The new $1 million gift will target top recruits. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

One of the most prestigious foundations in Texas has made a generous gift to a local university's fledgling medical department. The M.D. Anderson Foundation has pledged $1 million to the University of Houston College of Medicine, UH announced.

The sizable gift is meant to establish the M.D. Anderson Foundation Endowed Professorship in Medicine, specifically to recruit a leader in health care to join the College of Medicine faculty, according to a press release.

The gift, matched one-to-one by an anonymous donor to create a $2 million endowment, aims to support the new medical school's mission to improve health and health care in underserved communities in Houston and across Texas.

This isn't the first time the M.D. Anderson Foundation has supported UH. The foundation has gifted more than $6 million to UH Libraries, UH Law Center, Hobby School of Public Affairs, and the College of Medicine.

"Innovation in health care requires a fresh approach and a willingness to break down traditional silos to collaborate with experts in other health disciplines such as pharmacy, engineering, law and even data sciences, said Dr. Stephen Spann, founding dean of the UH College of Medicine," in a statement.

"By harnessing the power of data analytics, we can fundamentally change the way we deliver higher quality and cost-effective care to more people. Thanks to the M.D. Anderson Foundation's generosity and vision, we will be able to recruit a new faculty member who can help us greatly to accomplish these goals."

As previously reported, UH received a $50 million gift from an anonymous donor in 2019 to establish the "$100 Million Challenge," meant to recruit top nationally recognized and awarded research faculty for chairs and professorships, designed to inspire another $50 million in investments from additional donors.

Now, the school hopes to utilize these funds to address what the school describes as a "critical primary care physician shortage, especially in low-income and minority communities lacking access to a regular source of care and have gaps in preventative care, which leads to higher rates of sickness, hospitalization, and death."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Lisa and Nicky Holdeman are ensuring a bright future of UH med students. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

University of Houston power couple prescribes major gift for college of medicine

funding future doctors

University of Houston medical students and staff will receive a gift that's just what the doctor ordered.

A prestigious and longtime UH power couple has bequeathed two major gifts a major gift to the school's burgeoning College of Medicine. Dr. Nicky and Lisa Holdeman — who together boast more than 45 years at the university — have established an endowed and chair/professorship and a scholarship for medical students, the school announced.

In their will/trust the Holdemans have established, per UH:

  • The Nicky R. and Lisa K. Holdeman Endowed Professorship/Chair, which will support a clinical teaching faculty member responsible for the oversight and strategic direction of the College of Medicine's clinics, as well as enhancing the student and patient experience.
  • The Nicky R. and Lisa K. Holdeman Endowed Scholarship, which will support students in the College of Medicine, which was founded in 2020 on a social mission to improve health and health care in underserved communities in Houston and across Texas.

The Holdemans say that they were inspired by the UH College of Medicine's mission to address a significant statewide primary care physician shortage and how social determinants of health, such as income, housing, food supply and transportation, contribute to health outcomes.

"I have a true admiration for the comprehensive physician, someone comfortable addressing multiple health issues," Nicky Holdeman relays in a statement. "The physicians being trained at the University of Houston will be well prepared to manage most of the patients, with most conditions, most of the time. That's really what primary care medicine is all about."

As previously reported, UH's medical school will welcome its second class of 30 students this summer and will have 480 students at full enrollment, within the decade.

More on the duo, who have been married for 38 years: A UH biography notes that Nicky, physician and professor emeritus at the UH College of Optometry, served as associate dean for clinical education and executive director of the University Eye Institute during his 30 years at the college. He retired in 2019.

Meanwhile, Lisa joined UH in 2006 and serves as vice chancellor for the UH System and vice president for UH marketing and communications. She works directly with UH System Chancellor and UH President Renu Khator and school leadership.

"This gift is especially gratifying because it comes from two dedicated UH leaders whose professional careers have already contributed so much to our University's success," said Renu Khator. "That kind of enlightened commitment on their part sets an admirable example. I know I speak for many when I express our deep appreciation for their generous support of the College of Medicine and the important work it is undertaking in our community."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The University of Houston broke ground on its new medical school building and named the College of Medicine's inaugural class. Photo via UH.edu

Houston medical school presents inaugural class as construction begins on new building

doctors in training

This month, the University of Houston has taken a couple huge steps toward establishing a prestigious medical school program — the first new medical school to be established in Houston in almost 50 years.

UH has broken ground on its $80 million medical school building that is expected to be completed in 2022, and the program has named its inaugural class.

The new cohort of future doctors is a group diverse in ethnic background and life experience. The school plans to tackle a key issue in public health: the shortage of primary care doctors. These future doctors are charged by the university with eliminating health disparities in underserved urban and rural areas, which often have poorer health outcomes.

The UH College of Medicine received 1,728 applications for its first class of students; 164 applicants were interviewed for the 30 available spots, according to UH. An 18-member admissions committee screened those most likely to pursue primary care.

Here is a breakdown of UH's inaugural medical school class:

  • 30 students
  • 73 percent underrepresented minorities in medicine
  • 63 percent female
  • 57 percent first generation in college
  • 40 percent low socioeconomic status
  • 100 percent Texas resident
  • Five graduates of the University of Texas at Austin; two graduates each from the University of Houston, Baylor, Texas A&M, Houston Baptist, Prairie View A&M, and Rice University

According to the school, the goal is for 50 percent of graduates of the UH College of Medicine to choose primary care specialties including family medicine, general internal medicine, and general pediatrics. For some perspective, nationally, only about 20 percent of medical students choose primary care.

"We were very deliberate in our pursuit of medical students who fit the mission. This is much different than most other medical schools because we need different solutions for the current health care problems facing our city and state," said Dr. Stephen Spann, founding dean of the College of Medicine, in a statement.

Each student will receive a $100,000 four-year scholarship through philanthropy to cover tuition and fees. At full enrollment, the College of Medicine will have 480 students, per the school. The Health 2 Building in the UH Medical District will be the college's temporary home for the first two years until a new $80 million medical school building is completed in 2022. Construction crews broke ground on the new building on June 15, according to the university.

Being part of UH's inaugural medical school is deeply personal for students such as Cenk Cengiz. At 14, Cengiz's family emigrated from Turkey to Houston, but could not afford health insurance. Cengiz attended high school and college without ever seeing a doctor, which attracted him to the field of medicine and peaked his interest in the medical school's unique mission to help underserved communities.

"I came a long way from washing dishes at age 14 at a pizza store," Cengiz said in a statement. "My parents are super proud of me."

Dr. Stephen Spann is the founding dean of the College of Medicine. Photo via uh.edu

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.