Success Stories

The Ebola epidemic and ZMapp

Arizona State University Biodesign Institute researcher Charles Arntzen was chosen as the No. 1 honoree among Fast Company’s annual “100 Most Creative People in Business” for his leadership role in developing ZMapp, a therapeutic produced in tobacco to fight Ebola. With no known vaccine or cure available, more than 10,000 have now perished throughout West Africa, a humanitarian crisis created by the worst Ebola epidemic in history.During the height of the outbreak, two American missionaries became infected. Physician Kent Brantly and health care worker Nancy Writebol, both near death and desperate for help, became the first people to receive ZMapp, knowing full well that it had never been tested in humans before. ZMapp is a serum made in a plant with a notorious reputation as a killer, tobacco. The pathway from discovery to treatment began with an idea Arntzen had to produce low-cost vaccines in plants to fight devastating infectious diseases in the developing world.

Then, after 9/11 and the anthrax attack on the U.S. Senate, the government invested heavily in biodefense, including $3.7 million to Arntzen and a small San Diego-based startup led by Larry Zeitlin and Kevin Whaley, Mapp Biopharmaceutical. The goal was to develop plant-based defenses against pathogens, including Ebola, that could be used as potential biological threats.

With a dream team of collaborators, they modified the tobacco plants to produce a protective cocktail made of three monoclonal antibodies. This therapeutic cocktail proved to be 100 percent effective in protecting animals against Ebola, even five days after exposure.

ZMapp is the leading candidate for a drug treatment to fight Ebola, but because it was experimental, there were only enough doses to save a few.  In response, the government has awarded a $25 million contract to Mapp for the massive scale-up desperately needed to stockpile enough of the drug and safeguard against another possible outbreak.

Now, commercial partner Kentucky BioProcessing has produced enough ZMapp for the necessary clinical trials in Liberia to begin.

HealthTell, Inc

HealthTell, Inc is a spin-out company from Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute.  HealthTell was named "Start-up of the Year" at the 2012 Arizona Governor’s Celebration of Innovation. The start-up award is presented to a technology company that has achieved significant business success and technical innovation or scientific achievement in the past year.

HealthTell is an early stage start-up company that is developing powerful new tools to help individuals monitor their health status. This technology has already been demonstrated to work for over 30 diverse illnesses, ranging from cancer to infectious disease. The test is simple and inexpensive, and can be performed with only a single drop of blood. Company founders are ASU professors Stephen Albert Johnston and Neal Woodbury, who lead the Biodesign Institute’s Center for Innovations in Medicine.

Find out more at


Breezing, an ASU spin-off co-founded by N.J. Tao and Erica Forzani, launched the world's first portable metabolism monitor that can analyze and track an individual’s metabolism and use that information to provide diet and exercise recommendations for maintaining or reaching a healthy weight. For the first time, accurate metabolic information is at your fingertips. Breezing tracks your metabolism over time and helps you create a diet and exercise plan that's right for you.

Intrinsic Bioprobes

Intrinsic Bioprobes Inc. (IBI) is a privately held biotechnology company that develops innovative technologies for rapid and sensitive proteomics and biomarker analysis. Dr. Randall Nelson, Director, Molecular Biomarkers, sold the ASU spinout he founded in 1996, Intrinsic Bioprobes Inc. (IBI), to Thermo Fisher Scientific, the world’s largest supplier of scientific instrumentation. IBI applies its innovations through protein analysis services and research partnerships. Organizations working with IBI can accelerate their drug development cycles, increase the efficacy of therapies in development, and reduce bottom line expenses. The company's proprietary technologies consist of Bioreactive Mass Spectrometer Probes (BRP™), simple devices for rapid, sensitive and accurate protein characterization, and Mass Spectrometric Immunoassay (MSIA™), a high-performance approach for the selective isolation of proteins from complex biological matrices. These root technologies are incorporated into the MASSAY™ Integrated System, a high throughput mass spectrometry approach geared for proteome characterization.