COVID Collaboration

Houston health care organizations team up for the 'people's vaccine'

Texas Children's Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine are working on a new COVID-19 vaccine candidate. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Two major health care institutions in Houston — Texas Children's Hospital and the Baylor College of Medicine — are a step closer to rolling out what they dub the "people's vaccine" for COVID-19.

The two institutions, along with India-based vaccine and pharmaceutical company Biological E Ltd., have gained approval to move ahead this month with Phase III clinicals trials in India of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate called Corbevax. The Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development developed the vaccine's protein antigen, which was licensed from the Baylor College of Medicine's BCM Ventures commercialization arm.

Unlike COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S., Corbevax contains the so-called "spike protein" from the surface of the novel coronavirus. Once that protein is injected via a vaccine, the body is supposed to begin building immunity against the protein and thereby prevent serious illness.

Experts envision Corbevax being a readily available weapon in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to the simple vaccine platform (like the one used to prevent Hepatitis B) and the ability to store the vaccine in normal refrigerated settings. The targets of this vaccine are children and mothers.

"In the midst of India's public health crisis, it is our hope that our Texas Children's and Baylor COVID-19 vaccine can be released for emergency authorization in India and in all countries in need of essential COVID-19 vaccinations," Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, says in a June 9 news release.

India has reported more than 29 million cases of COVID-19, causing 354,000 deaths. The country's COVID-19 surge reached its peak in May.

"The vaccines currently available cannot be manufactured quick enough to meet supply shortages in low-income countries," Hotez says. "Our vaccine is truly 'the people's vaccine,' created to serve the most marginalized and underserved populations that are hardest hit by this pandemic. This is the vaccine that could be used to vaccinate the world."

In the Phase III trial, the two-dose Corbevax vaccine will be administered to about 1,200 people age 18 to 80 at 15 sites in India. A larger global study of Corbevax is in the works.

According to India.com, Corbevax could be the most affordable COVID-19 vaccine available in the nation of nearly 1.37 billion people, costing close to $7 for a two-dose regimen. The Indian government already has preordered 300 million doses of Corbevax, which has shown promise in Phase I and Phase II trials. The Phase II trial ended in April.

If the Phase III trial goes as planned, doses could be widely administered as soon as August. Biological E initially plans to produce 75 million to 80 million doses per month, according to media reports. The Indian company foresees manufacturing at least 1 billion doses by the end of 2022.

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Building Houston

 
 

Here's what companies are in the latest cohort for gBETA. Photo courtesy of gBETA

An early-stage accelerator has picked its latest cohort of five Houston companies.

The Fall 2020 cohort of gBETA Houston includes:

  • AllIDoIsCook is founded by Tobi Smith and focused on exposing the world to Africa's cuisine by manufacturing gourmet food products delivered directly to customer doors and available at grocers. Since launching, AllIDoIsCook has built out a manufacturing facility, shipped over 8,000 boxes and generated $1.1 million in revenue all without outside funding.
  • Chasing Watts makes it easy for cyclists to coordinate or find rides with fellow riders in their area with its web-based and native application. The company has over 3,000 users and grew 135 percent from Q2 to Q3 in new ride views.
  • DanceKard, founded by Erica Sinner, is a new dating platform that connects individuals and groups with one another by bringing the date to the forefront of the conversation and making scheduling faster and easier with special promotions featuring local establishments. Since launching in August of 2021, DanceKard has over 170 users on the platform.
  • Dollarito is a digital lending platform that helps the low-income Hispanic population with no credit history or low FICO score access fair credit. Founded by Carmen Roman, Dollarito applies AI into banking, transactional and behavioral data to evaluate the repayment capability more accurately than using FICO scores. The company has1,000 users on their waitlist and plans to beta test with 100 or more customers in early 2022.
  • SeekerPitch, founded by Samantha Hepler, operates with the idea that jobseekers' past job titles and resumes are not always indicative of their true capabilities. Launched last month, SeekerPitch empowers companies to see who jobseekers are as people, and get to know them through comprehensive profiles and virtual speed interviews, and the company already has 215 jobseekers and 20 companies on the platform, with one pilot at University of Houston and three more in the pipeline.

The companies kicked off their cohort in person on October 18, and the program concludes on December 14 with the gBETA Houston Fall 2021 Pitch Night. At this event, each company will present their five-minute pitch to an audience of mentors, investors, and community members.

"The five founding teams selected for our gBETA Houston Fall 2021 cohort are tackling unique problems they have each experienced personally, from finding access to cultural foods, fitness communities and authentic dating experiences to challenges with non-inclusive financing and hiring practices," says Kate Evinger, director of gBETA Houston, in the release. "The grit and passion these individuals bring to their roles as founders will undoubtedly have a tremendous impact in the Houston community and beyond."

The accelerator has supported 15 Houston startups since it launched in Houston in early 2020. The program, which is free and hosted out of the Downtown Launchpad, is under the umbrella of Madison, Wisconsin-based international accelerator, gener8tor.

"Downtown Launchpad is an innovation hub like no other, and I am so proud of what it is already and what it will become," says Robert Pieroni, director of economic development at Central Houston Inc., in the release. "The five startups selected for the gBETA Houston Fall 2021 cohort are exploring new challenges that can become high-impact Houston businesses."

gBETA announced its plan to launch in Houston in September 2019. The program's inaugural cohort premiered in May and conducted the first program this summer completely virtually. The second cohort took place last fall, and the third ran earlier this year.

"These founders are building their companies and benefiting from the resources Downtown Launchpad provides," Pieroni continues, "and the proof is in the data – companies in these programs are creating jobs, growing their revenues and exponentially increasing their funding, which means these small starts up of today, working in Downtown Launchpad, are growing into the successful companies of tomorrow."

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