Mayor Sylvester Turner, TMC CEO Bill McKeon, Governor Greg Abbott, and others gave their remarks at the TMC3 Collaborative Building opening. Photo by Natalie Harms

For nearly a decade, the Texas Medical Center and its partners have been working on the plans for Helix Park, a 37-acre campus expansion of TMC. As of this week, the first building has opened its doors to the public.

The TMC3 Collaborative Building officially opened today to a crowd of media, public officials, and health care executives. The institutional agnostic, 250,000-square-foot building will anchor Helix Park and house research initiatives from the four founding partners: Texas Medical Center, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas A&M University Health Science Center, and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

“Today, we lay the cornerstone of a new campus fully dedicated to streamlining the commercialization of life-changing innovations in medicine and technologies,” William McKeon, president and CEO of TMC, says at the event. “We are incredibly excited to both welcome our founding institutions and industry partners to the Collaborative Building and to invite the community to experience the Helix Park campus and its beautiful parks with a series of special events in the months ahead."

Established to be a place for academic institution collaboration, the building — designed by Boston-based Elkus Manfredi Architects — will have wet laboratories, office space, and event facilities. Two venture groups — Portal Innovations and the TMC Venture Fund — will also move into the building.

Each institution will bring in select programs and initiatives. MD Anderson will house two institutions within the new building, including the James P. Allison Institute focused on immunotherapy and the Institute for Data Science in Oncology.

"The future of life sciences in Houston is brighter than ever before as we come together to officially open the TMC3 Collaborative Building,” Dr. Peter WT Pisters, president of MD Anderson, says. “Our clinicians and scientists work daily to advance innovations in cancer research and care – all of which will be amplified in this new environment within Helix Park that further cultivates collaboration, connectivity, and creativity.”

UTHealth will move its Texas Therapeutics Institute into the facility.

“With a shared commitment to improving the health and well-being of individuals and communities, we are bringing together academics and industry to accelerate discovery and medical breakthroughs,” Dr. Giuseppe N. Colasurdo, president and Alkek-Williams Distinguished Chair at UTHealth Houston, says. “Through the Texas Therapeutics Institute — already a signature collaborative enterprise at UTHealth Houston — our world-renowned leaders in therapeutic antibody development will have the opportunity to work closely with other leading researchers in the Texas Medical Center, greatly enhancing our collective ability to translate discoveries and ideas into effective treatments.”

Texas A&M, which has worked with Houston Methodist to develop its engineering medical program, will operate its Texas A&M Health’s Institute of Biosciences and Technology in the new space.

“As we open this state-of-the-art facility, we’re opening the door to a new era of collaboration. This building signifies the dismantling of silos to deliver game-changing therapies for the toughest diseases impacting Texans and citizens worldwide,” said John Sharp, Chancellor of The Texas A&M University System. “Texas A&M Health’s Institute of Biosciences and Technology has long been a trailblazer in drug discovery, and now, in the heart of this resource-rich ecosystem of the Texas Medical Center, we’re taking it up a notch. By positioning our scientists near their peers and esteemed clinicians, we’re igniting a spark that will fuel innovation and forge dynamic research programs.”

The next aspect of Helix Park to deliver will be the Dynamic One, a 700,000-square-foot industry research facility. Several other buildings, including a hotel, residential tower, and mixed-use building, are expected to deliver over the next few years. The "spine" of the project is six linked green spaces, designed by landscape architect Mikyoung Kim, that form an 18.7-acre campus, which is shaped like a DNA helix, hence the project's name.

At the opening event, leaders discussed the annual impact of over $5.4 billion expected after the campus is completed, and the 23,000 permanent new jobs and 19,000 construction jobs anticipated from Helix Park.

"Texas truly is the home of innovation. Our energy innovations are legendary, as are our innovations in space," says Texas Governor Greg Abbott, naming several of the state's innovative accomplishments. "Long before all of this innovation we're seeing now, Texas was the home of the Texas Medical Center."

Mayor Sylvester Turner spoke to the importance of collaboration.

"Individually, you can do things very well. Collectively, you can be transformational," he says. "One thing about this city, collaboration is the key. When we play well together, and when we build an integrated, robust ecosystem, everyone wins. That's Houston, and that's the way we operate."

Howard and Susan Elias donated $16.25 million to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Photo via mdanderson.org

Retired tech leader makes $16.25M donation to Houston health care organization

a meaningful gift

Earlier this year, an executive at Dell Technologies announced his retirement and commitment to philanthropy. Just a few months later, he and his wife made a whopping donation to the Houston health care organization that's responsible for curing their son.

Howard and Susan Elias donated $16.25 million to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the organization announced this week. The gift will go toward accelerating brain tumor and cancer neuroscience research. Howard Elias, who held C-level roles at EMC Corp. and Dell Technologies after EMC's acquisition in 2015, retired in April.

The Eliases have supported MD Anderson since Harrison, Howard and Susan's son, was diagnosed with brain cancer. In 2000, Harrison underwent a successful surgery by Dr. Frederick Lang.

“Dr. Lang and the incredible team at MD Anderson saved my son’s life more than two decades ago,” says Howard in a news release. “Now is the time for us to increase our commitment so we can play a significant role in advancing cancer neuroscience research specifically focused on brain tumors and the nervous system. We want other families to have the chance to see their son grow up, like our family has.”

The donation is the lead donation to concentrate cross-disciplinary research in cancer neuroscience, per the release.

“Our focus is on unraveling the fundamental scientific principles driving the cancer-neuroscience interaction,” Lang says in the release. “These advances will drive prevention, early detection and possibly even cures for neurological cancers; will lead to strategies to overcome the adverse effects of cancer treatments on the nervous system; and will address mental health needs in cancer patients, with the ultimate result of dramatically improving outcomes.”

Lang leads the Cancer Neuroscience Program alongside Dr. Vinay Puduvalli, M.D., chair of Neuro-oncology;and Jim Ray, Ph.D., director of the Neurodegeneration Consortium.

“A future free from cancer is unattainable unless we work together,” says Dr. Peter WT Pisters, president of MD Anderson. “Howard and Susan’s generosity and passion will play a crucial role as we work in this emerging space for generations to come. On behalf of our patients and their families, we extend our heartfelt gratitude.”

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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.