research on the rocks

Texas vodka brand doles out $1M grant to Houston research institution for COVID-19 vaccine

Two researchers from Baylor College of Medicine are working on taking their work on a SARS vaccine and adjusting it to target COVID-19 — and they just got $1 million from Tito's Handmade Vodka to keep up their work. Photo via bcm.edu

A vodka distiller based in Austin is sending funds to a Houston research group that's working on a vaccine to fight the coronavirus.

Tito's Handmade Vodka — through its philanthropic arm Love, Tito's — has pledged to give Baylor College of Medicine a $1 million grant to accelerate research on a vaccine for the virus.

Two BCM researchers are taking the work they began in 2011 to develop a SARS vaccine with the intent to make adjustments to target SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Dr. Peter Hotez is the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor, and Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi is the associate dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine. The duo serves as co-directors of the Texas Children's Hospital for Vaccine Development as well.

"Our coronavirus vaccine is designed in Texas and tested in Texas with the utmost priority to ensure it is safe and effective," Bottazzi says in a news release for BCM. "To now see that it will be supported by Texas-based Tito's is a testament that our state will be recognized as being at the forefront of this pandemic, making a difference and reaching all populations locally and globally."

Drs. Hotez and Bottazzi focus on developing vaccines for new or neglected tropical diseases that affect those living in poverty around the world. Along with their partnership with PATH, a global nonprofit organization that will help speed up the vaccine's regulatory phase, the doctors' work from 2011 on SARS is promising and will hopefully help safely and quickly develop a COVID vaccine.

"It's an honor to work with Tito's on this life-saving initiative, which we hope will ultimately lead to a vaccine for America," Hotez says in the release. "Our vision is that it would also advance as a low-cost global health vaccine, now that COVID-19 is racing through Latin American nations, such as Ecuador and Brazil, in addition to South Asia."

Love, Tito's, which is also based in Austin, has contributed to a few other organizations amid the COVID-19 crisis, including: Children of Restaurant Employees (CORE), USBG National Charity Foundation's COVID-19 Relief Campaign, World Central Kitchen, and Southern Smoke Foundation's Emergency Relief Fund, a Houston-based initiative.

"Everything we do at Tito's is rooted in giving back to the communities we serve, and this pandemic is no exception," says Sarah Everett, director of Global Impact and Research at Tito's Handmade Vodka.

"We applaud the worldwide effort to fund and support vaccines that look promising, because we can never know in advance which ones will be effective. We're proud to support Dr. Hotez, Dr. Bottazzi and their team's work to improve humanity's odds of success against COVID-19 and future coronavirus mutations."

Love, Tito's is the nonprofit arm of Tito's Handemade Vodka. Photo via titosvodka.com

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Building Houston

 
 

Just after announcing an investment from United, NEXT Renewable Fuels Inc. scored a SPAC-based IPO. Photo via nextrenewables.com

It’s been a momentous month for Houston-based NEXT Renewable Fuels Inc.

On November 15, United Airlines Ventures announced an investment of up to $37.5 million in the next-generation, low-carbon fuel producing company.

Just a week later, the company revealed it’s going public through a SPAC merger with Industrial Tech Acquisitions II Inc. The deal, expected to close in the second quarter of 2023, assigns a $666 million equity value to NEXT. The publicly traded company will be named NXTCLEAN Fuels Inc.

NEXT, founded in 2016, produces low-carbon fuels from organic feedstock. The company plans to open a biofuel refinery in Port Westward, Oregon, that’s set to start production in 2026. The refinery could produce up to 50,000 barrels per day of sustainable aviation fuel, renewable diesel, and other renewable fuels.

“West Coast states are demanding a clean fuels conversion of the transportation and aviation industries with aggressive targets necessitating rapid increases in clean fuel supplies,” Christopher Efird, executive chairman and CEO of NEXT, says in a news release. “[The company] is advancing toward becoming one of the largest U.S.-based suppliers of clean fuels for these markets, and is investigating and pursuing potential vertical expansion into other clean fuels.”

The proposed public listing of NEXT’s stock on the Nasdaq market and United’s investment are poised to help NEXT reach its goal of becoming a leader in the clean fuel sector. United’s investment appears to be the first equity funding for NEXT.

“Right now, one of the biggest barriers to increasing supply and lowering costs of sustainable fuel is that we don’t have the infrastructure in place to transport it efficiently, but NEXT’s strategic location and assets solve that problem and provide a blueprint for future facilities that need to be built,” Michael Leskinen, president of United Airline Ventures, says in a news release.

United’s investment arm, launched in 2021, targets ventures that will complement the airline’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

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