Arizona’s Biotech Industry Flourishes, Places State on Medical Map

Burgeoning biotech industry is putting Arizona on the medical map

Bioscience and biotechnology, two of the fastest-growing health-related industries in the country, have a welcome—and expanding—presence in Arizona. More than 100,000 Arizona-based medical professionals in 850 facilities are using biotechnology to address innovative healthcare treatments for such diseases as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and autism. With targeted medicine-based research and diagnostic tools, they’re also helping to bring more advanced and affordable drugs to the medical marketplace.

The list of Arizona-based bioscience researchers and practitioners is lengthy, but some of the most high profile include Barrow Neurological Institute, the Biodesign Institute at ASU, BIO5 at the University of Arizona, Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, and the Arizona Cancer Center. They are joined by a cadre of clinical research partners, business incubators with bioscience-specific resources, patient advocacy groups and economic development partners.

One key area of biotech research and diagnostics is genomics, the study of the human genome or genetic “map.” This exciting new field of research and practice is showing impressive results in the treatment of complex diseases.

Arizona-based TGen (short for the Translational Genomics Research Institute) is one of the most progressive facilities of its kind in the United States. Founded in 2002, the nonprofit facility is under the direction of Dr. Jeffrey M. Trent, an internationally recognized scientist seeking breakthroughs in genetic research that ultimately lead to advances in treatment of a variety of diseases.

TGen’s $46 million state-of-the-art building forms the cornerstone of the Phoenix Biomedical Campus (PBC), a bioscience and medical research center that is home to TGen and other biomedical-related research, academic and clinical programs. TGen’s work has been dynamic, to say the very least.

In January 2012, a skin cancer drug tested by TGen in partnership with Scottsdale Healthcare received full approval by the FDA. Vismodegib (marketed under the name Erivedge) is showing enormous potential in the treatment of inoperable basal cell carcinomas.

TGen will also use its genomic expertise to aid the Neuroblastoma and Medulloblastoma Translational Research Consortium (NMTRC) in important clinical trials aimed at finding treatment strategies for children with neuroblastoma, a rare pediatric cancer.

In addition, patients at the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare were among the nation’s first to participate in a study to determine the safety and effectiveness of drugs designed to treat advanced pancreatic cancer. This also resulted in FDA approval of Abraxane for advanced stages of this disease.

As a part of its strategy, TGen is establishing critical partnerships with key representatives in academia, government agencies, and clinical and corporate entities in Arizona and around the world. For example, in cooperation with the University of Arizona, TGen’s MindCrowd.org is an interactive online study of Alzheimer’s disease, which has already drawn more than 32,000 participants from the U.S. and more than 100 countries.

At the core of TGen’s work, however, is the increasing significance of the human genome, and its efficacy in furthering treatment and cures for diseases that were long considered nearly lost causes.

“The human genome will be the textbook of medicine for the next 100 years,” says Trent.

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