A biotech superstar with UNTHSC roots

By Jan Jarvis

ZS Pharma team

 

Six years ago in an acceleration lab at UNT Health Science Center, the co-founders of ZS Pharma were developing a drug that they believed held great promise. But even with such lofty expectations, ZS Pharma co-founders Alvaro Guillem and Jeff Keyser may have underestimated their biotech startup’s potential.

Earlier this month British drug maker AstraZeneca agreed to acquire ZS Pharma for $2.7 billion in cash.

In the pharmaceutical world – where it typically takes a decade or more to move a drug from bench to bedside – ZS Pharma has moved at lightning speed. UNT Health Science Center helped make it all possible by providing offices, conference rooms and a lab where much of the work was done, Guillem said.

“During the early years it was critical to have the support of institutions like UNTHSC and the accelerator labs to be able to move the project forward,” Guillem said. “To this day, we continue to collaborate with labs and rely on their equipment and expertise to address various technical topics.”

From the start, ZS Pharma had all the making of a biotech superstar. Founded in 2008, it debuted on Wall Street as the first biotech IPO in Texas since 2000. Its drug, called ZS-9, has been on the fast track from the start.

Multiple clinical trials have shown the effectiveness of the drug, which is expected to hit the market in 2016. It treats hyperkalemia, a potentially life-threatening disease caused by excess potassium. About one in 200,000 people have the condition, which often affects people with chronic kidney disease and chronic heart failure.

Since 2006, UNT Health Science Center’s Office of Research Development and Commercialization and TECH Fort Worth, a non-profit technology incubator, have worked in partnership to bring new technologies to the market.

Firms get a boost from the UNTHSC Accelerator Lab Program along with the Executives-in-Residence, who act as mentors and offer advice from their years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry.

Taking research to the marketplace can be an arduous process. Playing a part in getting this drug on the path to patients has been rewarding for everyone involved , said Lawrence “Joe” Allred, Associate Vice President for Research and Innovation at UNTHSC.

“We can rightfully take pride in ZS Pharma’s success as a graduation of incubation in our Accelerator Labs,” he said.

Recent News

Sbs 2024 Grad Temioluwa Bolaji Oyenekan
  • Our People
|May 20, 2024

SBS grad wants to be a ‘beacon of hope’ for others

When Temiloluwa Bolaji-Oyenekan set her sights on medical school, finishing her undergraduate degree during the height of the COVID- 19 pandemic was not a part of the plan. Fortunately, resilience is a part of her character. The timing left her feeling unprepared to apply to medical schools, so she...
Sbs 2024 Grad Whitney Miller
  • Our People
|May 20, 2024

On her way to medical school, SBS graduate makes time to give back

When Whitney Miller crosses the stage at The University of North Texas at Health Science Center’s graduation ceremony, she’ll be celebrating some major accomplishments: earning a Master of Science in Clinical Research Management from the School of Biomedical Sciences and her recent acceptance in...
Sbs 2024 Grad Lane Hughes
  • Our People
|May 20, 2024

Med Sci program helps SBS grad get to medical school

Lane Hughes felt the call to give back during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a sophomore in college, he spent time volunteering with the Children’s Medical Center and the American Red Cross helping deliver blood donations and providing companionship to patients when their families could not visit. “...
A6db708d 247f 429b 8828 578ae70ec5eb
  • Our People
|May 16, 2024

Inspirational students part of HSC’s Class of 2024

A former Fort Worth tactical medic, a first-generation college student graduating as an osteopathic physician, a labor and delivery nurse, and a couple becoming physical therapists together are just a few of the inspirational students who will walk the stage during HSC’s commencement ceremony on W...