Leaders in Arizona biosciences honored at ABA awards dinner

June 21, 2007

By hammersmith

Eight individuals and companies were honored for their efforts to advance Arizona’s emerging bioscience sector last night at the third-annual Excellence in Bioscience Awards Dinner in downtown Phoenix, hosted by the Arizona BioIndustry Association.

Nearly 300 gathered at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix to celebrate the achievements of the honorees. Award winners included:

  • Jeffrey Trent, Ph.D., President and Scientific Director, TGen. Bioscience Leader of the Year. Honors an individual serving in an academic or nonprofit position whose leadership has contributed significantly to progress in Arizona biosciences.
  • Jonathan Thatcher, President, Exeter Life Sciences, Inc. Bioscience Executive of the Year. Recognizes leadership by a bioscience company executive who has significantly advanced the bioindustry in Arizona.
  • Roy Curtiss, Ph.D., Director, Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University. Bioscience Researcher of the Year. Awarded to the life science researcher whose work has resulted in recognition for Arizona through publications and professional acknowledgement for achievements in an academic or commercial setting.
  • The Honorable Carolyn Allen, Senator, Arizona State Senate. Bioscience Elected Official of the Year. Honors the elected official at the city, county, state, or federal level who has demonstrated outstanding leadership that has contributed to the growth and development of biosciences in Arizona.
  • Xan Simonson, Biotechnology Academy Coordinator, Mesa Public Schools. Bioscience Educator of the Year. Recognizes a member of the faculty or administration of an educational institution for dedication to teaching and inspiring students and future leaders of the state’s bioscience industry.
  • Niadyne, Inc. Bioscience Company of the Year. Awarded to the most significant Arizona-based for-profit bioscience company in 2006 with more than a year of revenues.
  • InNexus Biotechnology, Inc. Bioscience Startup Company of the Year. Recognizes the most significant for-profit bioscience company in 2006 with less than a year or revenues.
  • Medipacs, LLC. Medical Device Company of the Year. Awarded to the most significant Arizona-based for-profit medical device or medical instrumentation company in 2006.

Photo of winters“The contributions of these eight award winners to the biosciences in Arizona and across the globe is truly remarkable,” said Jon McGarity, recent ABA President and CEO, who honored the winners as the evening’s emcee. “While they are certainly exceptional, they are also indicative of the impressive talent and experience that Arizona has in its bioindustry and is continually attracting. The ABA is privileged to recognize the successes and contributions of these outstanding individuals and companies to improved healthcare and a better quality of life for Arizonans.”

McGarity, who stepped down as president and CEO of the ABA in May, was also honored. The Bioscience Leader of the Year award was renamed the Jon W. McGarity Bioscience Leader of the Year award in recognition of McGarity’s years of service with the association. The presentation included a congratulatory video message from Jim Greenwood, president and CEO of the national Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), and George Poste, director of the Biodesign Institute at ASU and first recipient of the award in 2005. McGarity served as president and CEO for two years and previously as board chairman. He left the position to become CEO of InSys Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical firm that recently moved to Phoenix from Chicago.

The award winners were nominated by their peers and selected from statewide nominees by an independent panel of judges.

The dinner followed the daylong 2007 Arizona Bio Expo, held across the street at the Phoenix Convention Center. The ABA event involved state and national bioscience experts leading sessions on research innovations in Arizona as well as best business practices. An exhibition hall featured booths and posters highlighting the state’s research institutions and bioscience-related companies.

Sponsors of the awards dinner and/or expo included Air Liquide Healthcare America, Arizona Department of Commerce, Biodesign Institute at ASU, Biotechnology Industry Organization, Covance, Critical Path Institute, DPR Construction, Ernst & Young, Fennemore Craig, Greater Phoenix Economic Council, Jennings Strouss & Salmon, Maricopa Community Colleges, marketRx, McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff, Medtronic, Perkins Coie Brown & Bain, Quarles & Brady, Rogers & Hool, Salt River Project, Science Care, Snell & Wilmer, Squire Sanders & Dempsey, TGen, and VWR International.


Bioscience Leader of the Year
Jeffrey Trent, Ph.D, President and Scientific Director, TGen

An internationally recognized scientist, Dr. Trent leads the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), a nonprofit research institute established in Phoenix in 2002. TGen focuses on turning breakthroughs in genetic research into medical advances benefiting patients and their families. Under Trent’s leadership, TGen has made numerous scientific discoveries that could lead to the development of earlier diagnoses and smarter treatments for patients. The institute employs nearly 300 staff and anchors the Phoenix Biomedical Campus, a 28-acre plot in downtown Phoenix that is home to a growing number of institutions involved in biosciences, medical education, and research. TGen has helped to create three startup companies through licensing of its technologies, and has facilitated the creation of three more.

