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Dr. Alejandro Zaffaroni

Alexza, Founded on A Heritage of Legendary Vision

Dr. Zaffaroni
1923 – 2014

A native of Montevideo, Uruguay, Dr. Zaffaroni received his B.Sc. from the University of Montevideo in 1941, and his PhD in biochemistry from the University of Rochester in 1949. In 1951 Dr. Zaffaroni joined Syntex Corporation, a small chemical company in Mexico, that was prominent in steroid research. He subsequently played a key role in transforming it into a major pharmaceutical company headquartered in the United States that pioneered the development of the birth control pill. This was the beginning of Dr. Zaffaroni’s extraordinary career in scientific and business entrepreneurship. Eventually he became President of Syntex Laboratories and President of Syntex Research Institute.

In 1968, he resigned from Syntex to establish ALZA Corporation (an acronym of his own name) to pursue the concept of improving medical treatment through controlled drug delivery. ALZA is now the acknowledged leader worldwide in this important field as a result of its research, patent position, and successful development of products that improve treatment with major drugs of many types. ALZA Corporation was aquired by Johnson & Johnson in 2001.

In 1980, Dr. Zaffaroni founded DNAX Ltd. a company that develops macromolecular products for medicine by combining the technologies of genetic engineering and immunobiology. DNAX Research Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology Inc. was acquired by Schering-Plough in 1982. Dr. Zaffaroni continues to serve as a member of its policy board.

Another creative concept became a reality in 1988, when Dr. Zaffaroni founded Affymax, the company that pioneered the development of combinatorial chemistry which dramatically reduced the cost and time to identify promising medicines. The technology developed by Affymax combines synthetic chemistry with advanced techniques pioneered by the semiconductor industry, notably photolithography, miniaturization and parallel processing. The technology makes possible the parallel synthesis and testing of thousands to millions of different compounds for testing as potential drug components. Affymax was acquired by Glaxo plc in 1995.

In 1991, Dr. Zaffaroni founded Affymetrix, an acknowledged leader in developing "gene chips", an exciting new scientific and technical arena that holds the potential to revolutionize human genetics, providing an ongoing foundation for understanding, diagnosing and treating human disease.

More recently, in 1994, Dr. Zaffaroni co-founded Symyx, the combinatorial chemistry company dedicated to the discovery of materials such as superconductors, magnets, catalysts and polymers. Like Affymax, Symyx is based on the miniaturization and parallel processing of vast numbers of compounds. The technologies being developed at Symyx make it possible to synthesize and analyze up to 100,000 materials in one experiment; thus, dramatically reducing the time and cost of identifying promising compounds for use in electronic, semiconductor and chemical application.

In 1997, Dr. Zaffaroni founded Maxygen, Inc. The mission of Maxygen, Inc. is to develop broad technologies which improve the function of a protein or polynucleotide through the evolution of its DNA sequence, a process termed molecular breeding. Their goal is to become the leader in the evolution of proteins and genetic elements. Maxygen’s technologies can be applied to a broad number of applications.

The success of the companies Dr. Zaffaroni founded attest to the clarity of his vision and the practicality of his ideas for improving therapy. He endeavored to provide a new dimension for individual health and the treatment of illness in the world. In all his activities, his deepest personal satisfaction came from finding new ways to apply the findings of science to the treatment of disease and the prevention of human suffering. Among his many honors, in 1995 Dr. Zaffaroni was awarded the National Medal of Technology by President Clinton in recognition of his contributions to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. This Medal is the highest award that the United States bestows for individual achievement in science and technology.

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