ASU appoints Josh LaBaer as new Biodesign Institute executive director

March 30, 2017

Arizona State University announced today that Joshua LaBaer, a leading researcher in cancer and personalized medicine, has been appointed the new executive director of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, effective April 1.

“Josh’s solutions-oriented research and innovative leadership make him uniquely qualified to guide the Biodesign Institute on its revolutionary path,” ASU President Michael M. Crow said. “In many ways, Josh’s career trajectory has paralleled ASU’s own rapid rise through the research ranks to achieve national recognition for innovation, entrepreneurship and impact on the communities we serve. I have no doubt he’ll take the Biodesign Institute to new levels of success.”  Joshua LaBaer has been appointed the new executive director for the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University. Download Full Image

LaBaer, who was recently honored with the Faculty Research Achievement Award by ASU Alumni on Founders’ Day, is one of the nation’s foremost investigators, recognized for his groundbreaking work in personalized medicine. His efforts involve the discovery and validation of biomarkers — unique molecular fingerprints of disease — that can provide early warning for those at risk of major illnesses, including cancer and diabetes.

“I am humbled by the opportunity to work with such outstanding and innovative colleagues. I am very excited about the future and our chance to grow the Institute and to have an impact by improving our community and our world,” LaBaer said.

LaBaer, an Arizona and Phoenix native who was educated at Washington High School in Phoenix, was recruited from Harvard to ASU in 2009 to lead the Biodesign Institute’s efforts in personalized medicine as ASU’s first Virginia G. Piper Chair of Personalized Medicine and director of the Biodesign Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics.

As the executive director of the Biodesign Institute, LaBaer will guide its talented researchers, who are pioneers of a dynamic new academic research model and hub of 21st-century innovation. 

The Biodesign Institute’s convergent technologies and fields of research focus on biomedicine and health outcomes, sustainability and security. Created on the premise that scientists can overcome complex societal issues by reimagining the “design rules” found in nature, the institute’s researchers are addressing an expansive array of global challenges by creating “bio-inspired” solutions, including: new vaccine discovery and delivery; early detection and treatment of cancer and infectious diseases; techniques for detecting and removing contaminants from air and water; and the application of nanotechnology for biomedicine and electronics.

“The Biodesign Institute is known for pioneering world-class, cutting-edge research,” said Sethuraman Panchanathan, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development and chief research and innovation officer at ASU. “With an innovative leader such as Josh LaBaer at its helm, the Institute is poised to take on broader challenges in health, sustainability and national security through cross-disciplinary research and strategic partnerships.”

Using new high-throughput technologies, his team advanced the discipline of functional proteomics, which seeks to understand the roles of all the proteins made in the human body.

His group invented a novel protein microarray technology, Nucleic Acid Programmable Protein Array, which has been used widely for biomedical research, including discoveries of a panel of biomarkers that may aid the early diagnosis of breast cancer.

They also developed new technologies to discover new disease targets, including the identification of blood-borne markers to discover the molecular signatures of the autoimmune cause of Type I diabetes as well as identification of markers for Crohn’s disease.

An underpinning of this work has been the creation of vast repositories of protein expression-ready clones for genes in human and other commonly studied organisms that are maintained in a rapid-access storage facility and usable in the widest possible range of experimental protocols.

LaBaer was an early initiator and leader of the effort to build fully sequence-verified recombination-based clone sets for human genes and other model organisms now managed in an automated repository with more than 250,000 samples, which are openly shared with the scientific community.

Prior to his time at ASU, LaBaer created the Institute of Proteomics as a research program within the Harvard Medical School to promote collaborative, open-access research and discoveries.

He completed his internship and residency in internal medicine at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a clinical fellowship in medical oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, both in Boston. He is a board-certified physician in Internal Medicine and Medical Oncology and was an Instructor and Clinical Fellow in Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

LaBaer attended the University of California at Berkeley as an undergraduate Regents Scholar and completed medical school and graduate school at the University of California, San Francisco, where he studied steroid regulation of DNA transcription and protein-DNA interactions.

He has contributed more than 150 original research publications, reviews and chapters. LaBaer is an associate editor of the Journal of Proteome Research, a member of the board of directors for the American Type Culture Collection, and is a member of the scientific advisory boards for the Provista Dx, Promega Corporation, iNanoBio, Barnett Institute, Global Biological Standards Institute, and the Dorothy Foundation. He also is a recent member of the National Cancer Institute’s Board of Scientific Advisors, is chair of the National Cancer Institute Early Detections Research Network Steering Committee, and is a founding member and served as the recent president of the U.S. Human Proteome Organization.

Since its inception in 2003, the Biodesign Institute has attracted more than $500 million in external funding from competitive grant awards as well as support from philanthropic and industry sources. In 2009, the institute won Arizona’s “Excellence in Economic Development Award” for its innovative contributions to the state’s economic growth. After its first full decade of operations since its research facility opened, Biodesign has had a $1.5 billion impact on the regional economy and supported more than 3,000 jobs.

Most recently, in the fiscal year 2016, Biodesign researchers received nearly $40 million in annual award funding for research activities. Working in an entrepreneurial culture, its researchers have generated 50 annual invention disclosures and patents and fostered more than a dozen spinout companies.

Joe Caspermeyer

Managing editor, Biodesign Institute


ASU program teaches techies business, entrepreneurial process

March 30, 2017

Some of the leading innovators of the past decade have done a great deal to change the stereotype that engineers, programmers and other “techies” lack business acumen.

