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ASU’s Arntzen Named Bioscience Researcher of the Year

image003Charles J. Arntzen, PhD, the founding director of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, has been named the 2014 Arizona Bioscience Researcher of the Year. The award is given annually to the life science researcher in Arizona who has made the most significant contribution to the advancement of knowledge and the understanding of biological processes.

“Charlie was instrumental in helping create an experimental drug called ZMapp that was recently used to treat U.S. aid workers infected with Ebola this summer,” says Joan Koerber-Walker, president and CEO of the Arizona Bioindustry Association. “His work has put Arizona on the map in new ways as people all over the world are fascinated by the idea that it is possible to produce medicine inside a plant.”

“Charlie’s work represents some of the best and brightest of Biodesign,” says Raymond DuBois, executive director of the Biodesign Institute. “By erasing traditional boundaries between the sciences, we are able to deliver unexpected solutions.”

Arntzen’s primary research interests are in plant molecular biology and protein engineering, as well as the utilization of plant biotechnology for enhancement of food quality and value, and for overcoming health and agricultural constraints in the developing world. He has been recognized as a pioneer in the development of plant-based vaccines for human disease prevention, with special emphasis on needs of poor countries, and for disease prevention in animal agriculture. His work developed the technology by which human proteins (such as ZMapp) can be expressed in and harvested from plants.

Arntzen is the Florence Ely Nelson Presidential Endowed Chair and Regents’ Professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences. He serves on the board of directors of Advanced BioNutrition and is on the advisory board of the Burrill and Company’s Agbio Capital Fund and the Nutraceuticals Fund.

Prior to coming to ASU in 2000, Arntzen was president and CEO of the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research. He also served on President George W. Bush’s Council of Advisors on Science and the National Nanotechnology Oversight Board.

Arntzen will be honored at the AZBio Awards Gala on Sept. 17 at the Phoenix Convention Center. The AZBio Awards ceremony celebrates Arizona’s leading educators, innovators and companies. Each year AZBio honors bioindustry leaders from across Arizona illustrative of the depth, breadth and expertise of the state’s bioscience industry.

Past winners of the Arizona Bioscience Researcher of the Year Award include: Leslie Boyer, MD (The University of Arizona), Paul Keim, PhD (Northern Arizona University and TGen-North), Jessica Langbaum, PhD (Banner Alzheimer’s Research Institute), Milton Sommerfeld, PhD, and Qiang Hu, PhD (Arizona State University), Bruce Rittman, PhD (Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University), Rod Wing, PhD (Arizona Genomics Institute at the University of Arizona), and Roy Curtiss, III, PhD (Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University).

AZBio Pioneer Honoree Roy Curtiss, III, Ph.D. of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University. Photo Courtesy of ASU.

AZBio honors ASU scientist Curtiss

Roy Curtiss, III, Ph.D., of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, has been selected as the recipient of the 2014 AZBio Pioneer Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Arizona Bioindustry Association.

“During his career, Roy Curtiss has had a profound impact on microbiology research and been a true pioneer in developing salmonella-based vaccines that are effective against a range of infectious diseases, which are still the leading cause of worldwide death,” said Joan Koerber-Walker, president and CEO of AZBio. “His contributions since being recruited to Arizona a decade ago have continued unabated, and he is now on the cusp of bringing his remarkable discoveries to the marketplace.”

“Roy’s lifelong dedication and achievements in bioscience research, education and innovation are really quite remarkable, and his efforts have inspired countless life science careers,” said Biodesign Institute Executive Director Raymond DuBois, M.D., Ph.D. “His passion and commitment in taking on the challenges of combating infectious diseases and the impact he is having on urgent societal problems make him a stellar example of the translational research spirit of the Biodesign Institute.”

Curtiss was drawn to ASU President Michael Crow’s vision of a New American University and a new state-of-the-art research enterprise, the Biodesign Institute, which opened in 2004. Shortly after arriving at ASU, Curtiss received the largest support of his career, more than $15.4 million from the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He has also received generous and continued support from the National Institutes of Health throughout his career.

Curtiss’ primary focus is alleviating worldwide suffering and death from infectious diseases, particularly in the developing world. At Biodesign, he directs the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, where he oversees a 130-member research team working on more than a dozen projects. He is also a professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences and a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences.

One of his major projects is development of a next-generation vaccine against bacterial pneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia kills more children around the world each year than any other infectious disease, and the rising costs of vaccines has spurred researchers to develop new solutions. Curtiss and his global team are trying to perfect a safe, yet potent vaccine to fight pneumonia and can be tolerated even by newborn babies — and orally administered as a single-dose, low-cost solution. If successful, the new vaccine against bacterial pneumonia promises to outperform existing injectable vaccine in terms of safety, affordability, ease of distribution and effectiveness.

Preliminary studies have been successful, and the vaccine technology has moved forward to human clinical trials. In addition, his team is also targeting vaccine development for a host of other diseases, and to protect poultry and livestock against a broad range of bacterial marauders.

Before coming to ASU in 2004, Curtiss was the George William and Irene Keochig Freiberg professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis, where he chaired the Department of Biology for ten years. His body of published work includes more than 250 reviewed articles. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a doctorate from the University of Chicago.

A ceremony honoring Curtiss will take place at the AZBio Awards on September 17, 2014 at the Phoenix Convention Center. The AZBio Awards ceremony celebrates Arizona’s leading educators, innovators and companies. Each year, AZBio honors bioindustry leaders from across the state of Arizona who are illustrative of the depth, breadth and expertise of our bioscience industry.

Past recipients of the AZBio Pioneer Award for Lifetime Achievement include: David S. Alberts, M.D., Director Emeritus at the Arizona Cancer Center, Raymond L. Woosley, M.D., Ph.D., Chairman Emeritus of the Critical Path Institute, and Thomas M. Grogan, M.D., founder of Ventana Medical Systems, Inc.

For registration and more information, go to www.azbio.awards.com.