UT Dallas - The LINK
September 2014

Alumnus’ Company IPO Nearly Doubles Market Expectations


Jeff Keyser PhD’10

Jeff Keyser PhD’10 recently had a good day — a really good day.

ZS Pharma, a biopharmaceutical company Keyser co-founded, raised nearly $112 million to beat market expectations during its initial public offering this summer. Priced to sell around $18 per share, stock shares closed at $28.38 on the first day of trading on the Nasdaq global market. ZS Pharma’s Wall Street debut was the first biotech IPO from Texas since 2000.

While the more than 20 million Americans with kidney disease likely don’t know of Keyser or ZS Pharma yet, the company is introducing to the marketplace ZS-9, a drug that may improve and extend lives in ways those millions can’t imagine.

“ZS-9 holds great promise for people with hyperkalemia, a condition that often accompanies kidney and cardiovascular disease,” said Keyser, a graduate of the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences and chief operating officer of ZS Pharma.

In 2010, ZS Pharma began developing ZS-9, an insoluble, nonabsorbed inorganic crystal designed to trap potassium ions. By removing potassium, it also could potentially be used to treat hyperkalemia, a life-threatening metabolic condition that can lead to irregular heartbeat and sudden cardiac death.

Currently in the final stage of clinical trials, Keyser and co-founder Al Guillem plan to submit a new drug application for ZS-9 to the Food and Drug Administration in the first half of next year, with the hope that the drug could be in patients’ hands by 2016.

Keyser has been involved with dozens of FDA approvals and conversions of prescription products to over-the-counter medications, including Mucinex, Nicorette and NicoDerm.

“Picking the winners from a sea of good ideas in a research lab is a challenge, but to be successful in bringing a biotech to market, you must focus,” he said.

With a collection of degrees already in hand, Keyser earned his PhD from UT Dallas. “I love learning,” he said. His dissertation on drug development and patent life challenged him analytically and honed skills now working for him.

“The drug development is all a big bet, but it is a calculated bet,” Keyser said. For those awaiting the promise of ZS-9, it cannot arrive soon enough.

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