Drs. Maria Elena Bottazzi and Peter Hotez at the Center for Vaccine Development. Photo courtesy of Texas Children's Hospital

With the U.S. logging its highest single-day total of new COVID-19 cases (441,278 infections) and some 281, 808, 270 cases documented worldwide, new treatments worldwide are in major demand — especially in emerging nations.

To that end, Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine announced a new COVID vaccine ready to deploy in India and soon, other underserved countries.

Corbevax, which is dubbed “The World’s COVID-19 Vaccine,” utilizes a traditional recombinant protein-based technology that will enable production at large scales, per a press release. That means the inoculation will be widely accessible to inoculate the global population.

This new vaccine was developed at Texas Children’s Hospital CVD and led by co-directors Drs. Maria Elena Bottazzi and Peter Hotez — and in-licensed from BCM Ventures, Baylor College of Medicine’s integrated commercialization team, to Hyderabad-based vaccine and pharmaceutical company Biological E. Limited (BE).

After completing two Phase III clinical trials involving more than 3000 subjects the vaccine was found to be safe, well tolerated, and immunogenic. Current research shows Corbevax notably effective against the Ancestral-Wuhan strain and the globally dominant Delta variant, press materials note.

Safe, streamlined, low-cost vaccines for middle- to low-income countries are central to the world’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, the two Houston organizations note. Indeed, without widespread vaccination of populations in the Global South, additional virus variants will arise, hindering the progress achieved by currently available vaccines in the United States and other Western countries, per research.

“This announcement is an important first step in vaccinating the world and halting the pandemic,” said Hotez in a statement. “Our vaccine technology offers a path to address an unfolding humanitarian crisis, namely the vulnerability the low- and middle-income countries face against the delta variant. Widespread and global vaccination with our Texas Children’s-Baylor-BE vaccine would also forestall the emergence of new variants. We have previously missed that opportunity for the alpha and delta variant. Now is our chance to prevent a new global wave from what might follow.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Rice will start its spring semester online on January 10, 2022. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University declares start of spring semester online and vaccine requirements

new rules

With COVID-19 cases continuing to surge with the omicron variant and classes preparing to return from winter break, Rice University is sharing its plans for the spring semester, and that includes vaccine requirements.

Classes are still scheduled to start on January 10, 2022, however instruction will be online for the first two weeks, according to a message to the Rice community on December 28 from president David Leebron and provost Reggie DesRoches.

Anyone who can remain remote during that time is encouraged to do so.

The university says it plans to shift to a more endemic approach, meaning understanding that COVID will likely remain, so they'll be enforcing generally fewer restrictions and reducing certain public health measures like isolation and quarantine, provided people are fully vaccinated.

The online start will also allow time for everyone to receive booster shots, which is part of the university's new policy.

Here's what to know ahead of the start of the spring semester.

  • Effective Jan. 10, vaccine boosters will be required for all employees and students if it has been at least six months since your two-shot Pfizer or Moderna regime. If you took the 1-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you don't have to wait six months and should get a booster as soon as possible. The requirement applies to all employees and students who come to campus unless they are granted a medical or religious exemption. You'll be required to update your vaccination status with your booster information. A booster takes two weeks to be fully effective.
  • Classes with over 50 students must be held online.
  • Faculty teaching classes with 50 or fewer students have the option to hold their classes in person, but must make accommodations for students who do not attend in person, such as by recording classes.
  • Indoor gatherings, including classes, are limited to 50 people through Jan. 24.
  • Masks must be worn indoors at all times.
  • Students are strongly encouraged to delay returning to campus, including to undergraduate housing, until the weekend of Jan. 22-23.
  • Research activities can continue, and research facilities and services will remain open.
  • Staff should work remotely if they can until Jan. 24.

Rice says that it still plans to return to in-person on Jan. 24. The university plans to release more information later this week.

Other local colleges and universities have not yet announced protocol changes in response to rising COVID19 numbers, but officials stress, they are constantly reevaluating policies.---

This article was originally run by our news partner ABC13.

The new mega-site opens December 29. valentinrussanov/Getty Images

City of Houston announces massive new drive-through COVID testing site

new to hou

With COVID/omicron cases on the rise and Houston preparing for New Year’s Eve celebrations and travel, the City of Houston is expanding access to testing with a new drive-through mega site this week.

