AZCC researcher honored as top university innovator for 2011

Evan Unger, MD
Evan Unger, MD

Arizona Cancer Center member Evan Unger, MD, was honored March 29 by the University of Arizona with the 2011 Technology Innovation Award. The Technology Innovation Award is given annually in recognition of exemplary innovative achievement in translating original ideas from the laboratory to the marketplace.

Arizona Cancer Center Director David S. Alberts, MD, Regents Professor of Medicine, Pharmacology, Nutritional Sciences and Public Heath and BIO5 Institute member; and Cancer Center member Christopher Hulme, PhD, Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology; Associate Professor of Organic and Medicinal Chemistry; and Director, Southwest Comprehensive Center for Drug Discovery and Development at the UA, were honored as a Leading Edge Researchers during the Innovation Day activities.

Dr. Unger, co-director of the AZCC’s Cancer Imaging Program and a professor of Radiology and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Arizona, has been at the forefront of the development of imaging contrast agents for more than 25 years. He has pioneered original research, championed clinical translation of his research products and founded companies in the technology-based private sector to market these products.

Products developed by Dr. Unger and approved by the US Food and Drug Administration include:

  • LumenHance®, which improves diagnosing gastrointestinal diseases with magnetic resonance imaging, licensed to Bristol Meyers Squibb.
  • SonoRx®, an oral ultrasound contrast agent, licensed to Bristol Meyers Squibb.
  • Definity®, an ultrasound contrast agent used to identify problems with heart function, licensed to DuPont. Definity is the leading ultrasound contrast agent in the US.

To facilitate commercialization of these and other products, Dr. Unger founded ImaRx Pharmaceutial Corp., ImaRx Therapeutics, Inc., Microvascular Therapeutics and NuVox Pharma, LLC. He is the inventor on more than 100 issued patents.

Dr. Unger continues his innovative research by creating targeted nanodroplets that deliver the drug paclitaxel to prostate tumors, a new oxygen delivery technology with application in cancer treatment and stroke, a new product for restoring blood flow to the heart following heart attack, and developing contrast agents for positron emission tomography – PET.

Dr. Alberts was honored for his focus on translational cancer prevention and treatment, and improving the quality of life for cancer patients.

Dr. Hulme was recognized for his work in enabling drug discovery through the development of a diverse compound library using efficient methods.

Arizona Cancer Center members and researchers have been regularly honored at the UA’s Innovation Day. Previous Technology Innovation Award winners include Eugene W. Gerner, PhD, 2010; Victor Hruby, PhD, 2009; Laurence Hurley, PhD, 2007; and Thomas M. Grogan, MD, 2004. Samantha Kendrick, a PhD candidate in the AZCC’s Cancer Biology Graduate Interdisciplinary Program, was the 2010 Student Technology Innovation Award winner. Past Leading Edge Researcher awardees include Dr. Gerner, Dr. Hurley, Rainer W.G. Gruessner, MD, and Ronald S. Weinstein, MD.