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Houston Methodist opens new cellular therapeutics center

New facility will accelerate investigational treatments in cancer, heart disease, neurological disorders and more. Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist

Houston Methodist recently opened a new 5,000-square-foot lab that will focus on developing and producing lifesaving treatments through cell therapy, the hospital announced last week.

Named the Ann Kimball & John W. Johnson Center for Cellular Therapeutics after long-time supporters of the hospital, the lab is located in the Houston Methodist Outpatient Center in the Texas Medical Center. The space includes 1710 square feet of cleanroom space, a dedicated quality control laboratory, six production rooms, support spaces and more to help develop new cell therapies and investigational therapeutics.

The combination of the control laboratory and production rooms onsite are anticipated to help the hospital treat patients safely and more efficiently, according to the statement.

Work at the JCCT is slated to benefit medical research throughout Houston Methodist in the fields of cancer, cardiovascular, neurology, organ transplantation, orthopedics and gastroenterology treatment.

The new center is named for Ann Kimball and John W. Johnson, who contributed a gift that will go toward establishing the facility. Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist

According to a statement from the hospital, cell therapy is "one of the most promising treatment options available," with applications in treatment for cancer, heart disease, and neurological diseases like ALS, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The therapy requires that a patient is implanted with live cells provided by a donor or the patient themselves. These cells can help repair or rejuvenate damaged tissue or cells.

“Many diseases have limited or ineffective therapies, so there is a tremendous need and opportunity to bring transformative and restorative new treatments to patients through cell therapy,” distinguished neurologist Dr Stanley Appel, who will lead the center, said the statement. “Having a cellular therapy laboratory on-site at Houston Methodist has always been a part of our vision. The Johnson family’s generosity and support of this vision will give hope to countless patients battling neurodegenerative diseases and more.”

The Johnsons' gift also created a matching fund that supports cell therapy projects in all specialties at Houston Methodist. At press time, the fund had helped attract 51 donors, including 69-year-old Jack McClanahan, who suffers from ALS and was the first to donate to the center.

"I volunteered for this because I want a younger man or woman with children to have a chance – this is a devastating disease,” McClanahan said in the statement. “If there’s any hope to help others, I just want to be part of it.”

Houston Methodist also announced last month that it will break ground on a $650 million Cypress "smart" hospital this spring. The hospital is slated to incorporate artificial intelligence, big data, and Alexa- and Siri-like voice technology into its treatment plans and design.

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Building Houston

 
 

Juliana Garaizar is now the chief development and investment officer at Greentown Labs, as well as continuing to be head of the Houston incubator. Image courtesy of Greentown

The new year has brought some big news from Greentown Labs.

The Somerville, Massachusetts-based climatetech incubator with its second location at Greentown Houston named a new member to its C-suite, is seeking new Houston team members, and has officially finished its transition into a nonprofit.

Juliana Garaizar, who originally joined Greentown as launch director ahead of the Houston opening in 2021, has been promoted from vice president of innovation to chief development and investment officer.

"I'm refocusing on the Greentown Labs level in a development role, which means fundraising for both locations and potentially new ones," Garaizar tells InnovationMap. "My role is not only development, but also investment. That's something I'm very glad to be pursuing with my investment hat. Access to capital is key for all our members, and I'm going to be in charge of refining and upgrading our investment program."

While she will also maintain her role as head of the Houston incubator, Greentown Houston is also hiring a general manager position to oversee day-to-day and internal operations of the hub. Garaizar says this role will take some of the internal-facing responsibilities off of her plate.

"Now that we are more than 80 members, we need more internal coordination," she explains. "Considering that the goal for Greentown is to grow to more locations, there's going to be more coordination and, I'd say, more autonomy for the Houston campus."

The promotion follows a recent announcement that Emily Reichert, who served as CEO for the company for a decade, has stepped back to become CEO emeritus. Greentown is searching for its next leader and CFO Kevin Taylor is currently serving as interim CEO. Garaizar says the transition is representative of Greentown's future as it grows to more locations and a larger organization.

"Emily's transition was planned — but, of course, in stealth mode," Garaizar says, adding that Reichert is on the committee that's finding the new CEO. "She thinks scaling is a different animal from putting (Greentown) together, which she did really beautifully."

Garaizar says her new role will include overseeing Greentown's new nonprofit status. She tells InnovationMap that the organization originally was founded as a nonprofit, but converted to a for-profit in order to receive a loan at its first location. Now, with the mission focus Greentown has and the opportunities for grants and funding, it was time to convert back to a nonprofit, Garaizar says.

"When we started fundraising for Houston, everyone was asking why we weren't a nonprofit. That opened the discussion again," she says. "The past year we have been going through that process and we can finally say it has been completed.

"I think it's going to open the door to a lot more collaboration and potential grants," she adds.

Greentown is continuing to grow its team ahead of planned expansion. The organization hasn't yet announced its next location — Garaizar says the primary focus is filling the CEO position first. In Houston, the hub is also looking for an events manager to ensure the incubator is providing key programming for its members, as well as the Houston innovation community as a whole.

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