Consider Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Google’s Larry Page, all of whom started their careers with an interest in the technical side of things and ended up as icons in the business world. Carolyn Hirata teaches a class of Technological Entrepreneurship and Management students. Carolyn Hirata, lecturer and program chair of the Technological Entrepreneurship and Management program, leads a class on the Polytechnic campus. The program’s faculty has expertise across a wide range of areas, including crowdfunding, beta development, guerrilla marketing, intellectual property and operations research — all facets of entrepreneurship that makes for a more meaningful classroom experience for the students. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU Download Full Image

Arizona State University’s Technological Entrepreneurship and Management program empowers techie students, including engineers, to generate new technologies, while teaching them business essentials.

The Technological Entrepreneurship and Management program is a co-branded degree between the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the W. P. Carey School of Business.

The program offers students the business and technical acumen needed to excel in the startup landscape — as creators of new ventures or collaborators on growing startups — or as successful “intrapreneurs,” referring to thinkers who promote risk-taking and innovative product development and marketing approaches within large organizations.

Housed in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, the program prompts engineers to consider new possibilities and applications for their technical studies.

Lecturer Aram Chomina-Chavez calls this pairing of engineering and entrepreneurial studies the “secret sauce” of the Technological Entrepreneurship and Management program.

“Our program is grounded in a belief that innovators are everywhere,” said Chomina-Chavez, “especially at a university like ASU that is ranked number one in the country for innovation.”

Creation of a co-branded program

Started on the Polytechnic campus in 2010, the program became part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering in 2015 when the College of Technology and Innovation became the Polytechnic School, the sixth school in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

The program offers both a B.S. in Technological Entrepreneurship and Management, and an M.S. Tech. in Management of Technology. It also boasts an extensive undergraduate online degree program, with more than 700 students enrolled, including many working professionals.

In fall 2016, the Technological Entrepreneurship and Management program revised its major map to include courses offered by the W. P. Carey School of Business.

“This collaboration with the W. P. Carey School of Business gives us greater outreach to complete the ecosystem of entrepreneurship for our students,” said Carolyn Hirata, a lecturer and program chair of the Technological Entrepreneurship and Management Program.

Entrepreneurially minded students can collaborate with other students in the Fulton Schools Startup Center, Startup Labs and Generator Labs, as well as participate in the W. P. Carey Center for Entrepreneurship. Students interested in technological research can conduct research in the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative.

“Since we are housed in the Fulton Schools, access to engineers is readily available for our students making it a natural fit to teach business basics to technology-oriented entrepreneurs and innovators,” said Hirata.

Full-time students can apply and live in the Startup Village on the Polytechnic campus, a learning and living community composed of entrepreneurial-minded students.

“Already this year, seven students have moved from the Startup Village to continue to expand their ventures in larger workspaces,” said Hirata.  

An entrepreneurial process

In developing the program, faculty members envisioned developing a first-of-its-kind road map, known as the Startup Map, which provides the necessary curriculum and tools to commercialize and monetize students’ ideas.

“We’re taking innovators and their ideas and introducing them to an organized, systematic workflow and process — equipped with the tools they need to entreprenuarialize their innovations,” Chomina-Chavez said.

Each student uses the Startup Map as part of the bachelor’s degree program, with the possibility of taking their innovative idea all the way to the marketplace. They also use other startup tools such as VentureWell’s Lean LaunchPad and BMC products.

The road map boasts real-world curriculum enhanced by professors’ capabilities and expertise across a wide range of areas, including crowdfunding, beta development, capital structure, guerrilla marketing, international business, intellectual property, investments, social media and operations research.

ASU alumnus and startup entrepreneur Bret Larsen serves on the program’s advisory board and is the CEO and co-founder of eVisit, a telemedicine software connecting medical providers and patients.

“As a student today it’s far too easy to get through an undergraduate program without ever experiencing a day in the life of the chosen career path,” said Larsen.

He called the Technological Entrepreneurship and Management program’s learning-by-doing approach “a meaningful differentiator.”

“This approach to learning and education produces individuals who are better prepared to have a meaningful impact on the organizations they join or start,” Larsen said.

Chomina-Chaves added, “Innovation is hard enough as it is. Giving our students a process makes their endeavor a little more digestible and improves outcomes.”

Students reap benefits

A handful of students have successfully completed the program with impressive results.

Gabe Kruse, a senior in the Technological Entrepreneurship and Management program, enrolled in the program to further an idea related to online gaming.

In the program he met software engineering student Aaron Pantoja, and together they created DuuL, a web-based platform where gamers of all skill levels can win money and prizes by playing their favorite games.

“Many of the methodologies we learned in the Technological Entrepreneurship and Management program were applicable to the process of building the company,” said Kruse.

Through the program, he and Pantoja built a working business model, established partnerships with Microsoft and PayPal and raised significant capital for their venture.

Another student group recently created MyDigital Backpack, which began as a software platform for students to build, organize and showcase projects. Currently, they are focusing their efforts on creating a tool called Syllabus Wiz, which coordinates syllabuses, assignments, quizzes and exam schedules all in one place.

“We have the advantage that we know what the students want and need to improve on in their studies, and we are essentially developing a tool to help ourselves and our classmates to succeed,” said team member Irelynn Black, a junior in the program.

The venture was one of 20 chosen in the 2016 Edson Student Entrepreneurship Initiative cohort, which offers up to $20,000 in seed funding; office space at SkySong, the Arizona State University Scottsdale Innovation Center; mentorship; and training to advance their ventures.

“Every semester, we are amazed at the depth of innovation produced as a result of the program,” said Hirata. “Our students have designed dozens of innovative capstone projects that create value for new and existing companies.”

Career outlook for these student innovators is bright since small businesses and startups create the majority of new jobs in the U.S., and larger corporations are looking to hire individuals who can see the big picture and solve complex problems.

“Students from this program graduate with a degree from two of ASU’s most highly ranked and respected schools — and the tools to make amazing things happen on a global scale,” said Hirata.

Rose Gochnour Serago

Communications Program Coordinator, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering