The biotech industry has become an integral part of Tucson and Southern Arizona’s economy over the past decade, as startups and established companies rush into the burgeoning field.
According to AZBio, jobs in the life sciences have grown 9% in Arizona since 2014, twice the rate over the rest of the country. With the University of Arizona’s world-class research facilities and a healthy crop of STEM graduates, Tucson is reinventing itself as an ideal hub for biotech, one of the fastest growing industries in the US.
The news is encouraging for Tucson, not only for the number of future job opportunities, but also for the types of careers these jobs afford. While bioscience jobs grew by 58% from 2002-2016, they also paid 33% higher wages than the private sector average, according to the Flinn Foundation, an Arizona philanthropic organization.
Those numbers are enough to get anyone excited for what biotech has in store for the city. Here are just a few examples of companies helping to take Tucson into the future.
Founded in 2008 by UA radiologist Dr. Evan Unger, Nuvox developed a novel approach to helping the 795,000 people who suffer from strokes each year in the US. It began when Unger acquired the rights to DDFPe, a chemical originally intended for medical imaging. Unger was interested in the chemical’s ability to spread oxygen through the body, leading to the realization that it could be used to treat hypoxia in the brains of stroke patients. The company won the Pitch Perfect competition at the Med City INVEST conference and was able to raise $6 million from the Desert Angels, a Tucson-based venture capital group.
Since the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, gene regulation has experienced tremendous growth and a steady stream of advancements. Reglagene is a small startup run by UA Drug-Discovery Chief Lawrence Hurley with the purpose of being able to selectively turn genes “on” or “off” in order to fight cancer. While still a small company, expect big things to come.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Tucson metro is home to Roche, one of the world’s largest biotech companies. Roche covers a huge array of focus areas including oncology, immunology, infectious diseases, and ophthalmology. The Swiss company acquired Ventana Medical Systems in 2008 and poured an additional $180 million into expansion in 2010. Today, as part of the Roche Diagnostics division, the Ventana campus continues to be a massive job creator for our region.
Tucson’s Cancer Prevention Pharmaceuticals was founded in 2009 to design therapeutics that reduce the risk of gastrointestinal cancers and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), a rare genetic disease that can develop into gastric cancer if left untreated. Last year, CPP completed the largest FAP study in the US, with analysis expected in 2019. The results will be followed by potential submission for FDA approval.
Emagine is a relatively new startup that designs mobile ultrasounds that can be run off an iPad. The technology gives access to clinicians all over the world, creating an opportunity for developing countries and rural areas that lack the requisite technology. This could lead to better maternal care and a potential drop in child mortality rates around the world.
In 2002, the Flinn Foundation outlined a plan targeting 2025 as the year when Arizona would become a national leader in biosciences. As you can see, that prediction has already begun to take shape. This is good news for all who have a vested interest in seeing Tucson’s economic position continue to thrive. You can count me in that group.
Mike Trueba, CCIM is Vice President, Business Banking for Vantage West Credit Union, a $1.9 billion financial institution, which serves a growing membership of nearly 150,000 via branches across Arizona and online channels, as well. Vantage West offers consumer and business banking services, and is federally insured by NCUA.VantageWest.org