Working Together, Giving “More” in Oklahoma
Receiving from Purdue Pharma more than $100 million as part of a settlement of litigation brought by the state, the National Center for Wellness & Recovery (NCWR) at Oklahoma State University is remarkably positioned to accelerate work to address and abate the opioid crisis. The unexpected infusion of funds led to an unexpected partnership under which Purdue has provided access to research molecules and data, human biosamples for biomarker research, and intellectual property rights to facilitate scientific advancements in the treatment of pain and the understanding of substance use disorders. An additional unexpected asset – Don Kyle, Purdue’s eminent pain researcher and former head of discovery research – is assisting the team at NCWR in Tulsa to help expedite their research strategy and integration of the assets.
It all started in 2013. Kayse Shrum, DO, president of Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences (OSU-CHS), found herself deep in conversation with the father of one of her medical students who had lost a child to substance use disorder. The father described his family’s experience in painful detail. He described the path his child had taken from being prescribed medications for a medical injury to addiction, and the frustration the family experienced in seeking help from the medical community. “This conversation hit me hard, and I realized – not for the first time – that we weren’t doing enough, or teaching enough, to prepare physicians to manage substance use disorder in their practice, and we had to make a change,” said Dr. Shrum.
And so, the journey began. In 2014, OSU-CHS changed its education mandate to include addiction medicine within the medical school curriculum and to make medication-assisted treatment training a prerequisite for all residents regardless of their specialty. Additionally, over the next four years, OSU-CHS changed its hiring and education practices to prepare for the launch of NCWR, in Tulsa.
NCWR’s mission is to “inspire hope and to develop innovative, science-driven treatment interventions to improve the lives of those affected by pain and substance use disorders.” It’s about finding hope through recovery. It’s recognizing that recovery and wellness are different but equal. And it’s about supporting patients recovering from an illness and continuing to support them in achieving wellness.
“Prior to 2018, our planning was largely focused on finding alternatives to pain medications,” said Johnny Stephens, Pharm.D., chief operating officer, OSU-CHS. “And then we were given a gift, which has allowed us to look at our mandate from a whole new perspective. That gift was Don Kyle.”
In 2019, as part of a litigation settlement with the state of Oklahoma, Purdue Pharma contributed over $100M to fund NCWR at OSU-CHS in Tulsa. As another part of the settlement, Purdue also agreed to provide at no-cost, $20M worth of medication for the treatment of opioid addiction to support the NCWR’s treatment mission.
With Purdue’s legal obligation to OSU-CHS satisfied, Don Kyle, Ph.D., a part of Purdue’s drug discovery team, wanted to help advance research in the areas of non-opioid alternatives to treating pain and had the idea of providing access to research molecules, biosamples, associated data and intellectual property to an organization that could fulfill this vision and use the assets to bring solutions to patients. So, Don proposed an idea to Craig Landau, MD, President and CEO of Purdue Pharma, to approach OSU, and Craig agreed.
Don sent an email to Kayse. The two had never met and Don expected it to be months before he had the opportunity to share his vision with Kayse. “I was really surprised to receive an email reply from President Shrum within about 30 minutes after sending her my introductory email,” said Don. “Within a few weeks we were meeting in her office in Tulsa with five faculty researchers talking science, sharing ideas, and getting to know each other. We had a lot in common and really hit it off. It was incredible.”
Within three months, Purdue and NCWR enhanced their partnership. Purdue had but was no longer actively using or pursuing certain molecules, biosamples, associated data and intellectual property related to research into the causes of and potential treatments for pain and addiction. As part of an enhanced partnership, Purdue committed to providing the National Center for Wellness & Recovery with access to a number of those materials for internal research purposes.
“What’s unique in this relationship – and what I, admittedly, had a hard time grasping at first – is that Purdue had provided full access to a tremendous amount of research materials,” said Dr. Stephens. “There was no doubt that this is truly about advancing public health. Period.”
Don wanted to do more.
“Don has the ability to take a very complex topic and teach it to any audience. He could explain how pain receptors tie into addiction to a second-grade class and they would walk away understanding more than the average person.”
— Dr. Kayse Shrum
He met with Craig again and said four simple words: “let me go there.” Don knew the research. He knew the potential of OSU-CHS’s intended work, but he also knew that getting personally involved and helping to integrate the research into their programs and developing strategy together could lead to faster results. Craig agreed that Don could go to NCWR to help, as part of his role at Purdue.
“From the first day I met Don, you could see the passion he has for his work,” said Dr. Shrum. “But what is so unique about Don’s work as a researcher is his curiosity about how it helps the patient in the end, and how people will be served by that. He wants to make a difference, and he is.” Garth Whiteside, a long-time colleague and member of Don’s former Purdue team, said, “Don is both a student and a teacher, and his enthusiasm for figuring out how something works is infectious. But he never does so in a vacuum; the way he collaborates to find solutions together is what makes Don so unique.”
“I couldn’t have fathomed in our first meeting how this would transpire,” said Dr. Stephens. “First, to receive access to these assets, but to also have the experience and historical knowledge from the researcher who brought this to life is a true treat.”
“I am very grateful to be a part of NCWR’s mission. I believe in the work NCWR is doing and humbled by the support from the Purdue leadership team, and also by the warm reception I’ve received from the University and NCWR.”
— Don Kyle
With Don’s support at the forefront, OSU is expediting the understanding and treatment of patients who suffer from pain and substance use disorders. And they’re redefining how industry and academia can work together to address public health issues.
“We were impressed by the leadership of President Shrum and the commitment of her organization to make a meaningful contribution in the field,” said Craig. “We learned early on that NCWR shared our belief that our two organizations working together can make good things happen. We just didn’t anticipate there could be so much more.”
“The access to the materials Purdue provided us are one thing, and we are extremely grateful, but Don is the greatest benefit we received,” said Dr. Shrum. “Without Don, we wouldn’t have been able to progress as far as we have so quickly. Don is our force multiplier and it gives me hope that we can make a difference for the patients we serve.”