Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Biotech startup aims to advance Arizona research

A new biotech organization has started with $14 million and plans to advance promising research in Arizona.

Catapult Bio, which comes from the Translational Genomics Research Institute, wants to fund research at university labs and non-profit groups such as Barrow Neurological Institute. It also expects to offer tips to area scientists on how to commercialize research.

Founders of the non-profit group want to bridge the funding gap that often blocks scientific discoveries from advancing out of the lab.

“The venture capital world has dried up quite a bit,” said MaryAnn Guerra, president of TGen Accelerators and co-founder of Catapult Bio. “We need more seed money in Arizona to get more things teed up.”

The new group forms as university labs grapple with budget cuts and many smaller biotech companies are in danger of running out of cash.

Catapult Bio’s startup cash comes from a grant provided by Los Angeles-based Abraxis Bioscience and its chief executive, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, who will sit on Catapult Bio’s board of directors.

Abraxis came to Phoenix in 2007 when it purchased a manufacturing facility from Watson Pharmaceuticals. The idea for the group percolated after the Greater Phoenix Economic Council introduced Soon-Shiong to area bioscience leaders, including Guerra.

Ron King, a TGen officer who worked with TGen President Dr. Jeffrey Trent at the National Human Genome Research Institute, will serve as president of Catapult Bio.

The group will start with four employees and a temporary office at TGen.

King said he expects the group will invest $50,000 to $300,000 per project based on the merits of research. It will focus on three areas of life sciences: drug development, diagnostics and medical devices.

In addition to taking equity positions in research, Catapult Bio expects to raise revenue through consulting services.

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