The site, which comes via the Houston Health Department and Curative, is located at Delmar Stadium, 2020 Mangum Rd., and opens 9 am Wednesday, December 29. Hours of operation run 8 am to 6 pm; the site promises to handle some 1,000 daily tests, according to a press release. Appointments are required at Curative.com or by calling 1-888-702-9042.

Importantly, the mega-site will be closed December 31 and January 1, 2022.

This means that at full capacity, the department’s network of Curative, United Memorial Medical Center, and multi-service center sites can provide approximately 27,000 daily tests.

Those interested can still visit HoustonHealth.org or call 832-393-4220 to find nearby free health department-affiliated testing sites and schedules.

Current Centers for Disease Control recommendations dictate that those who have symptoms and anyone who had close contact (within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period) with someone with confirmed COVID-19 should test for infection.

Testing and vaccination at health department-affiliated sites is free, and does not require proof of residency, citizenship, or insurance.

“As Omicron cases surge in Houston and across the country, I applaud people for getting tested before traveling, gathering with loved ones or returning to work,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner in a statement. “Testing and vaccination will help slow the virus spread and save lives. The increased demand for testing has led to longer than usual lines and wait times for some. The new site will help meet the demand and expand capacity for testing.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

These three COVID-19 research stories were among the most read InnovationMap articles of 2021. Photo via Getty Images

Houston's top 3 COVID-19 research stories from 2021

2021 in review

Editor's note: As 2021 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. Houston is known as a top location for research, and — amid the pandemic — Houston researchers have been working harder than ever. These three InnovationMap articles about COVID-19 innovation trended among readers.

2 COVID-19-focused research projects happening in 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. Click here to read the full article.

Overheard: Houston health care experts sound off on how tech and COVID-19 have affected the industry

Health care leaders joined a virtual panel to discuss the effects of COVID-19 and more. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

There has been an undeniable paradigm shift in the health care industry due to COVID-19 as well as the growth of technology. A group of professionals sat down to discuss what in particular has changed for the industry as a whole as well as at local institutions.

At a panel for Venture Houston, a two-day conference put on by the HX Venture Fund on February 4th and 5th, a few health care professionals weighed in on all the changes to the industry for the startups, investors, corporations, and more who attended the virtual event. Here are some significant overheard moments from the virtual panel — Thinking Past a COVID World. Click here to read the full article.

New COVID-19 variant potentially resistant to antibodies discovered at Texas A&M

The new variant is dubbed BV-1 for the Brazos Valley. valentinrussanov/Getty Images

Scientists at the Texas A&M University Global Health Complex identified a new variant of the COVID-19 virus that could present a new challenge to public health, according to a statement.

So far, the new variant, "BV-1," was found in just one case: an individual who had mild symptoms, according to the Texas A&M scientists.

"We do not at present know the full significance of this variant, but it has a combination of mutations similar to other internationally notifiable variants of concern," said GHRC chief virologist Ben Neuman. "This variant combines genetic markers separately associated with rapid spread, severe disease, and high resistance to neutralizing antibodies." Click here to read the full article.

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

2 COVID-19-focused research projects happening in Houston

research roundup

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."

For over a year now, scientists have been testing wastewater for COVID-19. Now, the public can access that information. Photo via Getty Images

City launches public dashboard for tracking COVID-19 in Houston's wastewater

data points

In 2020, a group of researchers began testing Houston's wastewater to collect data to help identify trends at the community level. Now, the team's work has been rounded up to use as an online resource.

The Houston Health Department and Rice University launched the dashboard on September 22. The information comes from samples collected from the city's 39 wastewater treatment plants and many HISD schools.

"This new dashboard is another tool Houstonians can use to gauge the situation and make informed decisions to protect their families," says Dr. Loren Hopkins, chief environmental science officer for the health department and professor in the practice of statistics at Rice University, in a news release. "A high level of virus in your neighborhood's wastewater means virus is spreading locally and you should be even more stringent about masking up when visiting public places."

The health department, Houston Water, Rice University, and Baylor College of Medicine originally collaborated on the wastewater testing. Baylor microbiologist Dr. Anthony Maresso, director of BCM TAILOR Labs, led a part of the research.

"This is not Houston's first infectious disease crisis," Maresso says in an earlier news release. "Wastewater sampling was pioneered by Joseph Melnick, the first chair of Baylor's Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology, to get ahead of polio outbreaks in Houston in the 1960s. This work essentially ushered in the field of environmental virology, and it began here at Baylor. TAILOR Labs is just continuing that tradition by providing advanced science measures to support local public health intervention."

