence facility.
"We're very excited about our new home," McClorey said. "Due to the growth the company has experienced over the past year, we needed more space."
It was about this time last year that I was at CritiTech's previous headquarters in West Lawrence reporting on how it had added three new people to its management team and was completing its first international deal with an India-based pharmaceutical company. At that time, McClorey and others said CritiTech was poised for a significant expansion.
CritiTech is a unique drug development company in that it really has developed a process more than a specific drug. The company is in the business of making drug particles smaller. It uses technology developed at KU in the 1990s by researcher Bala Subramaniam. The technology, for example, makes it possible to deliver via patches, inhalers, injections and other methods some drugs that now only can be administered orally. The fact that the company doesn't have to rely solely on creating new drugs, but rather just new ways to deliver existing drugs, would seem to create a very wide market.
The prospect of making drug particles smaller long has fascinated the pharmaceutical industry, but it was a process that was thought impractical on a large scale. CritiTech has developed a new device that its leaders say is changing the economics of the process. The company made a splash in the industry last year by creating a joint partnership with India-based Finoso Pharma that will allow the firms to begin working on multiple new pharmaceutical products.
The big question with CritiTech is how many new jobs it may create in Lawrence. The company currently has about 10 full-time employees and a host of consultants, McClorey said. As for the future, he only would offer the company expects to "add a significant number of jobs over the next few years."
But when I talked with the company's CEO, David Johnston, last year, he said he thought it was realistic for the company to grow to about 50 employees over the next five years. That likely would mean additional scientific and technical positions, along with a few administrative positions as well.
CritiTech's new facility eventually will open up laboratory space in the bioscience expansion facility that is jointly operated by the Bioscience and Technology Business Center at Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive. The company has had its laboratory space located in that facility. McClorey said CritiTech still rents a small amount of space in the facility, but is transitioning out of that location.
Probably the biggest aspect of CritiTech's announcement is that the company is staying in the community. CritiTech is at the stage of its growth curve where other companies have been lured away from Lawrence to go to more traditional bioscience hotbeds. But CritiTech's chairman is longtime Lawrence businessman Sam Campbell, who has said keeping the company in Lawrence is a priority.
"Nobody can predict the future, but typically a company on our path would attract interest from a lot of buyers," Campbell told me last year. "But we want to make every effort to stay in Lawrence, and if the company is successful enough, we would like to remain independent."
I don’t know about your neighborhood on the Fourth of July, but in mine last night there were plenty of young venture capitalists on display: People willing to burn their money in hopes for a big bang in return.
Venture capitalists — the high-risk investors who provide start-up money to promising young companies — have long been a source of conversation and concern in Lawrence. The conversation has been: Where can I find them? The concern has been: There aren’t enough of them in the Midwest to make Lawrence a major player in the competitive bioscience arena.
Well, there’s a new study out that shows Lawrence may be doing better than people thought when it comes to at least one measure of venture capital. Lawrence has the sixth highest level of venture capital investment in America, when measured on a per capita basis.
Guru demographer Richard Florida — who lectures frequently on the power of the creative class — has crunched the numbers and found Lawrence is part of a trend of smaller communities connected to universities that are doing well in the venture capital arena.
Florida calculated Lawrence had $40.8 million in venture capital deals per 100,000 people in 2012. It put Lawrence in some great company. The top five were:
- San Jose, Calif., a.k.a. Silicon Valley: $216.9 million
- San Francisco: $159.1 million
- Boulder, Colo.: $86.9 million
- Boston: $68.1million
- Santa Barbara, Calif.: $59.1 million
Lawrence’s metro population — in other words, Douglas County’s population — is just a little more than 100,000 people. So, in real numbers, Douglas County companies attracted a little more than $40 million in venture capital investments in 2012. Think about that for a minute: $40 million in largely outside money came flowing into Lawrence’s economy because of start-up companies.
For whatever reason, area companies don’t do a lot to announce their venture capital successes, so I don’t know what companies attracted the cash in 2012. But in recent years, we have talked quite a bit about rising stars such as Deciphera Pharmaceuticals, drug particle company CritiTech, and the more than 30 companies ranging from animal health firms to e-commerce companies that are affiliated with Bioscience and Technology Business Center at KU.
There is no doubt that this new list is a good one for Lawrence to land on. It helps tell the story that local bioscience officials have been working to tell: You can have success in raising funds in the Heartland. But you could also read too much into this ranking as well. At the end of the day, when people think about hot venture capital markets, they think about real dollars, not per capita dollars.
A separate ranking by Florida shows how much work Lawrence has to do to crack the top 20 markets of overall venture capital activity.
Obviously, setting our sights on the Silicon Valley or top-ranked San Francisco isn’t going to be too productive. San Jose and San Francisco had about $10.7 billion in venture capital investments in 2012, accounting for about 40 percent of all the venture capital activity in the country.
More instructive is to look at some other college communities. Austin ranked No. 8 at $626 million, Boulder ranked No. 14 at $256 million, Raleigh, N.C. ranked No. 18 at $184 million and Provo, Utah ranked No. 20 at $162 million.
But the good news is, when you look at this study, Florida has created a blob map of venture capital markets. Lawrence shows up as a speck on it. And a speck is a start.
Hopefully, though, people aren’t counting on my neighbors to be the next wave of venture capitalists. After what I saw last night, they have to be broke.