Breaking Through

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Scientists have long sought ways to get drugs directly into that final frontier—the human brain. Now, Impel NeuroPharma, a biomedical startup near Swedish Hospital on Capitol Hill, believes its new delivery system will enable drugs to get past the blood-brain barrier (BBB) to previously unreachable regions of the brain.

Founders Michael Hite and John Hoekman met at the University of Washington. After teaming up, they entered and won the university’s 2008 business plan competition. Hite credits the UW with providing “an environment that young companies can be incubated in” and with giving Impel the necessary resources as it expanded.

The drug-delivery system deposits an aerosol spray of a central nervous system drug and in the upper nasal cavity, effectively bypassing the BBB and allowing for easy absorption into the brain. Hite envisions a disposable device that patients can use at home by themselves. Unlike standard nasal pumps that have a wide, high-pressure spray, Impel's device delivers a narrow, low-pressure spray at a focused angle.

Applying the drug through the upper nose eliminates the need to encapsulate or alter the chemical structure of the compound to get past barriers that tend to reduce a drug’s efficacy. By enabling direct contact with the brain, Impel aims to decrease drug exposure throughout the body and drastically lessen side effects.

Impel’s technology could treat diseases like AIDS and pesticide overdoses more effectively. Presently, even the best drugs cannot eliminate elements of AIDS in the brain reservoir, and overdose victims must go to emergency rooms for treatment. Impel’s device would enable chemicals to actually reach the affected portions of the brain, and also allow customers to treat pesticide overdoses at home.

Hite says Impel will begin the first human study of its technology later this year. The trial aims to treat pain and should provide the company with human data in early 2012. If successful, Impel could revolutionize how effectively drugs treat medical conditions.

2016 Tech Impact Awards: Tech Impact Champion

2016 Tech Impact Awards: Tech Impact Champion

Congratulations, Ed Lazowska!
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WINNER:
Ed Lazowska, Ph.D.
Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering, University of Washington

When Ed Lazowska arrived in Seattle 39 years ago as an assistant professor, both the University of Washington and the region were very different places. In computer science, he was the newest of only 13 faculty members. The region’s tech industry largely consisted of Boeing, Fluke and Physio-Control. Microsoft at the time was still a dozen people in Albuquerque. 
 
Today, the UW’s Computer Science & Engineering Department rivals Stanford’s and Carnegie Mellon’s for attracting tech talent and major research — accomplishments that Lazowska helped bring about. As the university’s department chair, his effort to recruit leading data scientists included personally reaching out to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who provided $2 million from Amazon to endow two professorships and personally met with researchers. A decade after leading fundraising to build the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering, he is doing so again to build a new CSE facility that will help double the center’s capacity.
 
“Our job,” Lazowksa asserts, “is to provide socioeconomic mobility for bright kids in this region.”
Driving opportunities through research remains his passion, as his own studies in high-performance computing, multicomputer processing and big data science have proved. An early technical adviser on the formation of Microsoft Research and a member of two national advisory committees on science and technology policy, he has promoted private and public investment in “engineering things that one day in the future will be used in game-changing products.”
 
Lazowska believes big data and cloud computing “lie at the heart of 21st century discovery.” He helped found and now leads the UW’s eScience Institute, a cross-campus partnership that helps scholars in fields such as astronomy, biology and sociology take advantage of data analytics to enhance their research. Given the region’s far-reaching cloud expertise, Lazowska says, “This is an area that Seattle has the potential to own.”
 
Lazowska’s other initiatives include promoting K-12 STEM education and gender diversity in the UW program. He champions the notion that all students should study computer science to cultivate the “computational thinking” skills needed for the new century.
 
Lazowska marvels at the region’s transformation into a place “with distinctive and innovative activities in the broadest range of areas.” With his trademark enthusiasm for the UW and the local tech sector, this celebrated educator, researcher, adviser and booster has played an important role in that transformation.
 
Previous Tech Impact Champions
Tech Impact Champions are chosen not only for their achievements in technology but also for championing the region’s broader tech sector. Past inductees in Seattle Business magazine’s Hall of Technology Champions, previously called Lifetime Achievement Award honorees, are:
  2012: John McAdams, former CEO, F5 Networks
  2013: Jeremy Jaech, cofounder, Aldus and Visio, and chair emeritus, the Technology Alliance
  2014: Steve Ballmer, former CEO, Microsoft
  2015: Tom Alberg, cofounder, Madrona Venture Group