As you head into the heart of Federal Hill, take a left off of Light Street onto East Cross Street and you’ll find Spoons, one of Ken Malone’s favorite places to grab breakfast.
Malone is cofounder Early Charm Ventures, a Baltimore-based investment and consulting firm that backs seed-stage technology commercialization — he’s helped launch biotech startup SilcsBio. The Pittsburgh native feels plenty at home with his family as a resident of Otterbein.
“It’s very comfortable for me here. Pittsburgh and Baltimore, despite the Ravens and Steelers rivalry, are sister cities,” said Malone. Malone, 49, has built a long career in business rooted in corporate management roles and university-based technology commercialization. After completing his undergraduate degree in biochemistry at the University of Miami, he earned his doctorate in polymer science at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Focusing on mid-size and small drug development companies for its target market, Malone says SilcsBio enables these companies to significantly save time and money in the drug development process.
Malone came to Baltimore only after years of circumnavigating the globe for Atofina Chemicals (now a subsidiary of TOTAL) in a series of positions, including research, product development and marketing before being lured back to the University of Southern Mississippi in 2004, where he helped double its research funding to $100 million in five years.
“There was nothing. We built it up,” he said. During these years, Malone helped found (and secured funding for) a biotech startup called Ablitech, which developed technology around silencing RNA delivery (a mechanism used in biotechnology products).
Coupled with a change in university priorities, Malone realized he would have to move Ablitech to ensure its viability going forward.
“So, we looked around and said where we do we want to live and where do we want to locate this company, but even more importantly than where we want to locate the company is where do we want to live,” said Malone. “We wanted an urban place to live. We wanted to have a really attractive early-stage community where there was really great science and tech licensing opportunities.”
Ultimately, Malone and his team picked Baltimore over a host of cities (mostly other eastern biotech hubs like Philly and Boston). About three years ago, Malone moved his company into the University of Maryland BioPark.
“Baltimore and what Maryland has put in place for helping early stage companies is just hands down the best in the nation. I mean there’s nothing that touches it,” Malone said. “Between [the BioPark’s support] and what we think is one of the most livable cities in the country, it was hands down for us.”
About a year ago, Malone met Alex MacKerell, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Maryland in Baltimore and inventor in computer-driven drug design.
“Alex had some interesting new algorithms for identifying what proteins look like and how they interact with drugs,” Malone said. “And so turns out that you can use this algorithm for basically drug discovery and optimizing drugs without ever having to do anything in a test tube. It’s all done on computer.”
“So we invested a little bit of money and a whole lot of our time to get the company off the ground,” Malone said. “And we’ve gotten it to a point where it’s currently at revenue. So we run the business end of things and Alex runs the science end of things and it works great.”
“There’s literally billions of dollars spent every year in just identifying what we call a drug lead,” Malone says. “Our goal is to eliminate that cost entirely and to hit the optimal drug design right off the bat – all on computer, all in several days of processing time.”
“So, our customers today are pharmaceutical companies that have specific targets in mind, proteins in mind, that they want to inhibit,” Malone says.” They provide us with some basic information on the protein. We punch it into the computer and a few days later on the other side out comes a map.”