Drs. Maria Elena Bottazzi and Peter Hotez at the Center for Vaccine Development. Photo courtesy of Texas Children's Hospital

With the U.S. logging its highest single-day total of new COVID-19 cases (441,278 infections) and some 281, 808, 270 cases documented worldwide, new treatments worldwide are in major demand — especially in emerging nations.

To that end, Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine announced a new COVID vaccine ready to deploy in India and soon, other underserved countries.

Corbevax, which is dubbed “The World’s COVID-19 Vaccine,” utilizes a traditional recombinant protein-based technology that will enable production at large scales, per a press release. That means the inoculation will be widely accessible to inoculate the global population.

This new vaccine was developed at Texas Children’s Hospital CVD and led by co-directors Drs. Maria Elena Bottazzi and Peter Hotez — and in-licensed from BCM Ventures, Baylor College of Medicine’s integrated commercialization team, to Hyderabad-based vaccine and pharmaceutical company Biological E. Limited (BE).

After completing two Phase III clinical trials involving more than 3000 subjects the vaccine was found to be safe, well tolerated, and immunogenic. Current research shows Corbevax notably effective against the Ancestral-Wuhan strain and the globally dominant Delta variant, press materials note.

Safe, streamlined, low-cost vaccines for middle- to low-income countries are central to the world’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, the two Houston organizations note. Indeed, without widespread vaccination of populations in the Global South, additional virus variants will arise, hindering the progress achieved by currently available vaccines in the United States and other Western countries, per research.

“This announcement is an important first step in vaccinating the world and halting the pandemic,” said Hotez in a statement. “Our vaccine technology offers a path to address an unfolding humanitarian crisis, namely the vulnerability the low- and middle-income countries face against the delta variant. Widespread and global vaccination with our Texas Children’s-Baylor-BE vaccine would also forestall the emergence of new variants. We have previously missed that opportunity for the alpha and delta variant. Now is our chance to prevent a new global wave from what might follow.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Texas Children's Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine are working on a new COVID-19 vaccine candidate. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Houston health care organizations team up for the 'people's vaccine'

COVID Collaboration

Two major health care institutions in Houston — Texas Children's Hospital and the Baylor College of Medicine — are a step closer to rolling out what they dub the "people's vaccine" for COVID-19.

The two institutions, along with India-based vaccine and pharmaceutical company Biological E Ltd., have gained approval to move ahead this month with Phase III clinicals trials in India of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate called Corbevax. The Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development developed the vaccine's protein antigen, which was licensed from the Baylor College of Medicine's BCM Ventures commercialization arm.

Unlike COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S., Corbevax contains the so-called "spike protein" from the surface of the novel coronavirus. Once that protein is injected via a vaccine, the body is supposed to begin building immunity against the protein and thereby prevent serious illness.

Experts envision Corbevax being a readily available weapon in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to the simple vaccine platform (like the one used to prevent Hepatitis B) and the ability to store the vaccine in normal refrigerated settings. The targets of this vaccine are children and mothers.

"In the midst of India's public health crisis, it is our hope that our Texas Children's and Baylor COVID-19 vaccine can be released for emergency authorization in India and in all countries in need of essential COVID-19 vaccinations," Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, says in a June 9 news release.

India has reported more than 29 million cases of COVID-19, causing 354,000 deaths. The country's COVID-19 surge reached its peak in May.

"The vaccines currently available cannot be manufactured quick enough to meet supply shortages in low-income countries," Hotez says. "Our vaccine is truly 'the people's vaccine,' created to serve the most marginalized and underserved populations that are hardest hit by this pandemic. This is the vaccine that could be used to vaccinate the world."

In the Phase III trial, the two-dose Corbevax vaccine will be administered to about 1,200 people age 18 to 80 at 15 sites in India. A larger global study of Corbevax is in the works.

