Portal Innovations announced that Monique Knighten as an executive director in Houston. Photo via LinkedIn

After announcing its expansion into Houston last summer and opening its office in a new Texas Medical Center building, Portal Innovations has named its Houston leader.

Portal Innovations announced that Monique Knighten as an executive director in Houston in a LinkedIn post this week. She has over 15 years of experience in supporting research scientists and clinicians working to develop therapeutics in labs and clinics. According to her LinkedIn, she's served in the position since November.

Prior to her new role at Portal, Knighten worked as a manager level at Sartorius Stedim in Houston for five years. Before that role, she served as a technical sales consultant in Texas at Miltenyi Biotec, primarily in the immuno-oncology therapeutic market in the TMC.

Portal first announced its expansion into Houston in June of last year.

“Houston is one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S., and home to one of the world’s leading cancer research institutions, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center,” Portal’s Founder and CEO John Flavin said at the time. “It’s critical for us to open in Texas and leverage nearby pipelines from Rice University, UTHealth Houston, Texas A&M, University of Houston, Baylor College of Medicine, and others across Houston’s innovative life sciences ecosystem. We’re thrilled to work with TMC to help grow tomorrow’s biotech and medtech leaders.”

Portal's local office is in the Helix Park complex's Collaborative Building, which opened in October. Helix Park is a 37-acre mixed-use campus currently under construction. 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.

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

Texas Medical Center opens first building in massive Helix Park project

tmc3

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."

Texas Children's Hospital has expanded. Photo courtesy of TCH

Houston hospital opens next phase in $245M expansion

now open

Texas Children's Hospital has announced the opening of its newest medical tower in the Texas Medical Center.

Pavilion for Women Tower II is now open to patients, the Texas Children's Hospital revealed this week. It's the second phase of a $245 million expansion within the TMC. The new tower houses women’s services outpatient clinics and connects to the Pavilion for Women via a new sky bridge,

“I’ve always said that outgrowing a space is a good problem to have because it means that we’re doing something right and our patients and their families trust us to provide the safe and high-quality care they deserve,” says Mark A. Wallace, president and CEO of Texas Children’s, in a news release. “I am so proud of everything we’ve done together and I’m beyond grateful and excited for the continuous growth of Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women.”

The Pavilion for Women continues to grow its medical services, according to the release, including "pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery, menopause treatment, maternal fetal medicine care, the Texas Children’s Fetal Center, reproductive psychiatry, reproductive endocrinology and infertility, and minimally invasive gynecology surgery."

“This latest milestone is one more indication of the dedication of Texas Children's Hospital to women's health,” Dr. Michael Belfort, OB/GYN-in-chief at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women and professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine, says in the release. “That's very, very important to me. For the first time in this country, a children's hospital has embraced women throughout the spectrum of their health care from birth to menopause.”

The Baylor Obstetrics and Gynecology will relocate to the new tower by the end of the year. In 2024, TCH will add more adult inpatient and neonatal intensive care beds.

“This investment in our Pavilion for Women will allow us to increase delivery volumes significantly, but additionally the added space will also allow us to continue to grow those specialized clinics that cater to women at every stage of their life,” says Michele Birsinger, assistant vice president of Women's Services at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women.

The Texas Medical Center is also undergoing a major renovation to create Helix Park, a complex with a few new multidisciplinary buildings for research, innovation, and health care. The first of the buildings, the TMC3 Collaborative Building, is expected to deliver this year.

The UTHealth Houston School of Public Health, which operates out of three buildings currently, will consolidate all of its operations in the new building. Rendering courtesy of UTHealth

UTHealth Houston latest to break ground in Helix Park

under construction

UTHealth Houston School of Public Health broke ground Tuesday on a new tower in the Texas Medical Center's Helix Park.

The $229 million facility is slated to be open in time for the fall semester in 2026. It will be home to research laboratories, distance-learning technology, an auditorium, teaching kitchen, collaborative spaces, and classrooms and adds 350,000 square feet to TMC’s Helix Park, which has several projects underway.

