New Oro Valley firm seeks to create biotech startups

Actus branches out from Las Vegas, cites town's potential for growth
2013-04-18T00:00:00Z New Oro Valley firm seeks to create biotech startupsPhil Villarreal Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 18, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Actus Biotechnologies wants to go a step beyond job creation - to business creation.

Managing Director John Muraski, a Marana resident who helped expand the company from its Las Vegas headquarters to Oro Valley in December, said the purpose of Actus, 1846 E. Innovation Park Drive, is to fill needs in the biotech industry by building companies from scratch, with the goal of making them self-sufficient and spinning them off.

Actus chose Oro Valley, Muraski said, because it believes in the area's burgeoning biotech industry, particularly thanks to the presence of Sanofi and the Roche Group subsidiary Ventana Medical Systems Inc.

Dave Perry of the Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce said Actus' arrival is a sign that Oro Valley is headed in the right direction.

"I think it's enormous for Oro Valley, with enviable potential," Perry said of the town's biotech industry. "Everyone would like to have the existing firms that we have now and the land that's available proximate to those companies - the proximity to ideas and talent and whatever else it might be. It's just so huge for us. It's our future. It's where we want to go."

Actus started two companies, Convoy Therapeutics and EnduRx Pharmaceuticals, in 2011.

We caught up with Muraski to talk about where Actus is headed.

Q. What do you want to accomplish with the business?

A. We are an accelerator and incubator. … We, Actus, really look for technologies that are transformative in the way we practice medicine. We license them into new startup entities. We give them seed funding and push the company to the next level. We find investors, and our ownership in each company becomes more and more diluted.

Q. What prompted the move from Las Vegas?

A. Las Vegas does not have a biotech cluster in any sense of the word. Small startups really need to thrive around larger biotechs and other small biotechs. This area has the university and other entities around it - larger pharmaceutical types of companies that we can be around and grow, tap those labor resources.

Q. Were there other choices to expand the operation?

A. We were already thinking of Arizona. We thought about whether we would locate it in Phoenix or Tucson. Tucson has a much more attractive focus. We ruled out the big sectors in California. There were too many regulatory hurdles.

Q. What made Oro Valley the winner?

A. Obviously, we were very attracted to the Ventana/ Roche Innovation Park area. I think that there is just a growing focus here.

Q. When do you project the companies will be profitable?

A. The target for both of these companies is within the next three years.

Q. How large will the companies become?

A. Initially, each company will have five to 10 scientists and administrative staff to support that. We currently have 25 people on the payroll in Las Vegas and Tucson. We want to pull people in from the local area.

Q. What do you think of Oro Valley's biotech future?

A. I think Oro Valley is primed for growth. I grew up in Thousand Oaks, Calif., which started as a small, rural town outside of L.A. and grew into a major biotech mecca. Oro Valley and Tucson are moving in that same direction.

Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or pvillarreal@azstarnet.com

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