Dr. Nazli Azimi: Building the Paths to an Immune Future
The steady ascension in the number of women in STEM disciplines exhibits a promising picture of a gender neutral global development. The women of today’s technological era are achieving this by inciting their intrinsic qualities of democratic leadership, unwavering grit and ardent commitment towards their passion, which results in unparalleled success and excellence in one’s field of expertise. With the motto of promoting women empowerment and a gender just work environment, Insights Success identifies those women who’ve marked their presence in the world of science, technology, and a myriad of other disciplines.
Considering the possession and an avid exhibition of the aforesaid traits, Dr. Nazli Azimi, the founder and CEO of Bioniz Therapeutics, Inc., has been recognized as one of the most inspirational women in tech. Her career commenced at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is the world’s largest biomedical research organization. She joined NIH as a post-doctoral fellow with the dream of becoming a scientist and academics. Her research was focused on studying human immune system, a dynamic system that protects the body from invasion of bacteria and viruses as well as outgrowth of cancer cells.
Dr. Nazli expresses that it was during that exciting period that she learned about cytokines, small proteins in the body that mediate the immune response. Through her research experience, she noticed that in many disorders of the immune system, multiple cytokines are malfunctioning that results in disease development or progression. She set to develop a strategy to selectively target and block bad cytokines in a highly specific manner to reset the immune system without interfering with the healthy immunity. This became the foundation of the company’s platform-technology which allows making drugs that target bad-acting cytokines specifically.
Accelerating Innovation in Healthcare
Bioniz Therapeutics is a biotechnology company ardently dedicated to the discovery and development of novel therapeutics, to treat diseases of the immune system that include autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory diseases such as psoriasis and asthma and even cancer, since in malignancies, immune system is often compromised, which results in outgrowth of tumor cells. Therefore, the potential market for the organization’s technology is very large and the decision of what diseases to pursue is deemed highly critical. Dr. Nazli elucidates that a thorough market analysis is required to determine the areas of high unmet medical needs, meaning, finding which patient populations are not being served with current therapies. For example, lupus is an autoimmune disease that has very limited therapeutic options. “That would be an area which we would like to focus on in the future, try to understand the biology of the disease, and develop a drug that could have a therapeutic impact on these patients that are poorly served with current treatment options,” she adds.
Dr. Nazli comprehends that drug development is a complicated, capital-intensive, and a highly regulated business. She says that it takes about 10–15 years for a drug to go through different stages of testing in the laboratories, animal studies, and then clinical trials to demonstrate its safety and efficacy in patients in order to get approval from the FDA for commercialization. Additionally, it requires hundreds of millions of dollars of capital investment during this developmental stage.
Therefore, it is highly critical for the company to protect its intellectual property, the secret sauce of how to make the drug, by acquiring multiple patents. “A business without a strong intellectual property will not survive in this industry,” she states. Once the patent is secured and the disease area for drug development is identified, the company needs to raise enough capital to move as fast as possible towards securing an approval from the FDA for commercialization.