HTG Molecular Rising Biotechnology Star | BizTucson
By Romi Carrell Wittman
Cowboy boots and rodeos. White coats and laboratories. They’re both a great match for Tucson.
With a strong push from TREO and other community leaders the bioscience industry in Southern Arizona is flourishing. There are more than 100 bioscience companies generating $6 billion in annual revenues in Tucson. They range in size from small start-ups like HTG Molecular and MSDx to global leader Ventana Medical Systems. In fewer than a dozen years Tucson put itself on the bioscience industry map.
In fact, in 2008, Business Facilities Magazine named Tucson a “rising biotechnology star” and Arizona was cited among top emerging bio-tech “hot spots.”
There are several reasons why Tucson makes an ideal community for the bioscience sector – the most important being the University of Arizona. Strong support from groups such as the Bioscience Leadership Council of Southern Arizona and the Arizona Bioindustry Association also help.
Tucson also offers a strong labor pool. With more than 20 academic and technical life-sciences programs at the UA and Pima Community College, the Tucson region offers an educated workforce and first-rate training opportunities. The region also offers cutting-edge laboratory facilities for research productivity and clinical trials management. Up the interstate, Arizona State University also provides graduates for Southern Arizona companies.
Probably the most widely known bioscience company in the area is Ventana Medical Systems, the tissue diagnostic division of the Roche Group. The company made headlines last year when it announced expansion of its Oro Valley site, adding as many as 500 jobs. The expansion will take place over five years and represents a capital investment of approximately $180 million.
Ventana is a Tucson native, “born” here some 25 years ago in
the garage of Dr. Thomas Grogan, a UA professor and pathologist. Today it’s a leading developer and manufacturer of automated tissue-based diagnostic systems and tests focused on cancer detection.
Ventana and pharmaceutical giant Sanofi are the two largest tenants of Oro Valley’s 535-acre Innovation Park, a premier bioscience home for both start-ups and established companies. In fact, its trademarked slogan is “Where bio works.”
Robert Davis, senior vice president of Grubb & Ellis, and a partner in Innovation Park, said, “It’s a great example for the region, for the world really. Two global brands – two of the largest international pharma companies – have chosen to grow here. That’s pretty significant.”
He added that the family-friendly nature of the community and the beauty of the area give Innovation Park an edge. In fact this area has most everything, he said.
Yet probably most important – Innovation Park offers bioscience businesses both large and small the opportunity to achieve critical mass. “Smaller start-up companies want to be near the big ones and vice versa. It’s better for all of them to be near each other,” he said. Innovation Park provides a “think-tank incubator” environment where ideas can be explored freely. Further, the park fosters this environment by offering top-notch facilities for companies of all sizes, from start-ups to global leaders.
UA BIO5 Institute also recently opened a second location in the area, furthering Oro Valley’s reputation as a bioscience hub. Nina Ossanna, co-director of the BIO5 Oro Valley and director of business development for BIO5 said, “Oro Valley is a unique opportunity for the UA to establish BIO5 OV as a translational drug discovery center and be part of the growing bioscience hub emerging there. In addition, our facility’s accelerator space can help companies grow and serve as a stepping stone to establishing their own presence in Innovation Park.”
UA BioPark also hopes to foster the industry by incubating small business at its 65-acre campus near UA Medical Center/South Campus. Funded with public dollars, infrastructure construction is expected to be complete in December.
“The Bio Park is where scientific discovery connects with entrepreneurial business so research developments can advance to the marketplace. This park will be a global destination for innovation and collaboration,” said Bruce Wright, UA associate vice president for university research parks. “Master planned and well-conceived, the complex will attract the best and brightest minds in bioscience to Southern Arizona. This will bring office and labo-
ratory facilities needed by the emerging bioscience industry.”
While large companies like Ventana and big projects like Innovation Park and UA BioPark tend to get the lion’s share of media attention, smaller companies here in Tucson are also developing cutting-edge products and applications that have the potential to transform medicine worldwide.
MSDx develops biomarkers to aid in the monitoring of multiple sclerosis. Marie Wesselhoft, MSDx president, said the company has several products in pilot studies.
“Our first product, NK Cytolytic Competency Assay, was announced in October. Barrow Neurological Institute and the UA Medical School will be our pilots,” Wesselhoft said. The company also is planning a cross-sectional study to test its markers in patients with active and inactive disease. MSDx is funded in part through a grant from the Arizona Commerce Authority.
Another local success story is HTG Molecular which focuses on cancer diagnostics. The company just received $16 million in new financing and is investing the proceeds in next-generation improvements to its core technology. The company also recently added staff in sales and marketing and is in the process of recruiting senior scientists.
T.J. Johnson, CEO of HTG, said, “HTG Molecular’s mission is to assist clinical researchers in validating new and exciting genetic discoveries. We believe that personalized health care is the future and we are focused on shaping it.”
Beyond the many private bioscience companies, Tucson is also home to several key nonprofit organizations that foster the bioscience industry.
In addition to the UA BIO5 Institute, there is the nonprofit Critical Path Institute. Founded in 2005, C-Path’s over-arching goal is to shorten the path from development to market for new drugs, tests and medical devices.
Dr. Raymond L. Woosley, C-Path president and CEO, said, “Over the past year, C-Path has continued to gain recognition as the global leader in creating successful collaborations and programs focused on accelerating the development of safe, effective medical products.”
Woosley added that C-Path’s first-of-its-kind partnerships now include more than 1,000 scientists from international government regulatory agencies, academia, patient advocacy organizations, and 35 major pharmaceutical companies.
Organizations like BIO5 and C-Path bring worldwide attention to Tucson and showcase the talent and capability of the firms located here.
University of Arizona Medical Center/Diamond Children’s is also capturing the attention of the world. Dr. Fayhez K. Ghishan, physician in chief of Diamond Children’s and director of UA Steele Children’s Research Center, wants Diamond Children’s to be the Southwest equivalent of St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. His goal is no less than to change the face of medicine in Arizona, the region and the world.
The economic impact of UA Health Network is huge, some $1.3 billion in Pima County.
The UA Health Network, along with Carondelet Health Network and Tucson Medical Center, is a big selling point to people looking to relocate here.
“When people relocate, they ask about education and health care,” said Joe Snell, president and CEO of TREO. “Having these health powerhouses here helps us.”