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."

The Dynamic One building in TMC Helix Park is expected to deliver later this year. Rendering via TMC.edu

Rising TMC development names Houston health care institution as anchor tenant

coming soon

TMC Helix Park, formerly known as TMC3, has announced its first anchor tenant.

The Texas Medical Center and Beacon Capital Partners announced that Baylor College of Medicine will be the anchor tenant of the Dynamic One building at TMC Helix Park. The facility is will be the first to deliver of the four TMC Helix Park industry buildings. The Topped off in December, the Dynamic One building is being developed by Beacon in collaboration with Zoë Life Science and is scheduled to open before the end of the year.

“Beacon is excited that Dynamic One will be our first entry into the fast-growing Houston Life Science market,” says Fred Seigel, president and CEO of Beacon, in a news release. “This state-of-the-art environment is designed to enable and encourage collaboration and will greatly accelerate the innovative lifesaving discoveries that emerge when industry and academic research work side-by-side.”

Baylor College of Medicine will lease 114,000 square-feet of lab and office space in the 355,000-square-foot building. BCM's goal is to house lab space for novel diagnostics and therapeutics — and provide space to house startups.

The organization is expanding its presence in Houston after decades of residing in the region.

“Baylor College of Medicine moved to Houston in 1943 and was the first institution built in the Texas Medical Center," says Dr. Paul Klotman, president and CEO and executive dean of Baylor, in the release. "Our researchers and scientists will have the opportunity to access the uniquely concentrated research environment being developed at TMC Helix Park, facilitating the continuing advancement of innovation and compassionate care."

TMC Helix Park, which includes more than 5 million-square-feet of space across 37-acres, also expects to deliver its research facility, the TMC3 Collaborative Building, later this year.

“Baylor College of Medicine is a major force in life sciences discovery and commercialization at TMC," says Bill McKeon, president and CEO of TMC, in the release. "Their move to TMC Helix Park will serve as a catalyst for enhanced collaboration with TMC’s other esteemed Institutions, as well as with industry leaders from around the world."

BCM is the first anchor tenant announced for TMC Helix Park. Rendering via TMC.edu

A TMC construction update, a Q&A with UH's med school donor, and other top health tech stories of 2022. Image courtesy of Elkus Manfredi Architects

Here are Houston's top health tech innovation stories of the year

2022 in review

Editor's note: As 2022 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. In Houston, home to the world's largest medical center, health tech and innovation news is abound — from startups being named among the most promising by investors to new details on the Texas Medical Center's expansion. Here are five Houston health tech-focused articles that stood out to readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.


Houston organizations announce 10 most promising life science startups

Houston's medical innovation community congregated to discuss breakthrough innovations in health care. Photo via Getty Images

What startups are creating the future of health care? A Houston conference this week gathered to discuss.

The 10th annual Texas Life Science Forum hosted by BioHouston and the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship engaged thought leadership within the life science community with panels, discussions, and more. Additionally, 49 companies pitched their solutions across medical device, therapeutics, pharmaceuticals, and more to the crowd.

The event also named the 10 most promising life science companies selected by investors and presented by the Greater Houston Partnership. Read more.

Houston hospital system to open new innovative location

Houston Methodist broke ground on a 400-bed hospital in Cypress. Rendering courtesy of Houston Methodist

Houston Methodist will soon break ground on a “smart” hospital in Cypress that is poised to be the smartest of its nine hospitals.

The $650 million Cypress hospital will be modeled after Houston Methodist West and Houston Methodist The Woodlands hospitals. However, the Cypress location is on track to outdo them in terms of smart technology.

“Our commitment to innovation is one more way we set ourselves apart from other hospital systems, and we are committed to making this new hospital the most technologically advanced and innovative hospital ever,” Dr. Marc Boom, president and CEO of Houston Methodist, says in a note to employees. Read more.

Following $50M gift,Tilman Fertitta reveals goals for eponymous medical school at University of Houston

Fertitta and his family have gifted $50 million to UH's medical school. Photo courtesy

As Houston’s most high-profile billionaire and owner of the posh 5-star Post Oak Hotel and Houston Rockets, Tilman J. Fertitta has become synonymous with over-the-top opulence and big-time entertainment.

