The Arizona Bioindustry Association (AZBio), in an announcement posted Sunday night, named internationally renowned physician-scientist Monica Kraft, MD, as its choice for Arizona Bioresearcher of the Year for 2019 based on her work on precision medicine therapies to treat severe asthma.
Coming from Duke University, Dr. Kraft joined the UA faculty in 2014 as a professor of medicine, chair of the Department of Medicine, the Robert and Irene Flynn Endowed Chair in Medicine at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson, and deputy director of the UA Health Sciences Asthma and Airway Disease Research Center (A2DRC).
She will be honored during Arizona Bioscience Week (Sept. 30-Oct. 4) during the AZBio Awards Ceremony that will be held Wednesday, Oct. 2, 3-8:30 p.m., in the West Ballroom of the Phoenix Convention Center, 100 N. 3rd St.
See this link, to learn more and to register
The awards ceremony follows another AZBio week activity, the “Discovering New Medicines in Arizona Summit,” a free event, 8 a.m.-3 p.m., Oct. 2, at the UA College of Medicine – Phoenix Biomedical Sciences Partnership Building, 475 N. Fifth St. Presented by the UA College of Pharmacy’s Arizona Center for Drug Discovery and the UA Cancer Center, the summit includes Dr. Kraft, UA Hematology and Oncology Chief Julie Bauman, MD, MPH, and UA Endocrinology Chief Lawrence Mandarino, PhD, as plenary speakers. Three other department affiliates also will participate: Jennifer Carew, PhD; Louise Hecker, PhD; and Julie Ledford, PhD.
See this link, to learn more and to register
A Wealth of Recognition
“This is coming at a time where my cup runneth over,” said Dr. Kraft about the award, noting that she won the UA College of Medicine – Tucson’s Shark Tank Competition during Research Day 2019 in February and was awarded the American Thoracic Society’s Elizabeth A. Rich Award in May. “I am honored and humbled.”
The first honor involved a $10,000 prize to further her work with research partner Dr. Ledford on pulmonary surfactant protein A (SP-A) to develop small functional peptides of the protein to act as a remedy that reduces the severity and frequency of asthma attacks. Specifically, the prize would go to work with a medicinal chemist on a new, inhaled therapeutic for treatment of asthma and potentially even COPD, cystic fibrosis and pneumonia.
The ATS award goes to an outstanding woman for significant contributions to pulmonary medicine and the society as a researcher and leader, and also recognizes her as a role model and mentor. A former president of the society (2012-13), Dr. Kraft has remained active within the organization and won the ATS Distinguished Achievement Award last year, a year in which she also was named to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Advisory Council of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The NIH has funded much of her work for nearly 25 years, including a 5-year, $7.02 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), an NIH unit, to study “Dysfunction of Innate Immunity in Asthma,” and a 6-year, $2.42 million grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), another NIH unit, to participate in the PrecISE Network, a national research network to evaluate precision medicine approaches for treating severe asthma. She also is principal investigator on an Arizona Biomedical Research Commission grant, co-principal investigator with Lynn Gerald, PhD, MSPH, as the UA is a site for the American Lung Association Clinical Research Centers to evaluate new treatments for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and co-investigator on an NIAID grant led by Stefano Guerra, MD, PhD, MPH, to investigate how better regulation of a protein found in lung cells might impact persistence of asthma into adulthood.
Dr. Kraft also has pushed broadly in a variety of ways for an increase in research across the UA Department of Medicine. Since 2015, as a result, the department has risen nationally from 56th to 31st on the annual NIH Award Rankings from the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research with an increase in federal research funding for its investigators from $11.6 million to nearly $41.2 million annually—making up almost two-thirds of the gains by the UA College of Medicine – Tucson over that same period.
Colleagues & Collaborators
“The Arizona Biosciences award, which is going to be given this year to Monica Kraft, is extraordinarily deserved. She has not only done fabulous work in the area of basic science and basic mechanisms of this disease, in asthma, but she has also derived from that work potentially new therapies that I am quite convinced could one day be on the market and improve the life of millions of people who are affected by this terrible disease that makes it difficult for people to breathe,” said Fernando Martinez, MD, a world-acclaimed asthma researcher in his own right who is the A2DRC director, a UA Regents' Professor, a professor of Genetics GIDP, the Swift-McNear Professor of Pediatrics and Chalfont/Moore Chair on Respiratory Medicine at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson, and former director of the UA BIO5 Institute.
