All aboard

Houston-to-Dallas high-speed train hires major international operator

The high-speed train is chugging along. Rendering courtesy of Texas Central

The high-speed railroad from Houston to Dallas has acquired a key new player that will run day-to-day operations.

Renfe, an international railway company based in Spain, has been hired by Texas Central, the project developers, as the train's operating partner. The selection of Renfe as an operating partner marks another major step forward for the Houston-to-North Texas high-speed railroad.

Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar says in a statement that Renfe was chosen after a review of the best railroad operators in the world.

"Renfe has established a reputation for excellence in railroad operation in Spain and across the world, and we welcome them aboard," Aguilar says. "With their decades of expertise, they were a natural fit to join our other partners. Having the operator, the design build, and technology teams all on board and able to collaborate will ensure all aspects of the railroad are integrated and efficient."

A release calls Renfe "one of the world's most significant railways operators," running 5,000 trains daily on 7,500 miles of track. The company is integral to the transport system in its home base of Spain, handling more than 487 million passengers and 19.6 million tons of freight moved in 2017.

Renfe, in partnership with Adif, which manages Spanish railway infrastructure, will be responsible for running the trains; maintaining system components, such as engines, signals, and other equipment; and overseeing ticketing, passenger loyalty programs, and other services.

It will also provide technical advice on the design and construction of the Texas train and assist in the further development of Texas Central's operation and maintenance plans, preparing the railroad for passenger service.

Renfe is one of the biggest companies in Spain, employing nearly 14,000 people and recording revenues of 3.6 billion euros in 2017. Its high-speed systems were used by more than 36 million passengers in 2017. In March, Renfe announced that it had posted a net profit of 70 million euros in 2017, thanks in part to a jump in the number of its high-speed passengers, chalking up five consecutive years of growth.

Renfe president Isaías Táboas says the deal is a boon for Texas and for the Spanish railway industry.

"Texas Central represents a large high-speed train project in a country with high-growth potential, for which the Spanish experience will be of great help," he says. "Both Renfe Operadora and Adif have accumulated years and miles of high-speed railway development with professional teams, extensive experience, and specialized knowledge. We are committed to the success of Texas Central in improving the mobility of Texans and others in the U.S."

The agreement comes about a week after Texas Central engaged multinational firm Salini Impregilo ­– operating in the U.S. market with The Lane Construction Corporation – to lead the civil construction consortium that will build the passenger line, including viaducts, embankments, and drainage.

Spain's first high-speed line between Madrid and Seville was dedicated in 1986 and Renfe's first high-speed service connected the cities in 1992.

Its second high-speed line, from Madrid to Barcelona, was completed in 2007. Renfe also operates high-speed service from Barcelona to Paris, Lyon, and Toulouse in France. Among other major international projects, Renfe operates the recently opened high-speed train between Mecca and Medina, in Saudi Arabia.

The 200-mph train will link Houston and Dallas in 90 minutes, with a midway stop in the Brazos Valley.

The Texas train will be based on the latest generation of Central Japan Railway's Tokaido Shinkansen train system, the world's safest mass transportation system. It has operated for more than 54 years with a perfect record of zero passenger fatalities or injuries from operations, and an impeccable on-time performance record.

Texas Central and its partners are refining and updating construction planning and sequencing, guided by the Federal Railroad Administration's recently released draft environmental impact statement. The FRA now is working on a final environmental review that will help determine the project's timeline and final route.

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This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

Houston-based Moleculin has three different oncology technologies currently in trials. Getty Images

Immunotherapy and personalized medicine get all the headlines lately, but in the fight against cancer, a natural compound created by bees could beat them in winning one battle.

In 2007, chairman and CEO Walter Klemp founded Moleculin Biotech Inc. as a private company. The former CPA had found success in life sciences with a company that sold devices for the treatment of acne. That introduction into the field of medical technology pushed him toward more profound issues than spotty skin.

"Coincidentally, the inventor of that technology had a brother who was a neuro-oncologist at MD Anderson," Klemp recalls.

The since-deceased Dr. Charles Conrad slowly lured Klemp into what he calls the "cancer ecosphere" of MD Anderson. In 2016, the company went public. And it looks like sooner rather than later, it could make major inroads against some of the toughest cancers to beat.

Klemp observed that while Houston has the world's largest medical center, "the tragic irony" is that other cities have far more biotech money ready to be invested.

"The Third Coast is really starved for capital," he says. "What drew me into this was I was one of the few entrepreneurs that lived here that knew the ropes in terms of tapping into East and West Coast capital structures and could make that connection for them."

The company has three core technologies currently being tested with some success, but the most promising is called WP1066, named for researcher Waldemar Priebe, "a rock star" in his native Poland, according to Klemp, who works at MD Anderson. Though Priebe came to the U.S. in the 1980s, he is still an adjunct professor at the University of Warsaw and conducts some of his trials in Poland because it's easier to get grant money there.

WP1066 uses propolis, a compound of beeswax, sap and saliva that bees produce to seal small areas of their hives, as a base. The molecular compound that Priebe discovered affects STAT3 (signal transducer and activator of transcription), a transcription factor that encourages tumor development. In short, the active compound in WP1066 both downregulates the STAT3, a long-time Holy Grail in the cancer research world, and directly attacking the tumor, but also quieting T Cells, which allows the body's own immune system to fight the cancer itself. Essentially, it works both as chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

WP1066 is demonstrating drug-like properties in trials at MD Anderson on glioblastoma, the aggressive brain cancer that recently took the life of the hospital's former president, John Mendelsohn, as well as John McCain and Beau Biden. It is also being tested against pancreatic cancer, one of the most virulent killers cancer doctors combat.

Priebe also created Annamycin, named for his oldest daughter, a first-line chemotherapy drug that fights Acute Myeloid Leukemia without the cardiotoxicity that can damage patients' hearts even as they beat their cancer.

WP1122 uses yet another mechanism to fight cancer.

"Most people don't know that morphine is essentially a modified version of heroin," Klemp explains.

The difference between the poppy-based drugs? Heroin can cross the blood-brain barrier. It's described as the dicetyl ester of morphine. WP1122 is the dicetyl ester of 2DG (2-Deoxyglucose), a glycolysis inhibitor, which works by overfilling tumor cells with fake glucose so that they can't consume the real glucose that makes them grow.

"The theory is, we could feed you so full of junk food that eventually you'd starve to death," Klemp elucidates. It can cross the blood-brain barrier and is metabolized slowly, meaning that it can be made into a drug in a way that 2DG cannot.

What's impressive about Moleculin is its diversity of drugs. Most companies have one drug that gets all or most of the attention. Moleculin has strong hopes for all three currently in trials.

"It's essentially multiple shots on the goal," says executive vice president and CFO Jonathan Foster.

Moleculin has 13 total employees, five of whom are based in Houston. An office in the Memorial Park area serves as a landing pad for employees and collaborators from around the world to get their work done when in Space City. The virtual office set-up works for the company because experts can stay in their home cities to get their work done. And that work is on its way to saving scores of lives.