These cancer research professionals just got fresh funding from a statewide organization. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Thanks in part to multimillion-dollar grants from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, two top-flight cancer researchers are taking key positions at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Pavan Reddy and Dr. Michael Taylor each recently received a grant of $6 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).

Reddy is leaving his position as chief of hematology-oncology and deputy director at the University of Michigan’s Rogel Cancer Center to become director of the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. C. Kent Osborne stepped down as the center’s director in 2020; Dr. Helen Heslop has been the interim director.

Taylor, a pediatric neurosurgeon at the University of Toronto, is set to become the first-ever director of pediatric neuro-oncology research at Texas Children’s Hospital. The hospital is affiliated with the Baylor College of Medicine. Taylor is an expert in children’s brain tumors.

In all, 11 researchers recruited by three health care institutions in Houston recently received $34 million in CPRIT grants. The nine other grant recipients in Houston are:

  • Dr. Christine Lovly, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, $4 million. She is co-leader of the Translational Research and Interventional Oncology Research Program at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville.
  • Hans Renata, Rice University, $4 million. He is an associate professor at UF Scripps Biomedical Research in Jupiter, Florida.
  • Mingjie Dai, Rice University, $2 million. He is a technology development fellow at Harvard University’s Weiss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.
  • William Hudson, Baylor College of Medicine, $2 million. He is a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University in Atlanta.
  • Deepshika Ramanan, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, $2 million. She is a research fellow in immunology at Harvard Medical School.
  • Jason Schenkel, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, $2 million. He is an instructor in pathology at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
  • Aria Vaishnavi, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, $2 million. She is a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute.
  • Samantha Yruegas, Rice University, $2 million. She is a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University in New Jersey.
  • Qian Zhu, Baylor College of Medicine, $2 million. He is a research fellow at Harvard’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

A CPRIT committee recently approved 17 recruitment grants totaling nearly $48 million for cancer research institutions in Texas.

“CPRIT’s mission is to invest in the research prowess of Texas institutions while expediting breakthroughs in cancer cures and prevention … . These 17 highly respected researchers will join an impressive roster of cancer-fighters who call the Lone Star State home,” says Wayne Roberts, CEO of CPRIT.

Since its creation, CPRIT has awarded $2.9 billion in grants to cancer research organizations around the state.

A Houston-based biotech startup has fresh funds to continue R&D on its products. Photo via Getty Images

Houston biotech company raises $15M round led by Chinese health care investor

fresh funds

A Houston-based biotech company that was founded by a University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center doctor has closed a fresh round of funding.

Cellenkos closed its $15 million series A round led by BVCF Management, based in Shanghai, China. The biotech company is developing novel T regulatory (Treg) cell therapies to treat autoimmune and inflammatory disorders. Dr. Simrit Parmar of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Golden Meditech Holdings Limited founded the company.

Dr. Parmar's specialty is in Lymphoma Myeloma and experimental therapeutics. According to a news release, she is also the principal investigator of a research laboratory focused on umbilical cord blood-derived Treg cells including their isolation and ex-vivo expansion for generating clinically relevant doses for their application in autoimmune diseases and inflammatory disorders.

"We feel fortunate to welcome BVCF as a new investor. As I look ahead, we are committed to bringing our novel Treg cell therapies to patients in need around the world," says Dr. Parmar in a news release.

BVCF is a health care investment firm focused on growth-stage healthcare companies from around the world. The portfolio has a particular focus on innovative solutions that address unmet health needs in China.

"Cellenkos' innovative and transformative Treg cell therapy platform to address autoimmune and inflammatory disorders has the potential to significantly serve unmet patient needs. We are proud to lead the financing and support their groundbreaking efforts," says Dr. Zhi Yang, managing partner at BVCF, in the release.

The company has plans to launch a phase 1b trial of add on therapy with one of its products for the treatment of myelofibrosis patients. The fresh funds will allow the company to continue to scale and test its life-saving technology.

The Texas Medical Center announced the groundbreaking of the TMC3 Collaborative Building. Image courtesy of Elkus Manfredi Architects

TMC breaks ground on collaborative Houston research center

in the works

A fall 2023 opening is set for a research center under construction at the Texas Medical Center's new TMC3 life science campus.

The 250,000-square-foot TMC3 Collaborative Building will house research initiatives organized by the Texas Medical Center, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas A&M University Health Science Center, and University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Construction began in January.

"The founding institutions behind [this building] are among the world's leading innovators in health and science. Their work at both the bench and bedside saves lives. The entire spirit behind this building reflects a joint investment — both financially and strategically — in lifesaving research, data collaborations, and technologies," William McKeon, president and CEO of Texas Medical Center, says in a September 20 news release.