It's an affordable way to track the virus, says experts. People with COVID-19 shed viral particles in their feces, according to the release, and by testing the wastewater, the health department can measure important infection rate changes.

The dashboard, which is accessible online now, is color-coded by the level of viral load in wastewater samples, as well as labeled with any recent trend changes. Houstonians can find the interactive COVID-19 wastewater monitoring dashboard, vaccination sites, testing sites, and more information at houstonemergency.org/covid19.

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Experts: How to better prepare Houston to combat climate related challenges

guest column

Houston is no stranger to hurricanes, and in recent years winter storms have become an increasing concern. Following the winter freeze in 2021, more than 4 million Texans were left without power, water, or heat. The state’s infrastructure system was adversely impacted concurrently — including workplaces, hospitals, transportation, homes, drinking water distribution, electric power generation, agriculture, and grocery stores. Now, a new potential disaster is on the horizon. Recent research shows Houston is most likely to be affected by wildfires, a climate-related challenge that our city has not previously faced.

According to the Gensler Research Institute’s 2022 U.S. Climate Action Survey, since 2019, only 18 percent of Americans believe their communities are built to withstand climate change. The good news is Americans overwhelmingly agree that addressing climate change is urgent. The question many are asking is — “How can we take action to better prepare buildings and cities to weather the climate challenge?” The solution is simple. In order to understand where we need to go, we must understand how we got here.

With a population that has more than doubled in the past 50 years, it is challenging for most Houstonians to imagine a time when The Bayou City was nothing more than agricultural lands and oil fields. Today, Houston is known for being the fourth-most populous city in the United States. It is a sprawling concrete jungle home to the world’s largest concentration of healthcare and research institutions. When reflecting on the past 50 years, one can’t help but evaluate the city’s successes and shortcomings. While Houston has succeeded in becoming a diverse, international city, we have sacrificed the very ecology that once made up one of the country’s most productive agricultural areas. By 1980, Houston possessed the least amount of green space per person in the country.

As new developments popped up across the city, it became difficult to convince developers to pursue third-party certifications such as LEED, a globally recognized symbol of sustainability that provides the framework for designing healthy, efficient, carbon saving buildings. We can credit Hines with being one of the few developers in Houston to prioritize green design during the early-2000s. City leaders also began advocating for resilient strategies and more green space to attract and retain international talent and businesses. In recent years, we have seen an increase in buildings that are achieving LEED certification, and soon it will become the baseline.

The Houston Advanced Research Center, Photography by Shau Lin Hon, Slyworks Photography

An example of a project leading the way for resilient design is The Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC). In 2017 the organization completed work on its LEED Platinum Certified headquarters which was designed to meet the ENERGY STAR certification rate of 99 (out of 100). This means that the building is more efficient than 99 percent of all office buildings in the United States. Skanska is another construction and development company bringing a sustainable mindset to downtown Houston with its work on Bank of America Tower. In 2019, the 775,000 square foot building became the largest LEED v4 Platinum Core and Shell certified project in the world to date and was developed with harvesting technology that will significantly reduce energy usage.

It’s also important to understand the impact that the climate crisis is having on people. 91 percent of U.S. Gen Z/Millennials have been affected by extreme weather events since 2019, the most of any generation. These experiences have resulted in two generations preparing to react and combat climate change and has encouraged a spirit of transparency among companies who choose to share their environmental goals and strategies.

For architects and designers, addressing building and energy codes is proving to be the next big design consideration. As codes progress in the coming years, the result will be more unique and unexpected building designs.

When reimagining the use of buildings, Architects Paulina Abella and Tayler Trojcak propose an experimental process for repurposing vacant buildings called High Hackers. The concept provides an opportunity for developers to offer prime downtown real estate to people with diverse skill sets, whom they call “hackers,” to pursue projects shaped by their individual ideas. These hackers—makers, artists, and academics—will work alongside one another in spaces that encourage them to coexist with creatives from other fields and disciplines. More importantly, it fosters a collaborative, organic, and innovative workflow.

