The contraction and consolidation of a few large pharma companies resulted in the job loss of several in the St. Louis area, but one group of workers was able to see the positive through it all.
Rather than taking this as a loss, they saw this as an opportunity to use their knowledge and start something new, and not but one year later a company was born.
A biomedical startup focusing on the discovery and development of new medicines for the treatment of cancer and autoimmune/inflammatory diseases, Confluence Life Sciences, Inc., was founded in 2010 by a team of industry-experienced drug developers. The company is located in St. Louis’ Cortex Innovation District and works out of the BioGenerator Accelerator Labs facility.
Since its start, Confluence has created a crew of outstanding researchers, advisors, scientists, and business personnel that are dedicated to moving drugs to the market and building a sustainable drug discovery and early development company.
The company’s drug research programs are very specialized, focusing on a specific gene family involved in the regulation of illnesses such as cancer and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The team gets together, selects specific drug targets, then creates a testing funnel and mounts a medicinal chemistry effort against those targets in order to triage the compounds and determine which are the best to move forward with.
“The bulk of the company is working in the lab, doing biochemical and cell-based assays, and doing the things you need to do to advance a drug from the bench to the bedside,” said Confluence CEO Walter Smith.
Confluence’s two most advanced drug research programs are currently for RA and psoriasis, both of which are about one year away from clinical studies. Its other programs angling towards cancer indications, primarily colorectal cancer and lymphoma, are also making great progress towards the clinic.
Although its main focus is on discovering new medicines and drugs through its proprietary KINect Technology Platform , Confluence’s work extends even further. In addition to its own drug research programs, the startup does contract research for other pharmaceutical companies.
The company also has a program in which it employs recent college graduates for one to two years before they go on to graduate or medical school. Confluence has had about 10 of these “gap year students” since beginning the program, mostly from Washington University in St. Louis as well as a few from the University of Missouri and other universities outside the state.
Smith says they’ve had great success with the program, and it has really been enabled by how close the company is to the universities of the region.
Confluence has made and continues to make incredible strides, much of which is made possible by investors like the Missouri Technology Corporation (MTC).
A note from MTC Director Bill Anderson
“Confluence has made incredible progress in its research, and its discoveries are invaluable contributions to the field of medicine. The company is a great example of how to execute on innovative ideas to provide real-world solutions, and Missouri proudly supports companies like Confluence that are growing and enhancing the state’s biomedical sector.”
The company has been involved with MTC since very early on, and Smith emphasized how instrumental MTC has been in getting them matching funds and attracting additional investors.
Not only has funding from MTC helped Confluence raise capital and acquire new investment, but perhaps even more importantly, it allowed the company to retain jobs and talent to the St. Louis region.
As mentioned before, most of Confluence’s staff and management team came from the consolidation of big pharma companies like Pfizer Inc., moving jobs to areas such as Boston and the West Coast. But because of MTC, Confluence was able to keep many of those scientists and researchers here in the Show-Me State.
“Through their investment, we were able to retain talent here in the area that would’ve had to gone elsewhere, left St. Louis and left Missouri, in order to look for these types of jobs,” Smith said.
The startup has since expanded its team from five members to 40, and its revenue is continuing to grow, increasing by about 20 to 30 percent per year.
Along with its staff and income, the laboratory footprint of Confluence has also grown. The company has received great feedback from its clients regarding the quality of its work, and more and more big pharma companies are becoming interested in working with them.
As for the future, Confluence is focused on using its business strategy to create a continuous cycle in which it advances a new drug to clinical testing, partners with a large pharma company for commercialization, and then starts the process over with a new drug program.
Smith is confident that the company will see this cycle come into fruition over the next several years as their programs mature, and Missouri couldn’t be a better place for that to happen.
“As far as the infrastructure to start a company, I haven’t seen anything better than here across the country,” he said.
The world of medicine is ever-evolving, and companies like Confluence Life Sciences in St. Louis, Mo., continue to add to the innovation.