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December 16, 2019 | Tom Ballard

PART 1: Ed Pershing first became intrigued with Provectus Biopharmaceuticals in 2005

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in a multi-part series exploring the evolution of Provectus Biopharmaceuticals Inc., a Knoxville-based company that traces its roots to research undertaken at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Since its founding in 2002, the company has experienced a rollercoaster history even for a biotech company. Today, the leadership team that resurrected the company several years ago has it on what they believe is a well-defined path to successful commercialization of drug products in the next few years. When Ed Pershing, Chair of the Provectus Board of Directors, read yesterday’s feature story that was a tribute to Joy Fisher and her years-long struggle with cancer, he said simply, “It is people like her that fuel my passion for PV-10.”)

Anyone who personally knows Ed Pershing, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of PYA, the power behind, or has heard about him knows that the native of Alcoa, TN is clearly driven by a strong, faith-based ethical core.

While he doesn’t subscribe to the term “entrepreneur,” a word that others use to describe him, Pershing has clearly left an entrepreneurial legacy of more than four decades in the professional services sector. He was clearly the visionary behind a number of PYA affiliates – The Realty Trust Group, PYA Waltman Capital LLC, Healthcare Horizons Consulting Group Inc., and PYA Analytics to name four.

Lesser known, however, are the many other local entrepreneurs that Pershing has befriended, mentored and, in many cases, personally invested in. Innovative ideas and opportunities that potentially break new ground inspire him, and the bigger the challenge, the better.

Recently, one of my former colleagues at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, asked an intriguing question: “With Ed Pershing’s stellar reputation, the science must be obviously good for him to step into this mess.” She was referring to Provectus Biopharmaceuticals Inc., a Knoxville-based, clinical stage, biotechnology company that made headlines several years ago for all of the wrong reasons.

My response was “Yes, he believes in the science and the results thus far from clinical trials, and he wants to grow the company here in the Knoxville region, not in a place like New York or Boston or San Francisco.”

What I did not say at the time was that initially following the Provectus’ story and investing in the company over the past decade was just the beginning for Pershing. He and two others literally stepped-in to rescue the company several years ago from what could have been a death sentence due to actions of the previous executive team that were deemed illegal by the federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Why did Pershing and his associates make such a personal commitment? They believed so much in the potential that PV-10, the company’s initial product, had to address solid tumor cancers for adults and children alike. That commitment by Pershing has only significantly accelerated with his recent announcement  that he will retire at the end of 2019 from PYA, the company he co-founded, to devote his attentions as Chair of the Board of Directors of Provectus.

During his roughly decade-long journey from investor to Board Chair, Pershing has built a strong relationship with Dominic Rodrigues, current Vice Chair of the Board and a person who captured Pershing’s attention years ago for his blog posts about Provectus. Rodrigues brings very complementary skills to the table. He holds business, economics, and engineering degrees from The Wharton School, London School of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and University of Toronto.

On a professional basis, Rodrigues’ experience includes business and corporate development, finance, and leadership roles at various science and technology-based companies including SAIC Venture Capital Corporation, the multi-billion dollar investment subsidiary of research and engineering company SAIC.

Over multiple interview sessions recently, Pershing and Rodrigues discussed the evolution of their ever-increasing involvement with Provectus that, in Pershing’s case, started in 2005.

“Craig Dees (one of the Provectus Founders and its CEO at the time) was scheduled to speak in 2005 to the local CPA group,” he said. “I was unable to attend but asked my partner to do so. Craig’s subject was the difficulty of raising capital in East Tennessee.”

For Pershing, that is a particular cause about which he is most vocal. “It is still true today,” he says in noting the challenges he and Rodrigues have faced in trying to keep Provectus headquartered here when local investors show minimal interest.

“What intrigued me about the presentation that Dees made were the details about the drug . . . stimulating the body’s immune system to fight cancer,” Pershing explained. With more than three-fourths of PYA’s activities involved in consulting and other services for healthcare clients since its founding in December 1983, he’s had a unique viewpoint to see those challenges.

“For decades, we’ve used highly toxic drugs that have all sorts of unintended and long-term implications for patients’ health,” Pershing says. It was the less harsh treatment and resulting clinical benefit for individuals that led him on a now 14-year journey with Provectus and, since 2010, in association with Rodrigues.

“We met at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference that year,” Pershing said. “He was most articulate about Rose Bengal (the basis of PV-10), and his views were science-based. Without Dominic, I would not have tackled saving the company in the manner I did. Without him, I would have had to follow a more traditional path to rebuilding the company’s capital base.”

NEXT: From being just two more shareholders to saving the company.

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