AZBio award winners illustrate breadth of state’s bio sector

November 2, 2010

By hammersmith

The Arizona BioIndustry Association has announced the winners of its six annual awards, following its fall celebration of the biosciences, BioFest 2010. More than 300 guests attended the event, which highlighted Arizona’s strength in such fields as cancer therapeutics, biofuels, and science education.

Individual awards included:

  • Michael A. Cusanovich Bioscience Educator of the Year Award: Andrew Lettes, Pueblo Magnet High School, Tucson;

  • Public Service Award: Phil Gordon, mayor of Phoenix;

  • Research Excellence Award: Milton Sommerfeld and Qiang Hu, Arizona State University; and

  • Jon W. McGarity Leadership Award: Patrick Soon-Shiong, founder of Abraxis BioScience Inc.

Dr. Lettes, who teaches biotechnology and biology, has a 16-year record of extending Pueblo students’ educational experiences beyond the classroom, encouraging them to engage in research, assume active community roles, and participate in state and national competitions, including at the national Health Occupations Students of America convention. In September, Dr. Lettes, a strong advocate of career and technical education, received an Innovation Heroes Award from Science Foundation Arizona.

Gordon, mayor of Phoenix since 2003, has presided over much of the development of the downtown Phoenix Biomedical Campus, including the establishment of the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix and the Phoenix Union High School District’s Bioscience High School, as well as the growth of ASU’s downtown-Phoenix campus.

Dr. Sommerfeld and Dr. Hu, whose research is based at ASU’s Polytechnic campus in Mesa, are leaders in Arizona’s growing algal-biofuels cluster. Co-directors of the Laboratory for Algae Research and Biotechnology, their particular focus is development of a commercially viable process for converting algae lipids into jet fuel. The new Arizona Center for Algae Technologies, funded by Science Foundation Arizona, will be sited within their lab.

Dr. Soon-Shiong has emerged as a significant figure in the Arizona bioscience community through the establishment of an Abraxis manufacturing plant in west Phoenix, along with his involvement in with BioAccel, a Phoenix-based nonprofit working to spur economic development by commercializing late-stage bioscience research, and the nascent Health Transformation Institute, which aims to leverage data coordination and exchange to improve health care.

Company awards included:

  • Fast Start Award: Cancer Prevention Pharmaceuticals Inc.; and

  • Bioscience Company of the Year: Abraxis BioScience.

The Tucson-based Cancer Prevention Pharmaceuticals was spun out of studies conducted by gastrointestinal cancer researcher Eugene Gerner at the University of Arizona. Dr. Gerner co-founded the company in 2008 with a colleague at the University of California at Irvine to develop preventive therapies for patients with an elevated risk of colorectal and other cancers.

The new Phoenix plant for Los Angeles-based Abraxis came online a year ago after a $70 million conversion and expansion of a facility previously owned by Watson Pharmaceuticals. Built to serve as the company’s most advanced production site for its flagship therapy, Abraxane, the plant could also produce other chemotherapy drugs in the future, and is ultimately expected to employ a staff of 200. On October 13, Abraxis shareholders gave final approval for a $2.9 billion sale of the company to New Jersey-based Celgene Corp.

For more information:

Arizona BioIndustry Association names nominees,” Phoenix Business Journal, 10/02/2010