The UTHealth Houston School of Public Health, which operates out of three buildings currently, will consolidate all of its operations in the new building at 1930 Old Spanish Trail. Disciplines taught in the new tower will include epidemiology, genetics, nutrition, health policy, data science, and health promotion.

According to a statement from UTHealth, the facility will allow the school to continue to grow as enrollment has increased 27 percent over the last five years.

“The new building reflects our bold thinking as we pioneer radical solutions for imminent and future public health challenges while giving our students the tools and resources to improve the health of Texas,” Eric Boerwinkle, dean of UTHealth School of Public Health, said in a statement.

Houston-based Kirksey Architecture and Detroit-based Smith Group designed the new 10-story building which incorporates sustainable design. The tower is slated to feature rainwater harvesting for irrigation, an upper-level terrace, holistic teaching garden and a building automation programming. A skybride over Old Spanish Trail will also connect the UTHealth Houston School of Public Health with a plaza that is shared with MD Anderson.

The new tower joins the 12-story Dynamic One project at TMC Helix Park, which is slated to open this year. It will be anchored by Baylor College of Medicine and is the first of the four buildings planned for the 37-acre, five-million-square-foot development, named for the shape of the park and walkway design at the center of the campus.

The TMC3 Collaborative Building will also be located within Helix Park, also slated to open this year. The 250,000-square-foot space will house research facilities for MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Texas A&M University Health Science Center, the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, and TMC, as well as VC firms and hedge funds. UTHealth is also slated to move into a portion of that building in September or October.

Helix Park will be one of four districts within the TMC, including the already operating TMC Medical Campus and the TMC Innovation Factory.

The TMC BioPort completes the list. The biomanufacturing and medical supplies distribution site is intended to create over 100,000 new job opportunities once completed.
A venture capital firm specializing in the life science sector revealed its plans to move into Houston. Rendering courtesy of TMC

Life science investment firm announces expansion into Houston

coming soon

A Chicago-based life science investment firm has announced its expansion into Houston.

Portal Innovations released the news today that it will move into 30,000 square feet of lab and office space in Texas Medical Center's new Helix Park complex's Collaborative Building. Helix Park is a 37-acre mixed-use campus currently under construction. The firm is expected to make the move in the secord quarter of next year.

Portal, along with its capital partners Beacon Capital and ZoE Life Sciences, is expanding into Houston to tap into the more than 4,800 biotech companies that are associated with TMC, per a news release.

“Houston is one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S., and home to one of the world’s leading cancer research institutions, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center,” says Portal’s Founder and CEO John Flavin in the release. “It’s critical for us to open in Texas and leverage nearby pipelines from Rice University, UTHealth Houston, Texas A&M, University of Houston, Baylor College of Medicine, and others across Houston’s innovative life sciences ecosystem. We’re thrilled to work with TMC to help grow tomorrow’s biotech and medtech leaders.”

For TMC's community, the move means connecting Portal with its network of institutions for mentorship, events, networking, and more.

"TMC has steadily been building an innovation ecosystem in Houston through initiatives like the TMC Venture Fund, our incubator programs, and our global BioBridge relationships," says Bill McKeon, CEO of TMC, in the release. “In Portal, we have a partner with a proven track record of leveraging venture capital funding, expert partners, and strong programming to support dynamic, entrepreneurial businesses at pivotal moments of their growth. We look forward to building on our collective expertise and shared vision to further support the breakthroughs of early-stage life science ventures.”

The TMC3 Collaborative Building is the first completed building expected from the Helix Park development, along with the Dynamic One building anchored by Baylor College of Medicine. Both of which were originally slated to deliver later this year when the project details were revealed in 2022.

Baylor College of Medicine's Lillie and Roy Cullen Tower is set to open in 2026. Rendering courtesy of SLAM Architecture

Houston health care institution secures $100M for expansion, shares renderings

fresh funding

Baylor College of Medicine has collected $100 million toward its $150 million fundraising goal for the college’s planned Lillie and Roy Cullen Tower.