Located at the heart of the 37-acre TMC3 campus and facing the site's Helix Gardens, the $185.8 million, four-story building is designed to foster collaboration among academic healthcare institutions and industry partners. Within the building, the three academic healthcare partners will create a 43,000-square-foot joint research lab. Furthermore, a 7,000-square-foot, 500-seat atrium will be available for lectures and other activities.

Beyond space shared by TMC3's four founders, 85,000 square feet of lab and office space will be developed for industry partners, and MD Anderson will create a 14,000-square-foot space for strategic initiatives. The building also includes 14,200 square feet that will host TMC's strategic initiatives; Braidwell, a life science-focused investment firm; the TMC Venture fund; and national venture and equity and partners.

"This project represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Houston's academic medical community to collaborate together and with industry to advance our missions and accelerate knowledge and cures," says Dr. Peter WT Pisters, president of MD Anderson.

"By breaking down silos and bringing clinicians and scientists together in this resource-rich location to speed new therapies to market from regenerative medicine and advanced imaging to drug discovery and data sciences, we will have the ability to translate discoveries into preventions and treatments for patients in need," adds Jon Mogford, chief operating officer and senior vice president of Texas A&M Health.

MD Anderson has named 10 early career researchers and faculty members to the program. Photo via mdanderson.org

Houston cancer-fighting institution names 10 innovative fellows

curing cancer

A Houston institution has identified 10 researchers moving the needle on curing cancer.

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center named 10 "early career" faculty members to its 2021 class of Andrew Sabin Family Fellows. The fellowship was established by philanthropist Andrew Sabin through a $30 million endowment in 2015 and "encourages creativity, innovation and impactful cancer research at MD Anderson in the areas of basic science, clinical, physician-scientist and population and quantitative science," according to a news release.

Sabin has served as a member of the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors since 2005.

"Researchers at MD Anderson are unmatched in their ability to develop bold tactics aimed at tackling cancer," he says in the release. "My hope is that through our support, we can inspire and assist these brilliant minds in their dedicated work to end cancer."

The program will dole out $100,000 to each fellow over two years. Since its inception, the program has selected and supported 52 fellows specializing in cancer research from basic science to translational research to survivorship.

"Our early career researchers are a pivotal part of the innovative discoveries that fuel our mission to end cancer," says President Peter WT Pisters, in the release. "We are extremely grateful for the generosity of the Andrew Sabin Family Foundation in allowing our institution to recruit and retain the highest caliber of young researchers through this fellowship program. Together, we will continue Making Cancer History."

The 2021 class of Sabin Family Fellows includes:

Basic/Translational Scientists

Clinical Researchers

Physician-Scientists

Population/Quantitative Scientists

No other city in Texas comes close to grabbing so many top national rankings. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Houston hospitals once again dominate annual national rankings

top health care

It stands to reason that as home to the Texas Medical Center, the world's largest medical complex, Houston would be blessed with outstanding hospitals. New national rankings from U.S. News & World Report show just how true that is.

The rankings put Houston Methodist Hospital at No. 16 among the best hospitals in the country, and at No. 10 for gastroenterology and GI surgery. Meanwhile, Houston's University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center tops the list of the best hospitals for cancer care, and claims the No. 4 spot for urology and No. 5 spot for gynecology.

Elsewhere in Houston, TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital appears at No. 2 for rehabilitation, Texas Children's Hospital lands at No. 3 among the best children's hospitals, and the Menninger Clinic ranks eighth for psychiatry.

No other city in Texas comes close to grabbing so many top national rankings from U.S. News & World Report.

Houston Methodist Hospital climbed four spots in this year's overall ranking, up from No. 20 last year.

"This is a tremendous achievement for our physicians and employees who dedicate themselves every day to our patients — especially now as we celebrate this news during another surge in the pandemic," Dr. Marc Boom, president and CEO of Houston Methodist, says in a news release.

"These national accolades are something to be proud of, but most important, our patients are benefiting from all of our hard work," Boom adds. "Ultimately, they are the reason we need to be one of the best hospital systems in the country."

MD Anderson once again leads the way in the cancer category, while also earning high marks for urology and gynecology.

"This year's ranking is especially rewarding considering the exceptional teamwork and collaboration we have seen throughout our institution during an unprecedented pandemic that created heightened risks for immunocompromised cancer patients," Dr. Peter WT Pisters, president of MD Anderson, says in a news release.

"No matter the challenge, we are here for our patients, for each other, and for our community. We thank everyone for their unwavering support that has helped us earn the top ranking in cancer in the midst of a pandemic," Pisters adds.