According to India.com, Corbevax could be the most affordable COVID-19 vaccine available in the nation of nearly 1.37 billion people, costing close to $7 for a two-dose regimen. The Indian government already has preordered 300 million doses of Corbevax, which has shown promise in Phase I and Phase II trials. The Phase II trial ended in April.

If the Phase III trial goes as planned, doses could be widely administered as soon as August. Biological E initially plans to produce 75 million to 80 million doses per month, according to media reports. The Indian company foresees manufacturing at least 1 billion doses by the end of 2022.

ClassPass, which recently opened a Houston location, has launched a new tool for users to find their closest vaccine location. Photo courtesy of ClassPass

Tech company launches COVID-19 vaccine finder in Houston

there's an app for that

A global tech company that recently opened a local office in Houston has announced a major upgrade to its app — and it's now available in Houston.

ClassPass, a network of fitness and wellness partners, now has Houston vaccine centers searchable within the app and website. Members can find their closest vaccine center and get important information — like hours and address — as well as how to contact the locations; however, users aren't able to book directly through ClassPass.

"We are in a global health crisis and every company should be helping to support relief and vaccination efforts however they can. Using the ClassPass platform to connect members with vaccine centers is a natural extension of our technology and a way that we can contribute to curbing the spread of COVID-19," says Jeff Bladt, vice president of pricing and inventory, in a news release.

"We have deep knowledge of how to help people find accurate and up-to-date information on local businesses after routing millions of users to fitness and wellness locations across 30 countries," he adds.

Users can search for COVID vaccine locations online or through the app. Photo courtesy of ClassPass

The new search option has been rolled out already in in Austin and Dallas, as well as Boston, Chicago, Denver, Miami, New York City and Washington, D.C.

"The process of finding a vaccination appointment can be challenging and many people don't know where to start," says Dr. Vin Gupta, a critical care pulmonologist, health policy expert, and NBC News Medical Analyst, in the release.

"I was thrilled to hear that ClassPass, a high touch app that has already trained people how to search for vital health information, is leveraging their platform to make it easier to identify vaccine sites and secure appointments," he continues. "Anything that can address this information gap is critical in getting more people vaccinated."

ClassPass quickly pivoted when the pandemic hit last year, and now all 41,500 fitness, wellness, and beauty partners on the app have been asked to provide updated details on their COVID policies. ClassPass also worked with 5,000 top studios around the world to add digital classes as an option.

In March, Houston-based ClassPass exec, Rachel Moctron, joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss this pivot and the new Houston office. Listen to it below.


This new guide helps streamline vaccine sites and eligibility information in one place. Photo courtesy of CVS Health

New app gives good shot at finding COVID-19 vaccination in Houston

HELP WITH HEALTHCARE

Are you frustrated by the hoops you're jumping through to get a COVID-19 vaccination? The GoodRx drug-price-comparison app has stepped in to help.

GoodRx just rolled out a guide so you can learn about the COVID-19 vaccine, track its availability, and set up a vaccination appointment in Houston or elsewhere in Texas.

"Vaccine information has been fragmented and availability unclear, so GoodRx has built the go-to destination for all Americans to track the vaccine rollout locally," the company says in a statement.

GoodRx is collecting data from more than 15,000 vaccination sites and is monitoring the country's 70,000 pharmacies as well as state-specific sites to update appointment availability. New information is added as it becomes available.

Among other things, the GoodRx guide tells you who's eligible for vaccinations where you live, who's next in line, and how you can make a vaccination appointment. You can even sign up to receive text messages that alert you when vaccination eligibility changes in your area.

This news comes as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has reopened the state and lifted the mask mandate — which could put Houstonians at even greater risk.

Meanwhile, throughout Texas, the recent winter storm, power outages, and water shortages hampered the ability to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. As of March 3, Harris County shows some 351,063 confirmed COVD cases, according to most-recent data, and 2,297,878 cases statewide. Information about the Texas vaccination plan is available on the Department of State Health Services website.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Fort Bend is now a COVID-19 vaccine hub. Photo by Matthew T. Carroll/Getty Images

This Houston suburb is the newest COVID-19 vaccine hub in the region

Help in Fort Bend

A major Houston suburb is the newest major COVID-19 vaccine hub in the region. Fort Bend County has received an additional 8,000 vaccines, county judge KP George announced on February 9 at a press conference.

