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ASU names LaBaer interim executive director of Biodesign Institute

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Dr. Joshua L. LaBaer.

January 13, 2016

Joshua L. LaBaer, a leading researcher in cancer and personalized medicine, has been named interim executive director for the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University.

“LaBaer’s leadership will ensure that we continue our progress toward establishing the Biodesign Institute as a world-class research institute focused on solving key societal challenges in health, sustainability and national security,” said Sethuraman Panchanathan, senior vice president of ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development. “Since coming to ASU, Josh has blazed a trail both in terms of his research — creating early diagnostics for breast and ovarian cancer — and in his zeal for crossing boundaries and creating new scientific partnerships.”

As the former director of the Harvard Institute of Proteomics, LaBaer is considered one of the nation’s foremost investigators in the rapidly expanding field of personalized medicine. His efforts involve the discovery and validation of biomarkers — unique molecular fingerprints of disease — which can provide early warning for those at risk of major illnesses, including cancer and diabetes. LaBaer is currently a member of the Biodesign executive directorate and has been a key part of the institute leadership team since his arrival.

“For me, ASU and Biodesign continue to fulfill their promise of being a new kind of research institute at the New American University,” said LaBaer. “Our staff and researchers aggressively take on the challenges of the world around us and have gained an international reputation for changing the pace and impact of scientific research.”

The real-world impact of ASU’s Biodesign Institute has been dramatically underscored by contributions from Charles Arntzen, an ASU Regents' Professor and founding director of the Biodesign Institute, who had a hand in the recent development of the first experimental treatment of the Ebola virus in people. An international team, led by Regents’ Professor Petra Fromme, has made several breakthrough discoveries using X-ray lasers to study the inner workings of proteins.

“I look forward to working with our highly creative and committed group of research leaders, staff and students during this time when answers to global threats can’t come fast enough,” said LaBaer.

To catalyze clinical research discoveries, ASU and Banner Health recently formed a strategic neuroscience research alliance to advance the scientific study, treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. The partnership includes the launch of a new ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center at Biodesign. 

Since its inception in 2003, Biodesign has attracted nearly $500 million in external funding from competitive grant awards as well as support from philanthropic and industry sources. The Biodesign Institute has made an economic impact of $1.5 billion and supported 1,600 jobs in its first decade of operation, according to a study by the Seidman Research Institute at ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business. 

Working in an entrepreneurial culture, its researchers have generated 50 annual invention disclosures and patents and fostered more than a dozen spinout companies. ASU Biodesign Institute spinout HealthTell landed on the San Francisco Business Times’ list of top five start-ups to potentially "win big."

LaBaer succeeds Executive Director Raymond N. DuBois on March 1. DuBois will become the dean of the College of Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina. A national search will help to identify the future leader of the Biodesign Institute.

LaBaer will maintain his current role as director of Biodesign’s Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics, a role in which he leads a staff of nearly 100 faculty and biologists, microbiologists, engineers, informaticists and students who combine their expertise to find ways to decrease the impact of human disease. He holds the university’s first Piper Chair in Personalized Medicine.

LaBaer is a founding member and the current president of the U.S. Human Proteome Organization and spearheaded ASU efforts to host its annual national meeting in 2015. He also serves on a number of government and industry scientific advisory boards. LaBaer earned his medical degree and a doctorate in biochemistry and biophysics from the University of California, San Francisco. He is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and medical oncology and an adjunct professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic.

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