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Thursday, Oct 6, 2022
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OCBJ INSIDER

The Business Journal named CdM resident and fitness industry icon Augie Nieto as a Businessperson of the Year at the start of 2020, in part for his work in combatting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) through his namesake Augie’s Quest to Cure ALS, as well as his 2019 return as an investor and board member at Life Fitness, the Rosemont, Ill.-based maker of products for gyms and health clubs that he founded in the 1970s.

Nieto was already looking forward to a busy 2020 at the time. He noted in particular the involvement of the ALS Therapy Development Institute (which he chairs) in a new drug being researched, backed by private investors and VC firms, that was spun off to a for-profit company called Anelixis Therapeutics.

“Not only does the drug look promising in ALS, it also appears to be efficacious in Type 1 diabetes, lupus and Alzheimer’s,” Nieto told the Business Journal in late December, speaking about the company where he and his wife, Lynne, served as board members, then based in the Boston area.

Anelixis is now an OC company; last week it was bought by Irvine’s Novus Therapeutics Inc. (Nasdaq: NVUS), whose Chairman Keith Katkin previously ran local drugmakers Urovant Sciences (Nasdaq: UROV) and Avanir Pharmaceuticals.

Along with the acquisition, Novus completed a new investment round raising some $108M in proceeds, which will be used to further test Anelixis’ drug, AT-1501, on a variety of medical conditions, including ALS.

“We couldn’t be more excited by this acquisition,” Nieto said last week. For more on the deal and Nieto, see next week’s print edition of the Business Journal, which is anchored by our Biotech and Biomed Special Report.

Also getting a nod for Businessperson of the Year at the start of 2020 was Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol, whose efforts at the Newport Beach chain boosted digital sales from around 5% to 20% (or $1 billion) by the end of 2019.

A long-term goal stated around that time was to lift that figure above 30%.

Make that a short-term goal. At the height of the pandemic, Chipotle’s digital sales were closer to 80%.

“Now we’re in that 40% to 50% range, and that will fluctuate as the dining rooms reopen, but I definitely think there’s a real possibility that’s where it could stick, Niccol told Bloomberg last week.

OC’s No. 2 public company by valuation (NYSE: CMG) was worth $24 billion at the start of 2020; it’s up 40% this year to $34 billion.

Among the five winners of the Business Journal’s Excellence in Entrepreneurship awards highlighted in this edition, Dirk Griffin’s Pinner Construction sets the bar for longevity; the Anaheim firm hit the 100-year mark last year.

We’re not at that level, yet. But our Richard Reisman did notch his 30-year anniversary as publisher of the paper last week.

As evidenced by this week’s 74-page edition, we’re still going strong.

Mark Mueller
Mark Mueller
Mark is the Editor-in-Chief of the Orange County Business Journal, one of the premier regional business newspapers in the country. He’s the fifth person to hold the editor’s position in the paper’s long history. He oversees a staff of about 15 people. The OCBJ is considered a must-read for area business executives. The print edition of the paper is the primary source of local news for most of the Business Journal’s subscribers, which includes most of OC’s major corporate and community players. Mark’s been with the paper since 2005, and long served as the real estate reporter for the paper, breaking hundreds of commercial and residential real estate stories. He took on the editor’s position in 2018.
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