Flathead neuroscience researchers awarded $1.4M grant

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Expesicor CEO and neuroscientist Braxton Norwood and COO and board chairman David Booth collaborate on a grant application to secure funding for the company's research of neurodegenerative diseases at City Brew Coffee in Kalispell. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

Local neuroscience company Expesicor has received a $1.4 million Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institute of Health, a reward for its cutting-edge research on treating and preventing neurological disorders and traumatic brain injuries.

Company co-founder and CEO Braxton Norwood said the grant will be vital in helping the fast-growing company develop therapeutic and imaging agents for neurological disorders.

“Basically treatments for things that don’t have treatments, like Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy,” Norwood said.

Expesicor will receive $343,042 over the first year of the grant, and upon approval will receive the entire grant over the course of three years. Two Bear Capital, a venture capital firm based in Whitefish, also just made a “substantial investment” in the company, Norwood said.

This influx of investment comes just two years after Expesicor earned its first major financial award, a $100,000 grant from the Montana Department of Commerce.

Norwood graduated from Flathead High School in 1999, earned his PhD from the University of Arizona and founded Expesicor with entrepreneur David Booth in 2016. Expesicor is based in Kalispell, though it mostly operates in Missoula out of labs at the University of Montana.

The company is quickly outgrowing its current space. Norwood said he added a second lab and is looking to add a third, while he hopes to hire a half-dozen more people.

“We’ve been able to actually make some substantial progress for therapies toward neurological disorders that we’re not aware anybody else has been able to do,” Norwood said.

The latest grant will help Expesicor accelerate the development of its patent-pending KaL model. The model is a way to reproduce epilepsy and traumatic brain injuries in the laboratory, Norwood said, helping neuroscience researchers discover new therapies to prevent brain injuries or epileptic seizures.

“KaL” is short for the two ingredients needed to mimic epilepsy and neurodegeneration in the lab.

Eventually, Norwood would like to produce an FDA-approved drug that could treat Alzheimer’s disease or epilepsy, which is notoriously resistant to drug therapy.

“People have to choose between seizures and horrible side effects” of the drugs, Norwood said.

One of Norwood’s goals for Expesicor is to provide opportunities for Montanans to work on groundbreaking research in world-class facilities, an opportunity afforded to few Montanans who wish to remain in the state.

“I am unfortunately the classic example of somebody who had to go to a different state in order to get a certain degree because it’s not really offered in Montana. And even if it were offered in Montana, there are no jobs available,” Norwood said.

The company is working with “probably a dozen” collaborators, from small companies to major universities, all across the country. These collaborations ease the burden of working in Montana while the company can license critical technology from their collaborators.

“I don’t think we could have done this 20 years ago just because the tools to keep in touch with people from all over the country didn’t exist. But it works. It’s sometimes tricky, but we’re happy with it,” Norwood said.

Despite the disadvantages of geography and underdeveloped infrastructure, Norwood is happy Expesicor is based in Montana.

“There’s actually room to grow in Montana, where if you’re in Boston or San Diego, there’s not. So you could get to a point where you need space but it just doesn’t physically exist,” he said.

Reporter Colin Gaiser can be reached at 758-4439 or cgaiser@dailyinterlake.com

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