A biotech superstar with UNTHSC roots

November 30, 2015

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.

Jerry Simecka
Relieving the pain of peripheral arterial disease

By Jan Jarvis [caption id="attachment_200398685" align="alignright" width="200"] Dr. Jin Liu[/caption] For someone with peripheral arterial disease – a condition that causes narrowing of arteries in the limbs - pain is a big problem. “The treatment for it is exercise,” said Eric G...Read more

Jul 19, 2018

Heath Fc
Protecting her daughters’ generation from Alzheimer’s

By Alex Branch Janet Heath has a deeply personal interest in Alzheimer’s disease. Her mother suffered from it, as did her grandmother. Heath spent the last 10 years of her mother’s life trying to coordinate high-quality care as the disease took its terrible toll. That’s why Heath and ...Read more

Jul 17, 2018

Sid Fc
A blood test that IDs Alzheimer’s earlier, easier and cheaper

By Jan Jarvis   The first study of a blood test to detect Alzheimer’s disease within a primary care setting soon will be conducted at UNT Health Science Center. The simple test could be a game-changer in the diagnosis of early Alzheimer’s. If successful, it would be possible to ide...Read more

Jul 12, 2018

Dr. Taylor
New Provost: Let’s ‘unleash our strengths and ignite our future’

By Jeff Carlton Charles Taylor, PharmD, who has presided over a number of critical academic milestones as Dean of the UNT System College of Pharmacy, will become Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs at UNT Health Science Center. Dr. Taylor said he was “excited, honore...Read more

Jul 11, 2018