Trent is a widely respected cancer researcher with a specialization in melanoma and genetics. Prior to forming TGen, he was the founding Scientific Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) of the National Institutes of Health, serving in this role for more than nine years. He is a product of Arizona education, both high school (Arcadia High, Scottsdale) and college (masters and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Arizona). Trent has been a leader in developing biosciences across Arizona, establishing collaborations with the three state universities, numerous healthcare and research institutions, and private entities.

Bioscience Executive of the Year
Jonathan Thatcher, President, Exeter Life Sciences, Inc.

Thatcher leads a life sciences company in Phoenix with several subsidiaries that together are actively engaged in developing human, plant, and animal technologies to protect the environment, improve the genetics of animals, increase the efficiency of crop production, and combat the effects of aging on human health. He is co-founder and chairman of Kronos, a Phoenix-based firm that provides on-site health screenings, worksite health promotion, worksite weight management, and executive health services. Kronos works with moderate to large employer groups such as United Healthcare and other third-party providers.

Thatcher also is CEO of Kronos Science Laboratories, Inc., a full-service provider of laboratory and research support services to the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and clinical research industries in Phoenix and around the world. He is chairman of Arcadia Biosciences, Inc., which develops agricultural products and technologies that benefit the environment and enhance human health. He also chairs Viagen, Inc., a leading agricultural animal cloning company that helps owners of cattle, horses, and pigs preserve and multiply their most valuable genetics through gene banking and cloning services. Finally, Thatcher is chairman and interim president for Start Licensing, Inc., an intellectual property company that in-licenses and out-licenses patent rights to cloning technologies associated with somatic cell nuclear transfer.

Bioscience Researcher of the Year
Roy Curtiss III, Ph.D., Director, Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University

Dr. Curtiss is a leader in exploring the genetic basis by which bacteria colonize, invade, and induce disease. A member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, Curtiss seeks to create vaccines that are safe and effective. Curtiss was recruited to ASU in 2004 from Washington University in St. Louis. The ASU center he leads has has more than 20 faculty focused on researching infectious diseases and designing vaccines to combat them.

At present Curtiss leads a global team working to perfect a safe, potent vaccine for bacterial pneumonia, which kills more children around the world than any other infectious disease. The effort received a major boost recently from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation plus other funding agencies concerned with global health. The oral vaccine promises to outperform the existing injectable vaccine in every way—in safety, ease of distribution, effectiveness, and affordability. The Curtiss team includes 14 collaborators at 10 institutions across the globe.

In addition to his extensive knowledge of bacterial genetics, Curtiss has considerable expertise in avian, plant, and phage genetics. His body of published work includes more than 250 reviewed articles. He has obtained numerous patents and millions of dollars in research grants over his career.

Bioscience Elected Official of the Year
The Honorable Carolyn Allen, Senator, Arizona State Senate

Sen. Carolyn Allen, a Republican from Scottsdale, has served in the Arizona Legislature since 1995. Following eight years in the House of Representatives, including a term as Majority Leader, she jumped to the Senate and chairs its Health Committee. Sen. Allen also serves as vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and sits on the Commerce and Economic Development Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Welfare.

Sen. Allen is a recognized leader in championing legislation to advance healthcare and biosciences in Arizona. During the current legislative session she has pushed for funding priorities such Science Foundation Arizona and the expansion of the Phoenix campus of the University of Arizona medical school in collaboration with Arizona State University.

Sen. Allen serves on Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap Steering Committee, a body of 75 statewide leaders overseeing the implementation of the state’s long-term bioscience strategy. She is a member of the Arizona Commission on Medical Education and Research, chairman of the Greater Southwest Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation, and a board member of the Institute for Mental Health Research. Sen. Allen has been active with the National Conference of State Legislatures and has helped to shape the national dialogue on the biosciences at the state level.

Bioscience Educator of the Year
Xan Simonson, Biotechnology Academy Coordinator, Mesa Public Schools

Simonson is the driving force behind the development and implementation of Mesa Public School’s Biotechnology Program, which has drawn attention as a leading Arizona model of education and training in the biosciences. She manages the program for the district’s five high schools and administers the Biotechnology Academy at Mesa High School. Simonson also trains biology teachers within Mesa Public Schools and works with Mesa Community College in the summers to conduct basic and advanced teacher training in biotechnology.

