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Susan Adams .
From Iran To CEO Of A Biotech Startup, Bioniz, With No Revenue But A $400 Million Valuation.
After the Iranian revolution, Nazli Azimi ((@nazli_azimi_ )), 48, came to the U.S. on a student visa. She’s now CEO of Bioniz Therapeutics, an Irvine, CA biotech company with $20 million in venture funding that’s developing new types of drugs to fight cancer and autoimmune diseases like celiac and alopecia. Her theory: attack so-called cytokines, the multiple proteins that block immune pathways. Before launching Bioniz in 2010, she had an unusual career that included starting her own skincare line. She used the profits from that business to start Bioniz, which now has 13 employees. Bioniz generates no revenue and Azimi says she’ll need at least $300 million in additional funding before she can produce a drug for sale. In this interview, which has been edited and condensed, she explains why she doubts she’ll still be with the company by the time it finally produces a product.
Susan Adams: What was it like to grow up in Iran? .
Nazli Azimi: I was a child but I remember the revolution vividly. My father had been an army officer and he went into hiding. We didn’t know where he was. Many of his friends were executed. We were afraid for our lives. I went to university but I felt totally suffocated. All I heard was I couldn’t do what I wanted because I was a woman. .
Adams: How were you able to move to the U.S.? .
Azimi: I went to Turkey and the U.S. ambassador took a chance on me. I got a student visa to go to grad school at the University of Maryland where I studied pharmaceutical science. .l
Adams: Do you still have family in Iran? .
Azimi: All three of my brothers are entrepreneurs in Iran. One started a dental practice, one has a fitness chain and another started a restaurant chain. Since I left, things have changed a lot for the better. .