TIRR Memorial Hermann climbed in the rehab ranking from No. 3 last year to No. 2 this year.

"The methodology for the rankings have evolved to include more aspects of quality in addition to reputation, which is extremely meaningful to our employees and affiliated physicians," Rhonda Abbott, senior vice president and CEO of TIRR Memorial Hermann, says in a news release.

"With our ranking improving this year, it confirms our focus on patient outcomes and the quality of care that we strive for with all of our patients in need of rehabilitation," Abbott adds. "While the rankings sometimes fluctuate from year to year, they tell the story that we at TIRR Memorial Hermann are leaders in rehabilitation through our focus on research, education, clinical care, and advocacy."

Texas Children's Hospital scored a third-place ranking nationally among children's hospitals, matching its showing on last year's list. This is the 13th consecutive year that it's been recognized among the best children's hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report.

"Our best is something we strive for each day, caring for our patients — not looking back at what we accomplished but towards what we can do tomorrow," Texas Children's Hospital says on its website.

Also in this year's top 10 for specialty hospitals is the Menninger Clinic, which jumped from No. 9 last year to No. 8 this year. The facility has secured a place in U.S. News & World Report's top 10 for psychiatry since the inception of the rankings.

"Our specialty is precision mental health and substance use care," Armando Colombo, president and CEO of Menninger, says in a news release. "Patients seeking care from [us] are looking for the best diagnostics and effective evidence-based treatment that's right for their goals and symptoms."

"We have a wide range of specialists who provide new solutions as well as proven, cutting-edge treatments for a positive outcome that the patient can sustain to enjoy improved overall health and a better life," Colombo adds.

Texas Heart Institute at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center ranked 13th in the nation among Adult Cardiology & Heart Surgery hospitals.

"We are the highest-ranking heart and cardiac surgery center in Houston, Texas, and we are proud to be back on top," says Texas Heart Institute's assistant medical director, Dr. Stephanie Coulter, in a release.

Peter Pisters is one of the top 10 CEOs, according to Glassdoor. Photo courtesy of MD Anderson

3 Houston head honchos rank among America's top CEOs in new report

best of

Three Houston-area CEOs are doing a exemplary job of leading, says a new report.

Dr. Peter Pisters (MD Anderson Cancer Center), Dr. Marc Boom (Houston Methodist), and Worthing Jackman (Waste Connections) appear on Glassdoor's new list of the top 100 CEOs for 2021.

Pisters scored particularly well; he ranked third overall on the prestigious list and earned a 99-percent approval rating from MD Anderson employees who shared anonymous feedback on the Glassdoor platform, which publishes reviews and salary information for employers.

Meanwhile, Boom ranked 60 overall with a 93 percent approval, while Jackman came in at 76 overall with a 92 percent approval.

Other Texas executives appearing on the new Glassdoor list are:

  • Seventh-ranked Charles Butt, CEO of San Antonio-based H-E-B (96 percent).
  • Fourth-ranked Gary Kelly, who just announced he's stepping down as CEO of Dallas-based Southwest Airlines (98 percent approval).
  • 55th-ranked Sean Yalamanchi, chairman and president of Richardson-based Infovision (93 percent approval).

"Over the past year, company leaders around the world faced unprecedented challenges to support employees during the COVID-19 crisis. Now, the employees have spoken and it's clear that these CEOs excelled and found new ways to support their people when the world of work flipped upside down," Christian Sutherland-Wong, Glassdoor's CEO, says in a news release.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Rice University rises to No. 1 spot in new ranking of best college investments

money moves

By one measure, earning a degree at Rice University is the smartest move in the Lone Star State.

In its eighth annual ranking of colleges and university that give students the best return on their educational investment, personal finance website SmartAsset places Rice at No. 1 in Texas and No. 10 in the U.S. It’s the only Texas school to break into the national top 10.

To determine the best-value colleges and universities in each state, SmartAsset crunched data in these categories: scholarships and grants, starting salary for new graduates, tuition, living costs, and retention rate.

While the tuition ($47,350) and student living costs ($17,800) at Rice are the highest among the top 10 Texas schools on the list, the average amount of scholarships and grants ($43,615), average starting salary ($77,900), and retention rate (97 percent) also are among the highest.

According to Rice, tuition, fees, on-campus room and board, books, and personal expenses for the 2022-23 academic year add up to $74,110. That figure, which excludes financial aid, applies to a full-time, degree-seeking student living on campus.

“Rice University is consistently ranked as a best value in higher education and is one of America’s leading teaching and research universities,” the school’s Office of Financial Aid says. “By attending Rice, you will not only receive a superior education at a reasonable cost, you also will benefit from having a Rice degree long after graduation.”

