Presidio Sax Quartet
a study in versatility

Tucson is the home of a musical ensemble that has been performing for 16 years, and will be bringing its music to the Arizona Senior Academy at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The Presidio Saxophone Quartet features Mike Keepe, soprano sax; Derek Granger, alto; Kelland Thomas, tenor; and Ryan McCormick, baritone.

All four are music educators, preparing the next generation of saxophone players at, variously, the University of Arizona, Pima Community College, Flowing Wells High School and at private studios.

To their students they bring years of experience performing throughout the U.S., Europe and China and backing artists ranging from the Cab Calloway Orchestra (Keepe) to Diane Schuur (Thomas).

Presidio’s repertoire includes virtually every genre of music from classical to jazz, to backing the Temptations in a recent Tucson performance.

On Tuesday the quartet will play selections from its traditional repertoire (including a piece commissioned by Adolphe Sax in 1858) as well as modern offerings and transcriptions of Bach and Joplin.

CDs that the Presidio Saxophone Quartet has released will be available for sale after the concert.

Janet Kerans


Antivenom researcher studies drug ‘orphans’

Dr. Leslie Boyer, a native Tucsonan, has never been stung by a bark scorpion or bitten by a poisonous snake, but she has played a leading role in developing treatments for those who have.

A pediatrician who specializes in toxinology, a branch of toxicology that studies the adverse effects of natural venoms, she is the founding director of the VIPER Institute at the University of Arizona School of Medicine, which coordinates clinical trials of anti-venoms for scorpion, snake and spider injuries with 150 faculty members in other universities around the world.

In a presentation of special interest to desert dwellers, Boyer will be at the Arizona Senior Academy on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. to talk about the challenges of developing antivenoms and bringing them to market.

Scorpions sting as many as 12,000 Americans a year, but only two or three hundred of the victims suffer life-threatening nerve poisoning. To the Food and Drug Administration, that means a scorpion sting is not just a “rare” disease (affecting fewer than 200,000 people annually), but also an “orphan” with a small geographical footprint. An American drug company can’t realize a profit by making an antivenom for a small number of patients.

In Mexico, where antivenom research and manufacture is well-established, every year a quarter of a million people are treated for severe stings from eight lethal relatives of Arizona’s bark scorpion.

In 2004, with an FDA orphan grant, Boyer began a clinical study of the scorpion antivenom Anascorp in what she calls “a robust and delightful collaboration” with Dr. Alejandro Alagon, a biochemistry professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and an adviser to the Mexican company manufacturing the drug.

In 2011, the VIPER Institute introduced Anascorp.

Two years later, the FDA honored Boyer as a “Hero of Rare Diseases” for her groundbreaking work on snakebites and scorpion stings.

“Our research at VIPER is ongoing,” Boyer says.

Caroline Bates