Two of her longest running research colleagues are Eugene Bleecker, MD, and Deborah Meyers, PhD, professors of medicine, co-chiefs of the UA Division of Genetics, Genomics and Precision Medicine and co-directors of the Division of Pharmacogenomics with the UAHS Center for Applied Genetics and Genomic Medicine. Dr. Kraft has known both since she was at National Jewish Health in Denver as an assistant professor in the mid-1990s and recruited them to the UA from Wake Forest University in 2017.
Speaking for himself and Dr. Meyers, he said, “We used to think in academic medicine of the triple threat—that being the teacher or educator, clinician and investigator who excelled at all three roles. But Monica extends this to a quadruple threat because she adds to it by being an excellent administrator of the Department of Medicine, which is one of the most complicated positions at the College of Medicine.
“She’s excelled at all these elements, while leading an NIH Program Project Grant where some of her work on SP-A has been performed, and she’s also participated as co-principal investigator of the UA PrecISE Network from NHLBI, where we are looking at novel or repurposed drugs for treatment of severe asthma,” Dr. Bleecker said.
“She’s translated her work with Dr. Julie Ledford on SP-A from basic laboratory findings to human studies and, now, to the potential breakthrough as the new therapy for asthma,” he added.
EXTRA INFO: More Friendly Acclaim
Julie Ledford, PhD
Assistant Professor, Clinical Translational Sciences and Immunobiology, UA College of Medicine – Tucson
Associate Professor, Cellular and Molecular Medicine, UA College of Medicine – Tucson
Member, A2DRC and UA BIO5 Institute
“I would say the highlight of my year working with Monica was working on the COM ‘Shark Tank’ pitch together! We practiced this 5-minute drill like 25 times until we had it just right! We even had matching T-shirts with pictures of the lungs on them and we choreographed our movements for the shirt reveal! This year really brought the two of us closer as we focused on our common goal of starting our own (woman-owned) company. We agreed to name our start-up company, RaeSedo LLC, after our dear friend, the late Dr. Jo Rae Wright—former dean of Duke University’s Graduate School and the person who introduced and inspired us.”
Lynn B. Gerald, PhD, MSPH
Associate Director, Clinical Research, A2DRC
Professor/Canyon Ranch Endowed Chair, UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health
“Monica is a very successful scholar, administrator, clinician and teacher. All of this makes her an incredibly busy woman! However, she always has time to talk with her staff and colleagues about their concerns (both personally and professionally). She is someone I admire and I am grateful to have the opportunity to work with her.”
Tara Carr, MD
Associate Professor of Medicine (Pulmonary) and Otolaryngology
Director, Allergy & Immunobiology Fellowship Program, UA Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine
Director, Adult Allergy Program, UA College of Medicine/Banner – University Medicine (Tucson)
“Monica is an exceptional person. She is an engaged and supportive mentor, a brilliant clinician, and an innovative scientist. This award could not go to someone more deserving.”
Stefano Guerra, MD, PhD, MPH
Professor of Medicine (Pulmonary) and Public Health
The Henry E. Dahlberg Chair in Asthma Research, UA College of Medicine – Tucson
Director, Epidemiology Unit, A2DRC
“Working with Monica over the last few years, I’ve had a chance to appreciate the unique blend of her expertise spanning from basic mechanisms to clinical manifestations of asthma, her leadership, and her extraordinary energy and ability to always find a way to ‘get it done’ (no matter how busy she can be). Kudos for this prestigious award and exceptional achievement!”
Juanita Merchant, MD, PhD
Professor, Medicine, UA Department of Medicine
Chief, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, UA College of Medicine – Tucson
Cancer Biology Program, Research Member, UA Cancer Center
“With this award, Dr. Kraft brings honor and distinction to the Department, College of Medicine, the UA and the state of Arizona. The honor underscores her creativity, enthusiasm and rigor necessary to move the needle in bridging biomedical sciences with clinical applications. Imagine the stature of someone able to be recognized for her science and also be a fantastic clinician and administrator. Few can compare! A hearty congratulations.”