The $100 million in gifts include:

  • A total of $30 million from The Cullen Foundation, The Cullen Trust for Health Care, and The Cullen Trust for Higher Education.
  • $12 million from the DeBakey Medical Foundation
  • $10 million from the Huffington Foundation
  • More than $45 million from members of Baylor’s Board of Trustees and other community donors, including the M.D. Anderson Foundation, the Albert and Margaret Alkek Foundation, and The Elkins Foundation.

“The Cullen Trust for Health Care is very honored to support this building along with The Cullen Foundation and The Cullen Trust for Higher Education,” Cullen Geiselman Muse, chair of The Cullen Trust for Health Care, says in a news release. “We cannot wait to see what new beginnings will come from inside the Lillie and Roy Cullen Tower.”

The Baylor campus is next to Texas Medical Center’s Helix Park, a 37-acre project. Rendering courtesy of BCM

The Lillie and Roy Cullen Tower is set to open in 2026. The 503,000-square-foot tower is the first phase of Baylor’s planned Health Sciences Park, an 800,000-square-foot project that will feature medical education and research adjacent to patient care at Baylor Medicine and Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center on the McNair Campus.

The Baylor campus is next to Texas Medical Center’s Helix Park, a 37-acre project that will support healthcare, life sciences, and business ventures. Baylor is the anchor tenant in the first building being constructed at Helix Park.

“To really change the future of health, we need a space that facilitates the future,” says Dr. Paul Klotman, president, CEO, and executive dean of Baylor. “We need to have a great building to recruit great talent. Having a place where our clinical programs are located, where our data scientists are, next to a biotech development center, and having our medical students all integrated into that environment will allow them to be ready in the future for where healthcare is going.”

In the 1940s, Lillie and Roy Cullen and the M.D. Anderson Foundation were instrumental in establishing the Texas Medical Center, which is now the world’s largest medical complex.

“Baylor is the place it is today because of philanthropy,” Klotman says. “The Cullen family, the M.D. Anderson Foundation, and the Albert and Margaret Alkek Foundation have been some of Baylor’s most devoted champions, which has enabled Baylor to mold generations of exceptional health sciences professionals. It is fitting that history is repeating itself with support for this state-of-the-art education building.”

The Cullen Foundation donated $30 million to the project. Rendering courtesy of BCM

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Houston engineers develop breakthrough device to advance spinal cord treatment

future of health

A team of Rice University engineers has developed an implantable probe over a hundred times smaller than the width of a hair that aims to help develop better treatments for spinal cord disease and injury.

Detailed in a recent study published in Cell Reports, the probe or sensor, known as spinalNET, is used to explore how neurons in the spinal cord process sensation and control movement, according to a statement from Rice. The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, Rice, the California-based Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and the philanthropic Mary K. Chapman Foundation based in Oklahoma.

The soft and flexible sensor was used to record neuronal activity in freely moving mice with high resolution for multiple days. Historically, tracking this level of activity has been difficult for researchers because the spinal cord and its neurons move so much during normal activity, according to the team.

“We developed a tiny sensor, spinalNET, that records the electrical activity of spinal neurons as the subject performs normal activity without any restraint,” Yu Wu, a research scientist at Rice and lead author of the study said in a statement. “Being able to extract such knowledge is a first but important step to develop cures for millions of people suffering from spinal cord diseases.”

The team says that before now the spinal cord has been considered a "black box." But the device has already helped the team uncover new findings about the body's rhythmic motor patterns, which drive walking, breathing and chewing.

Lan Luan (from left), Yu Wu, and Chong Xie are working on the breakthrough device. Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

"Some (spinal neurons) are strongly correlated with leg movement, but surprisingly, a lot of neurons have no obvious correlation with movement,” Wu said in the statement. “This indicates that the spinal circuit controlling rhythmic movement is more complicated than we thought.”

