A biotech superstar with UNTHSC roots
By Jan Jarvis
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.
By Steven Bartolotta In 2007, TCOM’s Dr. Rita Patterson and Dr. Jennifer Wayne, a professor at Virginia Tech, recognized the need for women in the field of bioengineering to meet together, network, mentor and increase the representation of women in the field. Thus the ASME Bioengineering...Read more
Jun 23, 2021
A growing trove of data to help scientists understand the biology of Alzheimer’s disease among diverse populations within the context of sociocultural, behavioral and environmental factors is now available through the Institute for Translational Research at The University of North Te...Read more
Jun 22, 2021
By Diane Smith-Pinckney The embroidery on Vic Holmes’ black scrubs identify him as a physician assistant and an ally to LGBTQ+ patients. The words, stitched under a rainbow-colored Caduceus pin and near his heart, read: “Vic Holmes, PA-C, He/Him/His, Family Medicine.” Pronouns are...Read more
Jun 21, 2021
By Sally Crocker Katie Pelch, PhD, wants you to know what’s in our environment and how the chemicals we’re exposed to every day may affect our health. Dr. Pelch is a part-time Assistant Professor, Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, in the HSC School of Public Health (SPH), where...Read more
Jun 21, 2021