That means the county is officially an vaccine hub and will receive regular doses of inoculations, George added. Registration is available at the Fort Bend County website.

During the news conference, George said Fort Bend County had been officially designated as a vaccine hub, meaning the county will now be receiving regular doses of the vaccine.

In keeping with statewide mandates, vaccinations are open to those who are in phases 1A or 1B, although those in the next phases will be eligible at a later date, according to the press conference.

This news comes as the Greater Houston area has seen the emergence of the South African COVID-19 variant, as well as two mutations of the UK strain, as CultureMap previously reported.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has also ordered a mega vaccine site in the Houston area that promises to deliver some 5,000 to 6,000 inoculations per day. Houston has also received thousands of new vaccines this week.

Meanwhile, for now, COVID hospitalizations are seeing a downturn, according to reports.

For more information on Fort Bend County vaccinations, visit www.fbchealth.org or call 832-471-1373.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Image via luminaremed.com

Houston health tech startup launches COVID-19 vaccine management tool

inoculation innovation

Houston-based health care software startup Luminare Inc. is arming soldiers in the coronavirus vaccination campaign with technology to help smooth the inoculation process.

Luminare, which launched with the mission of combating sepsis, switched gears after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic to help combat the virus' spread. One of the ways it's doing that is with Innoculate (a mash-up of "innovate" and "inoculate"). The new platform enables organizations like public health departments, fire departments, school systems, and businesses to manage high-volume vaccination initiatives.

Among other benefits, Innoculate automates vaccination sign-ups and scheduling, tracks the number of vaccine batches available, flags previous allergic reactions among vaccine recipients, and helps achieve compliance with federal, state and local health care requirements.

"Usually when you hear news of a new batch of vaccines headed your way, there is dread at the management and distribution overhead. Not anymore," Dr. Sarma Velamuri, CEO of Luminare, says in a release. "Innoculate will help streamline the vaccination process in the fight against COVID-19 and allow for hundreds of thousands of people to get vaccines easily."

One of the first customers of Innoculate is the Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health District. Innoculate helped the district vaccinate 9,000 people during the first week of its vaccination effort. Peter Collins, chief information officer of the City of Corpus Christi, says Innoculate allows more vaccinations to be done without adding administrative burdens.

Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health District was the first government outfit to use Innoculate. The district also uses Luminare's Quickscreen COVID-19 screening and testing tool.

Dallas County Health and Human Services also is adopting Innoculate. On January 27, Dallas County approved a 12-month contract with Luminare worth up to $601,500.

Other new customers that are lined up for Innoculate include the Abilene-Taylor County Public Health District, Wichita Falls-Wichita County Public Health District, and Brenham-based Blinn College District. Innoculate deals are being finalized with 13 other city and county governments.

Luminare says it wants to "help as many cities and counties in the U.S. that we can." The company asks organizations seeking help with coronavirus vaccination campaigns to email mike.gilbert@luminaremed.com or info@luminaremed.com.

Luminare was founded in 2014 with the goal of preventing sepsis, a life-threatening reaction to a host of infections that triggers about one-third of U.S. hospital deaths. Its sepsis-targeted software is called Sagitta.

After the coronavirus began spreading, Luminare tweaked its sepsis-detection platform, called Quickscreen, to produce a free online self-assessment for people who suspect they've been infected with the virus. The startup was honored for this work as COVID Phoenix in Houston Exponential's inaugural awards program, The Listies. Now, it has added Innoculate to its pandemic-fighting arsenal.

Luminare, based at Texas Medical Center's innovation campus, is a 2018 graduate of the TMCx accelerator. According to Crunchbase, the company has collected more than $1.6 million in funding.