Three other schools in or near the Houston metro area appear on SmartAsset’s list of the biggest-bang-for-your-buck schools in Texas:

  • Prairie View A&M University, No. 4. The university posted the lowest retention rate (74 percent) among the 10 schools. The remaining figures sit roughly in the middle of the pack.
  • University of Houston, No. 5. The university’s tuition ($8,913) was the lowest in the top 10, as was the average amount of scholarships and grants ($6,544).
  • Texas A&M University-College Station, No. 6. The university’s living costs are the second highest among the top 10 ($17,636), while its average starting salary for new grads lands at No. 3 ($64,400).

Other schools in the state’s top 10 are:

  • University of Texas at Austin, No. 2.
  • University of Texas at Dallas (Richardson), No. 3.
  • Texas Tech University in Lubbock, No. 7.
  • LeTourneau University in Longview, No. 8.
  • University of North Texas in Denton, No. 9.
  • Texas State University in San Marcos, No. 10.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston expert addresses the growing labor shortage within health care

guest column

Long before COVID-19 became a part of our new normal, the concerns around shortages in health care staffing were present.

To put this in real terms, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the latest projection of employment through the end of this decade is an increase of nearly 12 million jobs. A fourth of those — 3.3 million to be exact — are expected to go towards health care and social assistance roles.

Before the pandemic, the concerns centered around managing a growing retired population and a slowing in higher education nurse enrollment. Then amid the growing shortage concerns surrounding the support for aging baby boomers, we were all thrusted into a pandemic.

The stressors on health care professional staffing have doubled down and what the increased shortage has shown us is the need to intervene and change the traditional hiring practices. Speed to place a nurse on assignment doesn’t just ensure productivity — it is a matter of life or death.

Over the past several years, the evolution of technology has drastically changed how health care facilities operate and interact with their employees as well as patients. There was a point in time where the structure in health care staffing was rigid without flexibility or varieties of employment type. Conversations around travel positions, per diem, and permanent are all now commonplace as the recent shortages caused us to normalize the discussion around role type and use of technology to influence speed to hire.

This whole evolution was put to test when April 2020 came, and the initial brunt of the pandemic was in full swing. The entire world was in panic mode. During these quarantine times, we were in a state of a health care emergency with thousands of patients seeking health care. Unfortunately, hospitals could not keep up with this demand with their existing nurse professionals, and became severely overloaded and dangerous. Due to this the United States saw unprecedented labor shortages, impacting a large number of nurses and health care workers as it pertains to both their physical and mental health.

What we are seeing now is a period classified as the “The Great Rethinking,” where nurses and health care workers alike are speaking up for what they believe in and deserve. Salary transparency and flexibility are just the tip of the iceberg for this movement.

SkillGigs is unique in that we are giving the power back to registered nurses and health care professionals, while meeting the demand created by the pandemic. Our team has been fortunate to be a catalyst to direct the change in the future of work, and we look forward to continuing to innovate.

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Bryan Groom is the division president of health care at Houston-based SkillGigs.

Houston energy giant expands implementation of Canadian startup's tech

big, big energy

CruxOCM, a startup with a significant Houston presence that specializes in robotic industrial process automation for energy companies, has secured even more business from energy giant Phillips 66.

The value of the deal wasn’t disclosed.

Houston-based Phillips 66 has agreed to expand it use of CruxOCM’s pipeBOT technology to cover even more pipelines. The pipeBOT technology is designed to improve the safety and efficiency of control room operations for pipelines and reduce control room costs.

CruxOCM and Phillips 66 launched a test of pipeBOT in 2020.

CruxOCM, based in Calgary, Canada, says pipeBOT is engineered to decrease manual controls through intelligent automation. With this technology in place, the fatigue of control room operators declines, because as many as 85 percent fewer manual commands must be entered, according to CruxOCM. Therefore, control room operators can focus on higher-level tasks.

“At CruxOCM, we empower control room operators with modern software that enables the autonomous control rooms of tomorrow, within the safety constraints of today. We look forward to continuing to strengthen our relationship with Phillips 66 for many years to come,” Adam Marsden, chief revenue officer at CruxOCM, says in a news release.

Founded in 2017, Crux OCM (Crux Operations Control Management) established its Houston presence last year. Also in 2021, the startup raised $6 million in venture capital in a “seed extension” funding round. Bullpen Capital led the round, with participation from Angular Ventures, Root Ventures, Golden Ventures, Cendana Capital, and Industry Ventures.

In 2019, Angular Ventures and Root Ventures co-led a $2.6 million funding round.