Simonson serves as the president of the Arizona Science Teachers Association and recently was named to the Governor’s P-20 Council for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Education in Arizona. She has spent summers at prestigious training programs such as the Dolan DNA Learning Center and a plant-genomics program at the University of California in Davis. In 2005, Simonson was named one of the top biotechnology teachers in North America by the Biotechnology Institute.

Simonson is implementing several grants received by the district focusing on biotechnology outreach, working with institutions such as TGen, Northern Arizona University, Arizona State University Polytechnic, and Mesa Community College. The district recently received a $900,000 grant from Science Foundation Arizona to train teachers and provide support for student researchers.

Bioscience Company of the Year
Niadyne, Inc.

Niadyne is a Tucson-based spin-off company of two faculty members of the University of Arizona, BIO5 Institute, Arizona Cancer Center, and College of Pharmacy—Elaine Jacobson, Ph.D., and Myron Jacobson, Ph.D. The company was founded in 1997 based on technologies derived from biomedical research they had been conducting for more than 30 years. Niadyne develops novel topical drugs for the treatment and prevention of skin cancer, other dermatological diseases, and modulation of blood cholesterol levels.

Approximately $40 million in research and development has been invested in the technology and commercial development. The technology platform has been applied to the cosmeceutical skin- and hair-care markets where 20 products containing the patented technologies are being marketed and 20 additional products are in the pipeline. Niadyne’s ongoing revenue stream from these products helps to fund long-term drug research that targets life-threatening diseases such as skin cancer and heart disease. Niadyne has 17 issued U.S. patents and has 10 additional applications pending. It has 11 issued foreign patents, three privately held subsidiary companies, employs 25 people, and had gross sales of approximately $3.5 million in 2006.

Bioscience Startup Company of the Year
InNexus Biotechnology, Inc.

InNexus is an innovative antibody-driven drug development company creating therapies for the treatment of cancer and other diseases. The Canadian corporation is headquartered in British Columbia with principal management based in Scottsdale on the Mayo Clinic campus. The firm announced plans to open the Scottsdale location in 2006 and plans to employ 30 at the facility before the end of the year. InNexus is led by Jeff Morhet, who serves as president, CEO, and chairman.

InNexus is commercializing the next generation of monoclonal antibodies based on a technology that improves the potency of existing antibody products while opening new markets and disease applications. Antibodies have become a preferred drug development platform of pharmaceutical companies and millions of investment dollars are being spent to pursue antibody technologies. Monoclonal antibody technology boasts of superior specificity and lower toxicity compared to other drug development approaches.

Earlier this year, InNexus sold royalty interests in two proposed antibody products targeting cancer. The deal, representing a commitment of up to $35 million, was unusual in that it was completed prior to entering clinical trials—much earlier than usual in the drug-development cycle.

Medical Device Company of the Year
Medipacs, LLC

Medipacs formed in 2004 to develop a digital, disposable pump that delivers pharmaceuticals such as insulin, antibiotics, and pain medications to patients at the bedside or home. The pump is expected to significantly reduce the cost to both healthcare providers and patients for accurate liquid drug delivery. The firm is based at the Arizona Center for Innovation at the University of Arizona’s Science and Technology Park in Tucson. Company founder Mark Banister serves as president.

The market is substantial—more than one million infusions are performed daily in the United States. The technology uses an all-plastic pump system that is programmable and does not use motors or valves. Medipacs has been in early-stage, capital-generation mode, and expects to begin volume production within two years. It has attracted the interest of major medical device manufacturers and distributors. The company expects to have eight employees by the end of the year.

Medipacs recently won a $150,000 Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) Phase 1 Grant by the National Science Foundation. The funding will help Medipacs develop a small disposable liquid drug-delivery patch that would provide a significant breakthrough in medical care. The grant was awarded through the NSF Biotechnology Emerging Opportunities Initiative for technologies that have the potential to be commercialized within 2-3 years.

About the Arizona BioIndustry Association


The Arizona BioIndustry Association is a statewide organization that promotes the growth of bioindustry in the areas of public policy, member services, education, business networking, and entrepreneurial endeavors. To learn more about the Arizona BioIndustry Association, visit www.azbioindustry.org.