Bioindustry recognizes ASU scientists Poste and Johnston

By

Julie Kurth

The Arizona Bioindustry Association has selected ASU scientists George Poste and Stephen Albert Johnston for significant contributions to the advancement of knowledge and the understanding of biological processes, naming Poste as AZBio Pioneer Award for Lifetime Achievement and Johnston as Arizona Bioscience Researcher of the Year.

The two will be honored at the AZBio Awards ceremony that celebrates the state’s leading educators, innovators and companies Sept. 21 at the Phoenix Convention Center.

AZBio Pioneer Award for Lifetime Achievement: George Poste

The son of an auto mechanic, Poste was raised in a rural area south of London. Poste said the bucolic setting instilled a respect for science and nature. Encouraged by a high school biology teacher, he became the first member of his family to attend college. His first doctorate was in veterinary medicine from the University of Bristol, England, where he graduated first in his class. He also holds a doctorate in virology and a doctorate of science. Poste has received honorary doctorates in law and science for his contributions to international health policy and is board certified in pathology. Poste's wide diversity of knowledge and experience is unusual in the world of science, a field that more typically fosters hyperspecialization.

Poste said his capacity for curiosity has always been a great motivator.

"I am never bored," he said. "I am the quintessential kid in a candy shop when it comes to any facet of science or technology. Every single day I come across something that makes me say, 'Wow.'"

Before coming to ASU, Poste was chief science and technology officer and president of research and development at SmithKline Beecham. During his tenure, he was associated with the successful registration of 31 drug, vaccine and diagnostic products. R&D Magazine named Poste the R&D Scientist of the Year in 2004. In 2006, he received the Einstein award from the Global Business Leadership Council, and in 2009, Poste received the Scrip Lifetime Achievement award voted by the leadership of the global pharmaceutical industry.

Poste received honorary degrees in science, law and medicine for his research contributions, and in 1999 Queen Elizabeth II honored him with Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his contributions to international health care and security. He is a fellow of the Royal Society, the Royal College of Pathologists and the UK Academy of Medicine, a distinguished fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University and a member of the Council for Foreign Relations. He served as a member of the U.S. Defense Science Board from 2003 to 2009 and Health Board of the U.S. Department of Defense and is currently a member of the U.S. Institute of Medicine Board on Global Health.

Poste was recruited by Arizona State University to head the Biodesign Institute, where he served as the director from 2003 to 2009. Today, Poste is the co-director and chief scientist at the ASU Complex Adaptive Systems and a Regents’ Professor in the School of Life Sciences. He serves on several corporate boards, including Monsanto, Exelixis, Caris Life Sciences, and the scientific advisory board of Synthetic Genomics.

Arizona Bioscience Researcher of the Year: Stephen Johnston

Johnston is a scientist and inventor who identified 21 antigens found on any breast tumor that might arise. He is using them to develop a universal vaccine. If the vaccine works, the immune system would target these antigens and destroy the very first malignant cell before it multiplies and produces a tumor. The vaccine has begun phase 2 trial testing in owner-enrolled healthy dogs to see if cancer can be prevented.

“In addition to bringing value to pets and their owners, if the cancer vaccine works in dogs, it also will be very convincing that it would also work in people,” said Johnston.

If cancer can’t be prevented altogether, Johnston wants to detect it much earlier. His team is developing immunosignatures, a diagnostic based on hundreds of thousands of peptides synthesized directly on silicon wafers, using standard photolithography that Intel uses, but instead of making integrated circuits, they use batch peptide chemistry. The beauty of the innovation is that there is not a specific antibody for a specific disease, but rather, a whole picture or signature of disease. His team has been able to identify Valley fever and outperform the best diagnostic test on the market. They can distinguish between 15 diseases simultaneously, including Alzheimer’s disease, and have tested it on more than 1,500 individuals with 95 percent accuracy.

“Immunosignatures technology is a way for healthy people to simply monitor their health,” Johnston said. “We think that it will fundamentally turn around diagnostics.”

Although Johnston’s focus is in translational sciences and technology development, he has experience in basic science, notably first cloning the Gal4 gene, showing that proteins have separable functional domains, and discovering the AAA proteins and their role in transcription. He co-invented/innovated pathogen-derived resistance, organelle transformation, the gene gun, genetic immunization, TEV protease system, expression library immunization, linear expression elements, synbodies and immunosignaturing. He has published more than 150 journal articles, has more than 20 patents, and has garnered approximately $85 million in grant support, including large programs from DARPA, NIAID and NHLBI.  Stephen founded two startups to commercialize his team’s discoveries: HealthTell and Calviri. HealthTell recently raised $40 million in a capital campaign.

Before coming to ASU, Johnston was professor and director of the Center for Biomedical Inventions at UT-Southwestern Medical Center and professor of biology and biomedical engineering at Duke University. He earned doctorates in genetics/biochemistry and in plant genetics/plant breeding from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also a professor in ASU's School of Life Sciences.