This new program is geared at preparing leaders at the intersection of health care and business. Image courtesy of Rice

Two Houston institutions have teamed up to create a health care leadership program to prepare the next generation of life science executives.

Rice Business and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have launched the Executive Leadership in Healthcare program at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business. The new program will provide an opportunity for both current and emerging health care leaders across the country to learn from faculty and leaders in medicine in the Texas Medical Center.

“In executive education, we have been supporting the development of healthcare leaders for over 20 years — it has been a fascinating journey,” says Brent Smith, senior associate dean of executive education at Rice Business, in a news release. “We have learned so much about the challenges of leading institutions in such a dynamic and challenging industry and developed deep healthcare expertise. Our collaboration with MD Anderson allows our two institutions to blend our disciplinary expertise in healthcare strategy, leadership, operations and finance.”

The program is planned for two installments next year — over 10 days ion Feb. 6-10 and April 24-28. Participants will discover themselves as leaders and learn the business tools they need to become more impactful and effective within their organizations.

“We are excited to work with our colleagues at Rice Business to provide a thriving and unique learning platform for healthcare executives to navigate the complex environments they are facing,” says Courtney Holladay, associate vice president of the Leadership Institute at MD Anderson, in the release. “We believe MD Anderson’s senior leadership and Rice Business’ faculty provide complementary expertise and perspectives on both the practice and theory of leading healthcare institutions that will benefit participants.”

Those interested can learn more about the course online. Tuition is listed as $18,500.

“Staying connected to the business community and meeting the professional development needs of organizations both large and small are important to us,” says Michael Koenig, associate dean for innovation initiatives and executive director of executive education at Rice Business, in the release. “We’re excited about this initiative with MD Anderson and look forward to the impact our joint program will have on healthcare leaders and their institutions.”

A UH professor is fighting cancer with a newly created virus that targets the bad cells and leaves the good ones alone. Photo via Getty Images

University of Houston researchers snag $1.8M to develop cancer-fighting virus

immunotherapy innovation

Viruses attack human cells, and that's usually a bad thing — some Houston researchers have received fresh funding to develop and use the evil powers of viruses for good.

The developing cancer treatment is called oncolytic virotherapy and has risen in popularity among immunotherapy research. The viruses can kill cancer cells while being ineffective to surrounding cells and tissue. Basically, the virus targets the bad guys by "activating an antitumor immune response made of immune cells such as natural killer (NK) cells," according to a news release from the University of Houston.

However exciting this rising OV treatment seems, the early stage development is far from perfect. Shaun Zhang, director of the Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling at the University of Houston, is hoping his work will help improve OV treatment and make it more effective.

“We have developed a novel strategy that not only can prevent NK cells from clearing the administered oncolytic virus, but also goes one step further by guiding them to attack tumor cells. We took an entirely different approach to create this oncolytic virotherapy by deleting a region of the gene which has been shown to activate the signaling pathway that enables the virus to replicate in normal cells,” Zhang says in the release.

Zhang, who is also a M.D. Anderson professor in the Department of Biology & Biochemistry, has received a $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue his work.

Zhang and his team are specifically creating a new OV — called FusOn-H2 and based on the Herpes simplex 2 virus.

“Our recent studies showed that arming FusOn-H2 with a chimeric NK engager (C-NK-E) that can engage the infiltrated natural killer cells with tumor cells could significantly enhance the effectiveness of this virotherapy,” he says. “Most importantly, we observed that tumor destruction by the joint effect of the direct oncolysis and the engaged NK cells led to a measurable elicitation of neoantigen-specific antitumor immunity.”

Shaun Zhang is the director of the Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling at the University of Houston and M.D. Anderson professor in the Department of Biology & Biochemistry. Image via UH.edu

Rice biochemist Natasha Kirienko and MD Anderson physician-scientist Marina Konopleva made the striking discovery. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

Rice and MD Anderson researchers discover exciting new leukemia treatment

big win

Rice University and MD Anderson researchers have just discovered a potential one-two punch that could, they hope, knock out an insidious disease.

