Trying to save 8 million people, starting with his wife

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - One of Tucson's most successful start up companies, now known as Ventana Medical Systems, is becoming the global leader in bio-technologies. What that boils down to, is saving millions of cancer patients. Kayna Whitworth sat down with the man who started it all from a lab at the University of Arizona Medical Center.

"Can you imagine everything that you ever did in your whole life came one day, when everything that you learned and know to do came to the direct benefit of your own soul mate," asked Dr. Thomas Grogan.

At the time Candace Grogan was diagnosed with malignant lymphoma it was almost always fatal. Her husband Dr. Grogan a University of Arizona Professor, and pathologist, had been studying cancer of the lymphnodes. After years in the lab, he knew how to keep his wife alive.

"It did come home, it did come to roost," said Grogan.

He analyzed the tissue samples to provide the best treatment. It wasn't just his wife that needed saving, try 8 million people world wide. More work had to be done and faster.

Dr. Grogan asked Hiro Nitta to be his scientific fellow. "I remember like it was yesterday, my bench was from home depot," said Hiro Nitta, Scientific Fellow at Ventana Medical Systems.

Their lab was in a garage with what Dr. Grogan called a birthday cake and a merry-go-round. Dr. Grogan's million dollar idea started on a yellow note pad and turned into BenchMark IHC/ISH staining platforms. A way for 30 tissue samples to be tested at once. They can see not only the cancer cells but here the overgrowth of the HER-2 gene in this woman's breast cancer. This dramatically changes the treatment.

So Ventana has the chemistry, and the instrument to find the cancers, Roche and Pfizer have the drugs to treat it. It might seem like big money and big companies, but personalized medicine comes from a place of passion.

"As I speak I get emotional, what I do today can help millions of cancer patients tomorrow," says Nitta.

"The enemy is among us, the enemy is here, what is the nature of it, what will we do about it," Dr. Grogan says.

Today Ventana is a leading developer and manufacturer of automated tissue-based diagnostic systems and tests focused on cancer detection. Ventana Medical systems was recently featured on the cover of BizTucson's Fall 2012 issue.

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