The team said they hope to explore these findings further and aim to use the technology for additional medical purposes.

“In addition to scientific insight, we believe that as the technology evolves, it has great potential as a medical device for people with spinal cord neurological disorders and injury,” Lan Luan, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice and a corresponding author on the study, added in the statement.

Rice researchers have developed several implantable, minimally invasive devices to address health and mental health issues.

In the spring, the university announced that the United States Department of Defense had awarded a four-year, $7.8 million grant to the Texas Heart Institute and a Rice team led by co-investigator Yaxin Wang to continue to break ground on a novel left ventricular assist device (LVAD) that could be an alternative to current devices that prevent heart transplantation.

That same month, the university shared news that Professor Jacob Robinson had published findings on minimally invasive bioelectronics for treating psychiatric conditions. The 9-millimeter device can deliver precise and programmable stimulation to the brain to help treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Houston clean hydrogen startup to pilot tech with O&G co.

stay gold

Gold H2, a Houston-based producer of clean hydrogen, is teaming up with a major U.S.-based oil and gas company as the first step in launching a 12-month series of pilot projects.

The tentative agreement with the unnamed oil and gas company kicks off the availability of the startup’s Black 2 Gold microbial technology. The technology underpins the startup’s biotech process for converting crude oil into proprietary Gold Hydrogen.

The cleantech startup plans to sign up several oil and gas companies for the pilot program. Gold H2 says it’s been in discussions with companies in North America, Latin America, India, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

The pilot program is aimed at demonstrating how Gold H2’s technology can transform old oil wells into hydrogen-generating assets. Gold H2, a spinout of Houston-based biotech company Cemvita, says the technology is capable of producing hydrogen that’s cheaper and cleaner than ever before.

“This business model will reshape the traditional oil and gas industry landscape by further accelerating the clean energy transition and creating new economic opportunities in areas that were previously dismissed as unviable,” Gold H2 says in a news release.

The start of the Black 2 Gold demonstrations follows the recent hiring of oil and gas industry veteran Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon as CEO.

“With the proliferation of AI, growth of data centers, and a national boom in industrial manufacturing underway, affordable … carbon-free energy is more paramount than ever,” says Rayyan Islam, co-founder and general partner at venture capital firm 8090 Industries, an investor in Gold H2. “We’re investing in Gold H2, as we know they’ll play a pivotal role in unleashing a new dawn for energy abundance in partnership with the oil industry.”

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

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 an e-commerce startup founder, an industrial biologist, and a cellular scientist.

Omair Tariq, co-founder and CEO of Cart.com

Omair Tariq of Cart.com joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share his confidence in Houston as the right place to scale his unicorn. Photo via Cart.com

Houston-based Cart.com, which operates a multichannel commerce platform, has secured $105 million in debt refinancing from investment manager BlackRock.

The debt refinancing follows a recent $25 million series C extension round, bringing Cart.com’s series C total to $85 million. The scaleup’s valuation now stands at $1.2 billion, making it one of the few $1 billion-plus “unicorns” in the Houston area.

Cart.com was co-founded by CEO Omair Tariq in October 2020. Read more.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin, vice president of industrial biotechnology at Cemvita

Nádia Skorupa Parachin joined Cemvita as vice president of industrial biotechnology. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos. Read more.

Han Xiao, associate professor of chemistry at Rice University

The funds were awarded to Han Xiao, a chemist at Rice University.

A Rice University chemist has landed a $2 million grant from the National Institute of Health for his work that aims to reprogram the genetic code and explore the role certain cells play in causing diseases like cancer and neurological disorders.

The funds were awarded to Han Xiao, the Norman Hackerman-Welch Young Investigator, associate professor of chemistry, from the NIH's Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program, which supports medically focused laboratories. Xiao will use the five-year grant to advance his work on noncanonical amino acids.

“This innovative approach could revolutionize how we understand and control cellular functions,” Xiao said in the statement. Read more.