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AZ Tech Beat | December 15, 2019

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ZMapp, artificial hearts and cures – AZBio Awards honors biotech leaders

ZMapp, artificial hearts and cures – AZBio Awards honors biotech leaders
Alyssa Lee

The Valley of the Sun consists of more than just dirt, golf courses and pools — it also holds most of the country’s Petri dishes and innovative minds in biotechnology.

Home to over 1,300 life science companies, Arizona has become one of the fastest growing biotech sectors in the country, according to the Arizona Bioindustry Association.

Over the years, Arizona has experienced multiple successes, such as the Chandler-based pharmaceutical company Insys Therapeutics, Inc. performing as the top IPO of 2013 with over 380 percent growth in shareholder value and Arizona State University researchers contributing to the development of an Ebola drug that may have saved the lives of two American health workers in 2014, according to AZBio.

To honor these successes, AZBio is hosting the 6th annual AZBio Awards on Sept. 17 at the Phoenix Convention Center, AZBio President and CEO Joan Koerber-Walker said.

“The AZBio Awards was created to celebrate the successes in our community and to help educate members of our community who don’t work in biosciences every day,” Koerber-Walker said. “It’s the community’s opportunity to come and see what’s happening in their own backyard.”

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Ebola virus

From 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., the public will be able to witness and learn about what is happening in Arizona’s growing biotech sector for free during the event’s Biotech Showcase.

The showcase will feature innovations and exhibits from life science companies and Arizona universities, as well as the work of students from these universities, community colleges and high schools.

“One of the things I look forward to every year is the students,” Koerber-Walker said. “There’s something really special when students from Arizona’s high schools, community colleges and colleges come and [stand] shoulder-to-shoulder with industry leaders, talk about science and [share] what they’re doing. To think that what we’re working on today is really cool, the things that they’re going to come up with tomorrow are going to be even more amazing.”

Exhibits include a display of the world’s first total artificial heart and information from industry leaders who are working to develop solutions for HIV, heart disease and cancer.

Along with this, attendees will be able to hear from award-winning life science entrepreneurs during the event’s “Best of the Best” Entrepreneurial Stage. Presenters include Mario Martinez II of MRTNZ Ventures, Mark Sholin of Absource and Scarlett Spring of VisionGate to name a few.

For ticket-holders, the event will also include a Gala Awards Dinner to celebrate the AZBio 2014 honorees. The dinner will be attended by over 400 biotech leaders in the industry.

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Students in ASU Bioscience lab

Here’s a breakdown of the award winners:

2014 AZBio Pioneer Award for Lifetime Achievement

Since he was recruited by Arizona State University President Michael Crow for the school’s Biodesign Institute, Doctor Roy Curtiss III has worked to alleviate worldwide suffering and death from infectious diseases.

As the director of the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology at the institute, Curtiss has worked to develop a next-generation vaccine against bacteria pneumonia that would save the lives of millions of children around the world. If the vaccine is successful, it would be the safest, most affordable injectable vaccine on the market.

“During his career, Roy Curtiss has had a profound impact on microbiology research and been a true pioneer in developing salmonella-based vaccines that are effective against a range of infectious diseases, which are still the leading cause of worldwide death,” Koerber-Walker said in a statement. “His contributions since being recruited to Arizona a decade ago have continued unabated, and he is now on the cusp of bringing his remarkable discoveries to the marketplace.”

2014 Bioscience Company of the Year

After rocketing by over 380 percent in shareholder value to become the top performing biotech IPO of 2013, Insys Therapeutics, Inc. continued its high growth pattern in 2014.

The commercial-stage specialty pharmaceutical company reported total net revenue of $97.3 million in the first six months of this year, according to AZBio.

Along with this, Insys was granted to use pharmaceutical cannabidiol, or CBD, by the FDA to treat both Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome and Dravet Syndrome, two rare forms of epilepsy in children. Additionally, the FDA extended the use of CBD for Insys’ treatment of glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive form of brain cancer.

2014 Arizona Bioscience Researcher of the Year

With Ebola continuing to claim lives in West Africa, an ASU Regents’ professor has been testing a wide range of plants to create vaccines to counter deadly viruses found in the developing world.

This year, Charlie Arntzen may have found a combination of using tobacco to develop a vaccine for the Ebola virus.

Arntzen and his team at the ASU Biodesign Institute have been working with the main research developers at Mapp Biopharmaceutical in San Diego and with a team at Kentucky BioProcessing on a vaccine called ZMapp.

ZMapp is a cocktail of antibodies produced by specially modified tobacco plants.

It vaccine was recently used in the treatment of American aid workers Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who were both saved from the deadly virus.

To find out more about the winners, check out AZBio Awards.

Photos courtesy of AZBio, ASU Bioscience, itv.com