A recent study in the journal Leukemia centers on potential new drugs that, with the help of other medications, can thwart leukemia cells.

Specifically, Rice biochemist Natasha Kirienko and MD Anderson physician-scientist Marina Konopleva screened some 45,000 small-molecule compounds to find a few that targeted mitochondria, according to Rice press materials.

In this innovative new study, the team selected eight of the most promising compounds, identified between five and 30 closely related analogs for each, and conducted tens of thousands of tests to systematically determine how toxic each analog was to leukemia cells. This was measured both when administered individually or in combination with existing chemotherapy drugs like doxorubicin, notes a release.

Previously, Kirienko’s lab had shown the eight compounds targeted energy-producing machinery inside cells called mitochondria. Mitochondria, which work nonstop in every living cell, wear out with use. The chosen eight compounds induce mitophagy, which can be described as how cells decommission and recycle deficient and used-up.

Notably, during times of extreme stress, cells can temporarily forgo mitophagy for an emergency energy boost. Previous research has shown leukemia cells have far more damaged mitochondria than healthy cells and are also more sensitive to mitochondrial damage than healthy cells.

Thus, Kirienko and Konopleva reasoned that mitophagy-inducing drugs might weaken leukemia cells and make them more susceptible to chemotherapy. Synergy — using two or more drugs in treatment — is key.

“The point of synergy is that there are concentrations, or dosages, where a single drug doesn't kill,” Kirienko said. “There is no death of healthy cells or cancer cells. But administering those same concentrations in combination can kill a considerable amount of cancer cells and still not affect healthy cells.”

The team tested the toxicity of its mitophagy-inducing compounds and combinations against acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells, the most commonly diagnosed form of the disease. They then tested the six most effective AML-killing compounds against other forms of leukemia, finding that five were also effective at killing acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) cells and chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) cells.

Studies found all the mitophagy-inducing drugs caused far less harm to healthy cells.

Finally, the researchers tested one of the most effective mitochondria-targeting compounds, PS127E, using a cutting-edge technique called a patient-derived xenograft (PDX) model. Also referred to as a “mouse clinical trial,” mice are implanted with cancer cells from a leukemia patient. As the cells grow, the mouse is exposed to a drug or combination of drugs as a closer-than-cells test of the treatment’s effect.

Importantly, PDX tests on one compound, PS127E, showed it was effective at killing AML cells in mice, Rice notes, signaling promising news.

“Although this is very promising, we’re still some distance from having a new treatment we can use in the clinic,” Kirienko added. “We still have a lot to discover. For example, we need to better understand how the drugs work in cells. We need to refine the dose we think would be best, and perhaps most importantly, we need to test on a wide variety of AML cancers. AML has a lot of variations, and we need to know which patients are most likely to benefit from this treatment and which are not. Only after we’ve done that work, which may take a few years, would we be able to start testing in humans.”

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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

Texas nonprofit cancer research funder doles out millions to health professionals moving to Houston

money moves

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.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston startups raise funding, secure partnerships across space, health, and sports tech

short stories

It's been a new month and a few Houston startup wrapped up November with news you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, three Houston startups across health care, space, and sports tech have some news they announced recently.

Houston digital health company launches new collaboration

Koda Health has a new partner. Image via kodahealthcare.com

Houston-based Koda Health announced a new partnership with data analytics company, CareJourney.

"This collaboration will aim to develop benchmarking data for advance care planning and end-of-life metrics," the company wrote on LinkedIn. "Koda will provide clinical and practice-based expertise to guide the construction of toolkits, dashboards, and benchmarks that improve ACP programs and end-of-life outcomes."

Koda Health announced the partnership in November..

“Beyond the checkbox of a billing code or completed advance directive, it’s important to build and measure a process that promotes thoughtful planning among patients, their care team, and their loved ones,” says Desh Mohan, MD, Koda's chief medical officer, in the post.

CareJourney was founded in 2014 in Arlington, Virginia.

"I'm hopeful next-generation quality measures will honor the patient’s voice in defining what it means to deliver high quality care, and our commitment is to measure progress on that important endeavor," noted Aneesh Chopra, CareJourney's co-founder and president.