Kraft Lab Manager and Project Manager, Research, UA Department of Medicine, UAHS Asthma and Airway Disease Research Center and UA BIO5 Institute
“It has been a privilege working for Dr. Kraft these past 12 years, and her passion for science and medicine has inspired me to work harder and push myself further every day. She has consistently provided me with opportunities to both advance my career and grow as a person, and for that I will always be grateful.”
Struggling to Breathe
A chronic disease involving bronchial tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs, asthma affects some 25 million Americans and their families—including 19 million adults age 18 and older who currently have asthma. Overall, 7.7 percent of adults and 8.4 percent of children suffer from this respiratory disease, according to 2018 data from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
The economic cost of asthma is more than $80 billion a year—including medical costs, loss of work and school days, and death, the American Thoracic Society reports. Compared to all ethnic groups, asthma episodes are highest among Puerto Ricans, notes the AAFA’s “Disparities in Asthma Care” research report. African-American children, however, suffer the highest prevalence of asthma, and African-Americans in general are three times more likely to have a hospital stay or die from asthma. In all, 2.2 million Hispanic-Americans and 2.6 million African-Americans reported suffering from asthma in 2015, the latest year such numbers were available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Asthma in Arizona is among the highest of any state in the nation, with nearly 530,000 people suffering from it in 2017, according to the CDC. Other figures estimate that number today at more than 615,000 (see infographic at right – click to enlarge).
Accolades & Awards
Dr. Kraft has more than 175 publications in the areas of asthma and COPD, including the role of infection in asthma, innate immune mechanisms in airway disease, the role of the distal lung in asthma, mechanisms of airway remodeling and evaluation of novel treatments for asthma and COPD. Her work has appeared in such prestigious publications as the New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association, The Lancet, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, and Chest.
Dr. Kraft has received many honors — including selection as a Parker B. Francis Foundation Fellow (1994) and as a recipient of a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (2000), and an American Thoracic Society (ATS) Distinguished Achievement Award (2018) and ATS Elizabeth Rich Award (2019) in recognition of leadership and mentorship. She also has been elected as a Fellow to the ATS; American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology; American College of Physicians; American College of Chest Physicians, and European Respiratory Society. Lastly, she led the ATS as president in 2012-13.
With Dr. Ledford, she filed a patent application in 2016 for “Peptides for the Treatment of Asthma, Lung Diseases.” This therapeutic technology is the development of both a series of peptides related to SP-A and a treatment method for asthma and other lung diseases.
“Dr. Kraft’s work is an excellent example of the value created through the combination of scientific and clinical research,” said Joan Koerber-Walker, president and CEO of AZBio. “Breathing disorders affect people of every age and her work in developing new treatments for asthma has the potential to make life better for millions of adults and children affected by this disease.”
For her commitment to pushing the frontiers of science for the betterment of people in Arizona and around the world, Dr. Monica Kraft is the 2019 Arizona Bioscience Researcher of the Year. She is the fourth UA faculty member to receive this award, after Clara Curiel-Lewandrowski, MD (2018), Laurence Hurley, PhD (2017), and Leslie Boyer, MD (2013).
For 16 years, the Arizona Bioindustry Association has supported life science innovation and life science innovators in Arizona. AZBio is the statewide affiliate of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) and works in partnership with AdvaMed, MDMA, and PhRMA to advance innovation and to ensure that the value delivered from life-changing and life-saving innovation benefits people in Arizona and around the world. For more information, visit www.azbio.org and www.azbio.tv
“Dr. Clara Curiel-Lewandrowski Named Winner of AZBIO Researcher of the Year Award” | Posted Aug. 24, 2018
“UA to Take Home Big Share of 2017 AZBio Awards” | Posted Sept. 7, 2017
“Dr. Leslie Boyer Named 2013 Arizona Bioscience Researcher of the Year” | (UA News) Posted Sept. 26, 2013