Roby Brock – Talk Business Monthly

Despite the fact that there are many political allusions to the title of this column, today’s words are about a fledgling business enterprise here in Arkansas. More importantly, they are about the life of a single mother who gives a new definition to “strength of mind.”

A few weeks ago, UAMS researchers unveiled a start-up biotech company, now known as InterveXion, that could impact our state’s health and business landscape. InterveXion is an outgrowth of Arkansas Bioventures, the research and business incubator at the state’s well-known medical campus.

The venture has its roots in Arkansas’ tobacco settlement funding. The Arkansas Biosciences Institute, a partnership of scientists from institutions including UAMS and the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, was created by the voter-approved Tobacco Settlement Proceeds Act and it helped bring the researchers of InterveXion together in 2000 to focus their efforts.

Before we die, you and I may look back someday and say, “InterveXion altered the course of society in a most dramatic way.” Here‘s how:

InterveXion received a $3 million grant to conduct clinical trials for an antibody treatment for addiction to the drug known as phencyclidine, a.k.a., PCP or angel dust. In layman’s terms, the antibody with which researchers are experimenting blocks the brain’s ability to recognize the drug PCP. Therefore, a person’s body does not recognize the “high” and over time – in combination with other treatments and counseling – a PCP user can control his or her addiction because the craving is not there. It may be five years or more before the results are conclusive for this approach, but the initial outcomes show great promise.

It is not that PCP use is the most major addiction affecting society, although abuse of the drug has been on the increase and it is severe. What is incredibly promising about this new intervention is that, if successful, it could be applied to other addictions, significantly methamphetamine.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 12 million people have tried meth and 7 million have tried PCP in their lifetimes. More than 135,000 sought treatment for addiction to these drugs in 2003, which more than doubles the number who sought treatment in 2000. There are reams of anecdotal and hard evidence describing the financial and human toll that these and other drugs are taking on families and society.

Every day, businesses and employees lose productivity because of drug addictions. Every day, businesses are robbed by drug users needing money to feed their habits. Every day, our courts and prisons are bursting at the seams dealing with this drug epidemic. Every day, hospital emergency rooms are treating the guilty and innocent victims of this vicious drug cycle. Every day, families are ripped apart due to drug abuse.

InterveXion gives hope. A unique aspect of InterveXion’s treatment approach is that the antibodies are produced in modified plants grown in a greenhouse. The antibodies are removed and purified for use in an injectable form. In the body, they act to neutralize the drug’s adverse effects, just like a natural antibody protects against other diseases. Researchers believe that by growing the antibodies in plants, it could drastically reduce the production costs for the treatment and make medications a fraction of the cost of most commercially manufactured pharmaceuticals.

For a state like Arkansas, there is a unique opportunity in this company to blend our agricultural heritage and expertise with this medical breakthrough. The end result would be to create both medical and agricultural jobs, improve the health and well-being of countless citizens and businesses, attack the drug epidemic at its core, reduce our prison populations, save lives, and provide hope to millions who are struggling to find a way out.

In the course of learning about InterveXion, I spoke to a young lady named Stephanie D. who has been in drug rehab for over two years. To hear her tell it, she’s been in “life rehab” for over two years. Approaching the ripe old age of 30, Stephanie D. counts the number of foster homes and places she’s lived as an adult at around 58. Her addictions have spanned a wide range: alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, crack, meth, to name a few. She told me that a few years ago when she met her biological mother for the first time, they “shot up” together to get high. At her lowest point, the five-foot, eight inch young woman weighed 87 pounds.

Stephanie’s three-year old son is miraculously healthy and is an unknown savior for getting her life back on track. Somewhere in the first year of his life, Stephanie found the “strength of mind” to confront her addictions and for the past two years she‘s cleaned up her act and been building a new life. She has been in counseling – learning how to cope with her addictions, learning how to be a good mother, learning how to live. She has been clean for over two years and is presently looking for a job. In her free time, she helps other women who are fighting to regain their lives. Despite all of the trials and tribulations, her outlook on life is incredibly optimistic.

I predict Stephanie D. will succeed as a great mother and a productive member of society.

There are millions of people in the world who can relate to her story. Not many of them are fortunate enough to break the cycle of dependency. It is gut-wrenching to find the determination and will power to pull yourself out of the depths of despair like she has.

Science gives us hope to extend life in so many ways. Self-worth shows us that the hope needed in life can come from within. We need both. Because even though InterveXion’s research and potential success could give those like Stephanie the “strength of mind” to tame their demons, it still takes a strong will to find the “peace of mind” that comes with living with your past and approaching tomorrow one day at a time.

InterveXion is name to put on your radar screen as one to watch. So is Stephanie D.

Godspeed.