For husband-and-wife duo Steve Stice and Tracey Worthington Stice, supporting Athens means supporting the health of the community’s residents as well as its economy.
Steve, director of the Regenerative Bioscience Center at the University of Georgia, and Tracey are the co-founders of ArunA Bio, a research startup currently developing biologic therapies from cell lines originating in Steve’s UGA laboratory and commercially developed through the company. ArunA Bio targets its therapies for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, including stroke, which affects nearly 800,000 Americans each year.
“Today, there is no cure for stroke,” said Tracey, ArunA Bio’s executive vice president. “When a person has a stroke, neurons start dying and do so rapidly. The earlier a patient identifies stroke symptoms and seeks medical treatment, the better.”
Only one drug on the market
Ischemic strokes are one of the most common types of stroke, occurring when an artery supplying blood to the brain becomes blocked. For the majority of patients, treatment options are severely limited, Tracey said. So far, only one drug has been developed to treat ischemic stroke, and only 3.8% of patients receive it.
The couple is working to change that. Researchers at ArunA Bio have designed a stroke treatment in the form of an injection that contains proteins and other biological material captured from neural stem cells. And the results speak for themselves.
“We could touch a lot of people if this research is successful,” Tracey said. “The impact of these results affects not only patients, but their families and communities as well.”
And the Athens community is top of mind for the couple. The startup employs around 35 Athens and surrounding-area residents and regularly recruits new talent.
“Athens offers a vibrant and welcoming opportunity for our employees to grow intellectually and to participate in activities that enhance their lives,” Steve said. “A high quality of life leads to enhanced capacity to innovate.”
ArunA Bio’s local partnerships run deep. In addition to internships, the company has offered local high school students the chance to work in their lab through the Young Scholars Program housed in UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
“The level of collaboration that we share with the community, UGA and state of Georgia is outstanding,” Tracey said. “And we certainly wouldn’t be where we are today without the support of the Georgia Research Alliance and the University of Georgia.”
Recruited by the university and the GRA, Steve has called Athens home with Tracey for more than 20 years.
“Every UGA administrator has encouraged me to reach out to collaborate, and using the GRA as a conduit, I have made so many Georgia connections at Georgia Tech, Emory and Augusta University that have made all the difference in the success of ArunA, the students I have mentored and my career,” he said.
In addition to leasing incubator space to support its research, ArunA Bio licenses a UGA patent to further develop and commercialize its technology. The company also hires many UGA alumni and contributes to seminars and courses on campus.
“There is something truly special about Athens,” Tracey said. “And I hope that we can add to the future of the community.”