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Houston doctors recognized among top creative leaders in business

winners

This week, Fast Company announced its 14th annual list of Most Creative People in Business — and two notable Houstonians made the cut.

Dr. Peter Hotez and his fellow dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, were named among the list for “open sourcing a COVID-19 Vaccine for the rest of the world.” The list, which recognizes individuals making a cultural impact via bold achievements in their field, is made up of influential leaders in business.

Hotez and Bottazzi are also co-directors for the Texas Children's Hospital's Center for Vaccine Development -one of the most cutting-edge vaccine development centers in the world. For the past two decades it has acquired an international reputation as a non-profit Product Development Partnership (PDP), advancing vaccines for poverty-related neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and emerging infectious diseases of pandemic importance. One of their most notable achievements is the development of a vaccine technology leading to CORBEVAX, a traditional, recombinant protein-based COVID-19 vaccine.

"It's an honor to be recognized not only for our team's scientific efforts to develop and test low cost-effective vaccines for global health, but also for innovation in sustainable financing that goes beyond the traditional pharma business model," says Hotez in a statement.

The technology was created and engineered by Texas Children's Center for Vaccine Development specifically to combat the worldwide problem of vaccine access and availability. Biological E Limited (BE) developed, produced and tested CORBEVAX in India where over 60 million children have been vaccinated so far.

Earlier this year, the doctors were nominated for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize for their research and vaccine development of the vaccine. Its low cost, ease of production and distribution, safety, and acceptance make it well suited for addressing global vaccine inequity.

"We appreciate the recognition of our efforts to begin the long road to 'decolonize' the vaccine development ecosystem and make it more equitable. We hope that CORBEVAX becomes one of a pipeline of new vaccines developed against many neglected and emerging infections that adversely affect global public health," says Bottazzi in the news release from Texas Children's.

Fast Company editors and writers research candidates for the list throughout the year, scouting every business sector, including technology, medicine, engineering, marketing, entertainment, design, and social good. You can see the complete list here

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Samsung sets sights on nearly $200 billion expansion in Texas

chipping in

As it builds a $17 billion chipmaking factory in Taylor, tech giant Samsung is eyeing a long-term strategy in the Texas area that could lead to a potential investment of close to $200 billion.

Samsung’s plans, first reported by the Austin Business Journal, call for an additional $192.1 billion investment in the Austin area over several decades that would create at least 10,000 new jobs at 11 new chipmaking plants. These facilities would be at the new Taylor site and the company’s existing site in Northeast Austin.

The first of the 11 new plants wouldn’t be completed until 2034, according to the Business Journal.

“Samsung has a history already in the Austin market as an employer of choice, providing high wages, great benefits, and a great working environment. All of this will be on steroids in the not-too-distant future, creating a historic boost to the already booming Austin economy,” John Boyd Jr., a corporate site selection consultant, tells CultureMap.

Samsung’s preliminary plans were revealed in filings with the State of Texas seeking possible financial incentives for the more than $190 billion expansion. The South Korean conglomerate says the filings are part of the company’s long-range planning for U.S. chipmaking facilities.

Given that Samsung’s 11 new plants would be decades in the making, there’s no certainty at this point that any part of the potential $192.1 billion expansion will ever be built.

Last November, Samsung announced it would build a $17 billion chipmaking factory in Taylor to complete its semiconductor operations in Northeast Austin. Construction is underway, with completion set for 2024. Boyd proclaimed last year that the Taylor project will trigger an “economic tsunami” in the quiet Williamson County suburb.

The Taylor facility, which is expected to employ more than 2,000 people, ranks among the largest foreign economic development projects in U.S. history. The impact of a nearly $200 billion cluster of 11 new chipmaking plants would far eclipse the Taylor project.

The Taylor factory will produce advanced chips that power mobile and 5G capabilities, high-performance computing, and artificial intelligence.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.