But the CEO of the massive Feritta Entertainment empire’s latest move has nothing to do with penthouses or point guards, but rather a legacy, game-changing appropriation meant to aid his home state’s health.

The longtime UH board member and former chairman and his family have just pledged $50 million to the University of Houston College of Medicine. In turn, the new medical school has been christened the Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine. Read more.

TMC unveils details of new bioport, Helix Park at annual Greater Houston Partnership event

TMC gave an update on TMC3 — now called TMC Helix Park — and introduced a new bioport project. Courtesy of Elkus Manfredi Architects

Within the next five to 10 years, the Texas Medical Center you know today will be double the size. That's what Bill McKeon, president and CEO of the TMC, said at yesterday's State of the Texas Medical Center event hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership.

The biggest project contributing to the TMC's growth is TMC3, a campus expansion that will bring 37 acres and 5 million square feet of space to the TMC, is now known as Helix Park. The name is a nod to the shape of the park and walkway design at the center of the campus. The TMC3 Collaborative Building — the first multi-institutional research facility in TMC’s history — will be the first of the project to deliver and is currently under construction and slated for completion in 2023.

However, the big news of the event was the TMC BioPort, the organization's upcoming biomanufacturing and medical supplies distribution engine. This new campus will span several hundred acres just down the road from TMC and will drive the much-needed repatriation of critical medical supplies and new cell and gene therapies, per a news release. Read more.

Overheard: Houston experts discuss women in med tech, insight from investors, and more

Health care innovators joined Houston Methodist and Texas A&M University's ENMED program to discuss women in health care innovation and venture capital investment. Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist

Houston's health innovation community is making strides every day toward greater quality of care and technology adoption — but what challenges is the industry facing these days?

Through a partnership between Houston Methodist and Texas A&M University's ENMED program at Houston Tech Rodeo, health innovators weighed in on topics surrounding the industry, including biases and investment opportunities.

Missed the conversation? Here are seven key moments from the panels that took place at A&M's new ENMED building in the Texas Medical Center on Thursday, March 3. Read more.

TMC3's Collaborative Building has topped out. Image courtesy of Texas Medical Center

First TMC3 Collaborative Building tops out, plans to open next year

medical milestone

Construction of Houston’s 250,000-square-foot TMC3 Collaborative Building has reached a milestone.

Founders of the research facility recently celebrated completion of the uppermost part of the building, known as “topping out.” Construction started in January 2021.

The building is part of the first phase of the TMC3 campus, a 37-acre life science property designed to capitalize on the intersection of medicine and commercialization. Founders of the campus are 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.

The TMC3 Collaborative Building, set to open in 2023, will promote innovation and collaboration among the founding institutions, as well as with academic, healthcare, and industry partners. A key feature is a 43,000-square-foot research lab that’ll be shared by MD Anderson, Texas A&M Health, and UT Health Houston.

“The topping out of the TMC3 Collaborative Building marks an integral milestone in the future of life science research and innovation and reflects an unprecedented commitment to collaboration among the four founding institutions,” William McKeon, president and CEO of Texas Medical Center, says in a news release. “The lifesaving research and technologies that will come out of this building will truly revolutionize healthcare.”

In addition to the research lab, the building will include:

  • 85,000 square feet of lab and office space for industry partners.
  • 14,200 square feet for Texas Medical Center’s strategic initiatives, the Braidwell investment firm, the TMC Venture Fund, and national venture and equity fund partners.
  • A 7,000-square-foot atrium for lectures, programs, and informal events.

“Houston already has a place on the world stage as a leader in clinical care and life sciences. With the launch of the TMC3 Collaborative Building and larger TMC3 campus, we showcase why our city leads in the areas of innovation and technology,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says. “In the process, we will create opportunities to bring new partners and industry to our city and generate new jobs for the residents of the Greater Houston community.”

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.

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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.