To Sum Up

Strategic partnerships made during global virtual conference will result in millions of dollars

Plenty of businesses met their new partners. Photo by Luis Alvarez/Getty

Earlier in August, participants from around the globe gathered online for HealthTech Beyond Borders, a virtual summit hosted by ProChile that's designed to match American and Chilean businesses looking to explore the future and impact of new technologies in the healthcare sector.

During the four-day event, registrants sat in on more than 65 meetings — or an average of 2.5 meetings per hour — that tackled such topics as "Why Chile? Exploring Chilean Medical Innovations," "Dynamic Growth for Healthcare Innovators/Innovations (Venture Capital)," and "Harnessing Healthcare's Regional Resources: Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia."

"I was really impressed by the quality of groups and speakers for this event," says Torrey Adams, senior director of global life sciences at Greater Houston Partnership. "It was a very well put together with excellent networking and connecting opportunities. I gained a much better insight on the possibilities of collaborating with Chilean companies."

There were 37 registrants from Texas, which also contributed such strategic partners as Houston Methodist Hospital, the City of Houston, Houston Exponential, The Cannon, Greater Houston Partnership, MediaTech Ventures, Central Houston Inc., and InnovationMap (hello!).

A total of 35 Chilean companies participated, with such heavy-hitters as Cens (the national center for healthcare systems), ChileTech (a health providers association), Apis (medical devices), and CNL (the national labs board) joining the roster.

"It was a pleasure to moderate the HealthTech Beyond Borders session," says José F. Núñez, vice president of global development at Houston Methodist Global Health Care Services. "It is forums like these that foster the exchange of ideas and bring together individuals and organizations to further promote innovation in the health sciences space. Kudos to ProChile, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia for the resources they provide to entrepreneurs in facilitating these connections."

Though it's impossible to know the actual numbers — ProChile isn't privy to private negotiations — a survey taken by the attending companies estimates that $1 million in immediate business will be done as a direct result of the event. In the next 12 months, that figure is estimated to jump up to $2.9 million.

"We created an inclusive 'village' of innovation where entrepreneurs and startups from around the world come to solve humankind's boldest challenges," says Robert Pieroni, director of economic development for Central Houston, Inc. "Events like ProChile's HeathTech Beyond Borders demonstrate how the world is responding to what Houston has built. With Downtown Launchpad, TMC Innovation, the Ion, and others, we are clearly becoming a global center of gravity to inspire innovation and support entrepreneurship."

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Building Houston

 
 

From a low-cost vaccine to an app that can help reduce exposure, here are the latest COVID-focused and Houston-based research projects. Photo via Getty Images

While it might seem like the COVID-19 pandemic has settled down for the time being, there's plenty of innovative research ongoing to create solutions for affordable vaccines and tech-enabled protection against the spread of the virus.

Some of that research is happening right here in Houston. Here are two innovative projects in the works at local institutions.

UH researcher designs app to monitor best times to shop

A UH professor is putting safe shopping at your fingertips. Photo via UH.edu

When is the best time to run an errand in the pandemic era we currently reside? There might be an app for that. Albert Cheng, professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston, is working on a real-time COVID-19 infection risk assessment and mitigation system. He presented his plans at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers conference HPC for Urgent Decision Making and will publish the work in IEEE Xplore.

Cheng's work analyzes up-to-date data from multiple open sources to see when is the best time to avoid crowds and accomplish activities outside the home.

"Preliminary work has been performed to determine the usability of a number of COVID-19 data websites and other websites such as grocery stores and restaurants' popular times and traffic," Cheng says in a UH release. "Other data, such as vaccination rates and cultural factors (for example, the percentage of people willing to wear facial coverings or masks in an area), are also used to determine the best grocery store to shop in within a time frame."

To use the app, a user would input their intended destinations and the farthest distance willing to go, as well as the time frame of the trip. The risk assessment and mitigation system, or RT-CIRAM, then "provides as output the target location and the time interval to reach there that would reduce the chance of infections," said Cheng.

There's a lot to it, says Cheng, and the process is highly reliant on technology.

"We are leveraging urgent high-performance cloud computing, coupled with time-critical scheduling and routing techniques, along with our expertise in real-time embedded systems and cyber-physical systems, machine learning, medical devices, real-time knowledge/rule-based decision systems, formal verification, functional reactive systems, virtualization and intrusion detection," says Cheng.

2 Houston hospitals team up with immunotherapy company for new vaccine for Africa

The new vaccine will hopefully help mitigate spread of the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa. Photo via bcm.edu

Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital have teamed up with ImmunityBio Inc. — a clinical-stage immunotherapy company — under a licensing agreement to develop a safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccine.

BCM has licensed out a recombinant protein COVID-19 vaccine candidate that was developed at the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development to ImmunityBio. According to the release, the company engaged in license negotiations with the BCM Ventures team, about the vaccine that could address the current pandemic needs in South Africa.

"We hope that our COVID-19 vaccine for global health might become an important step towards advancing vaccine development capacity in South Africa, and ultimately for all of Sub-Saharan Africa," says Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor and co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

ImmunityBio, which was founded in 2014 by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, is working on innovative immunotherapies that address serious unmet needs in infectious diseases, according to a news release from BCM.

"There is a great need for second-generation vaccines, which are accessible, durable and offer broad protection against the emerging variants," says Soon-Shiong. "ImmunityBio has executed on a heterologous ("mix-and-match") strategy to develop a universal COVID-19 vaccine. To accomplish this, we have embarked upon large-scale good manufacturing practices and development of DNA (adenovirus), RNA (self-amplifying mRNA) and subunit protein (yeast) vaccine platforms. This comprehensive approach will leverage our expertise in these platforms for both infectious disease and cancer therapies."

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