Sports tech startup raises $500,000 pre-seed investment

BeONE Sports has created a technology to enhance athletic training. Photo via beonesports.com

Houston-founded BeONE Sports, an athlete training technology company, announced last month that it closed an oversubscribed round of pre-seed funding. The company announced the raise on its social media pages that the round included $500,000 invested.

Earlier in November, BeONE Sports completed its participation in CodeLaunch DFW 2022. The company was one of six finalists in the program, which concluded with a pitch event on November 16.

Space tech company snags government contracts

Graphic via cognitive space.com

The U.S. Air Force has extended Houston-based Cognitive Space’s contract under a new TACFI, Tactical Funding Increase, award. According to the release, the contract "builds on Cognitive Space’s work to develop a tailored version of CNTIENT for AFRL to achieve ultimate responsiveness and optimized dynamic satellite scheduling via a cloud-based API.

The $1.2 million award follows a $1.5 million U.S. Air Force Small Business Innovation Research award that the company won in 2020 to integrate CNTIENT with commercial ground station providers in support of AFRL’s Hybrid Architecture Demonstration program.

“The TACFI award allows Cognitive Space to continue supporting AFRL’s vitally important HAD program to help deliver commercial space data to the warfighter,” says Guy de Carufel, the company’s founder and CEO, in the releasee. “CNTIENT’s tailored analytics platform will enable HAD and the GLUE platform to integrate modern statistical approaches to optimize mission planning, data collection, and latency estimation.”

Houston airport powers up new gaming lounge for bored and weary travelers

game on and wheels down

Local gamers now have a new option to while away those flight delays and passenger pickup waits at Hobby Airport.

Houston's William P. Hobby Airport is now one the first airports in the country to offer what's dubbed as the "ultimate gaming experience for travelers." The airport has launched a premium video game lounge inside the international terminal called Gameway.

That means weary, bored, or early travelers can chill in the lounge and plug into15 top-of-the-line, luxury gaming stations: six Xbox stations, five Playstation stations, four PC stations, all with the newest games on each platform. Aficionados will surely appreciate the Razer's Iskur Gaming Chairs and Kraken Headsets, along with dedicated high speed internet at each PC station.

The Gameway lounge pays homage to gaming characters, with wall accents that hark to motherboard circuits Crucial for any real gamer: plenty of sweet and savory snacks are available for purchase to fuel up on those fantasy, battle, or sporting endeavors. As for the gaming console stations, players can expect high definition screens, comfortable seating, and plenty of space for belongings.

Make video games a part of your pre-flight ritual. Photo courtesy of Gameway

This gaming addition comes just in time for the holiday rush, when travelers can expect long lines, delays, and are already planning for extended time for trips. As CultureMap previously reported, Hobby will see a big boost in travelers this season — the largest since 2019. Now, those on a long journey can plug in, decompress, and venture on virtual journeys of their own.

Texan travelers may be familiar with Gameway; the company opened its first two locations at Dallas Fort-Worth Airport. The buzzy lounge an industry wave of acclaim: Gameway was awarded Best Traveler Amenity in 2019 at the ACI-NA Awards and in 2020, voted “Most Innovative Customer Experience” at the Airport Experience Traveler Awards, per press materials.

Two new locations followed in 2021: LAX Terminal 6 and Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The first of Gameway's Ultra lounge brand opened in September at Delta's Terminal 3 in LAX.

Gaming culture is a way of life in the Bayou City , which hosts Comicpalooza, the largest pop culture festival in Texas, and is home to several e-sports teams, including the pro esports squad, the Houston Outlaws.

A delayed flight never seemed so ideal for gamers flying out of Hobby. Photo courtesy of Gameway

“Gameway is the real reason to get to the airport early,” said Co-Founder Jordan Walbridge in a statement. “Our mission is to upgrade the typical wait-at-the-gate experience with a new stimulating, entertaining option for travelers of all ages.”

Here's guessing Hobby might just see an increase in missed or late flight arrivals — as travelers simply must beat those big bosses, solve puzzles, or win sports matches in the lounge.

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.