When examining how you can better prepare and respond to ongoing climate-related challenges, we encourage prioritizing marginalized communities that are already experiencing most of the negative impacts. Promoting awareness and optimism in our communities is another simple yet effective way to make a difference. For businesses, creating a sense of continuity in the face of climate events, investing in energy and resource efficiency and adaptation, and addressing insurability and the long-term value of real estate will ultimately help lead Houston and its community members toward a place of preparedness and resiliency.

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Rives Taylor directs Gensler’s Global Design Resilience teams and initiatives and has been a faculty member of both Rice University and the University of Houston for 30 years. Maria Perez is a design resilience leader for Gensler’s South Central region and director of sustainable design based in Gensler’s Houston office.

Houston-based organization premieres space health tech documentary

watch now

A Houston space health organization has launched a film that is available to anyone interested in how space affects the human body.

The Translational Research Institute for Space Health, or TRISH, which is housed out of Baylor College of Medicine in consortium with Caltech and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, announced a new documentary — “Space Health: Surviving in the Final Frontier.” The film, which covers how space affects humans both physically and mentally. It's free to watch online.

“This documentary provides an unprecedented look into the challenges – physical and mental – facing space explorers and the types of innovative research that TRISH supports to address these challenges,” says Dr. Dorit Donoviel, TRISH executive director and associate professor in Baylor’s Center for Space Medicine, in a news release. “We hope the film inspires students and researchers alike to see how their work could one day soon improve the lives of human explorers.”

The documentary interviews a wide range of experts — scientists, flight surgeons, astronauts, etc. — about all topics related to health, like food, medicine, radiation, isolation, and more. Some names you'll see on the screen include:

  • Former NASA astronaut Nicole Stott
  • Active NASA astronaut Victor Glover
  • NASA Associate Administrator Kathy Lueders
  • Inspiration4 Commander Jared Issacman
  • TRISH-funded researchers Level Ex CEO Sam Glassenberg and Holobiome CEO Philip Strandwitz

“Understanding and solving the challenges that face humans in space is critical work,” says Dr. Jennifer Fogarty, TRISH chief scientific officer, in the release. “Not only does space health research aim to unlock new realms of possibility for human space exploration, but it also furthers our ability to innovate on earth, providing insights for healthcare at home.”

TRISH is funded by NASA’s Human Research Program and seeks both early stage and translation-ready research and technology to protect and improve the health and performance of space explorers. This film was enabled by a collaboration with NASA and HRP.

New report shows why now is the time for Houston to emerge as a hub for hydrogen innovation

clean energy

Houston, known for being the energy capital of the world, has potential to lead innovation within the hydrogen space, and a new report lays out how.

The report, which was released today by the Center for Houston’s Future, is titled "Houston as the epicenter of a global clean hydrogen hub." The information explains how Houston-based assets can be leveraged to lead a global clean hydrogen innovation.

“The Houston region has the talent, expertise and infrastructure needed to lead the global energy transition to a low-carbon world. Clean hydrogen, alongside carbon capture, use, and storage are among the key technology areas where Houston is set up to succeed and can be an example to other leading energy economies around the world,” says Bobby Tudor, chair of the Greater Houston Partnership’s Houston Energy Transition Initiative, in a news release.

Together, GHP's HETI and over 100 experts representing 70 companies and organizations produced the report, along with McKinsey and Company, which donated significant research and economic analyses. Here are some highlights from the study, according to the release:

  • Clean hydrogen production could grow 5 times over current hydrogen production by 2050.
  • The establishment of a clean hydrogen industry could create 180,000 jobs (direct, indirect and induced) statewide, while adding $100 billion to Texas' GDP growth.
  • Globally, a Houston-led clean hydrogen hub could abate 220 million tons (MT) tons of carbon emissions by 2050.

“This report gives additional weight to the already strong case that Houston is uniquely positioned to lead a transformational clean hydrogen hub with global impact,” says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “We can also deliver economic growth, create jobs and cut emissions across Houston and the Gulf Coast, including in underserved communities.”

The Houston region already produces and consumes a third of the nation’s hydrogen, per the release, and has more than 50 percent of the country’s dedicated hydrogen pipelines. These assets can be utilized to accelerate a transition to clean hydrogen, and the report lays out how.

"Using this roadmap as a guide and with Houston’s energy sector at the lead, we are ready to create a new clean hydrogen economy that will help fight climate change as it creates jobs and economic growth,” says Center for Houston’s Future CEO Brett Perlman. “We are more than ready, able and willing to take on these goals, as our record of overwhelming success in energy innovation and new market development shows.”