One for all

Texas LGBT chambers of commerce form coalition to advocate for the community

Four major metros in Texas have teamed up to advocate for the LGBT community. VlatkoRadovic/Getty Images

The LGBT chambers of commerce in the Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas areas have combined forces to create the Texas LGBT Chambers of Commerce with the mission of advancing and advocating for LGBT business leaders and allies within the state.

The four founding entities of the coalition represent over 1,000 LGBT-owned and LGBT-allied business interests, according to a release.

"The Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce is proud to stand with our sister LGBT chambers across the state to bring the power of our collective voices to advocate on behalf of the LGBT business community," says Tammi Wallace, co-founder and chair of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce, in the release. "Representing hundreds of LGBT-owned and LGBT-allied businesses — and growing — our work together is even more important as we unify to represent our members through advocacy and other collaborative opportunities."

The coalition will host an advocacy day at the Texas Capital on Feb. 20 with the goal being to introduce lawmakers to the coalition and address business issues regarding the LGBT community, according to the release

"There is power in numbers," says Clint Thomson, chair of the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, in the release. "This new alliance will enable us to work collectively on behalf of all LGBT-owned and LGBT-allied businesses throughout the Lone Star State."

The group effort is a response to the anti-transgender "bathroom bill" that was introduced to lawmakers in the 2017 Texas Legislative Session. While the bill didn't pass, a study showed that it would have had a negative economic impact of $8.5 billion and a loss of 185,000 jobs.

"The Texas LGBT Chambers of Commerce intends to prevent any and all anti-LGBT, economy-damaging measures from becoming law in Texas at the state and local levels," says Chase Kincannon, chair of the Austin LGBT Chamber of Commerce, in the release.

As of January 29, no legislation regarding the LGBT community was recognized as active within the 86th Texas Legislative Session.

Houston-based Moleculin has three different oncology technologies currently in trials. Getty Images

Immunotherapy and personalized medicine get all the headlines lately, but in the fight against cancer, a natural compound created by bees could beat them in winning one battle.

In 2007, chairman and CEO Walter Klemp founded Moleculin Biotech Inc. as a private company. The former CPA had found success in life sciences with a company that sold devices for the treatment of acne. That introduction into the field of medical technology pushed him toward more profound issues than spotty skin.

"Coincidentally, the inventor of that technology had a brother who was a neuro-oncologist at MD Anderson," Klemp recalls.

The since-deceased Dr. Charles Conrad slowly lured Klemp into what he calls the "cancer ecosphere" of MD Anderson. In 2016, the company went public. And it looks like sooner rather than later, it could make major inroads against some of the toughest cancers to beat.

Klemp observed that while Houston has the world's largest medical center, "the tragic irony" is that other cities have far more biotech money ready to be invested.

"The Third Coast is really starved for capital," he says. "What drew me into this was I was one of the few entrepreneurs that lived here that knew the ropes in terms of tapping into East and West Coast capital structures and could make that connection for them."

The company has three core technologies currently being tested with some success, but the most promising is called WP1066, named for researcher Waldemar Priebe, "a rock star" in his native Poland, according to Klemp, who works at MD Anderson. Though Priebe came to the U.S. in the 1980s, he is still an adjunct professor at the University of Warsaw and conducts some of his trials in Poland because it's easier to get grant money there.

WP1066 uses propolis, a compound of beeswax, sap and saliva that bees produce to seal small areas of their hives, as a base. The molecular compound that Priebe discovered affects STAT3 (signal transducer and activator of transcription), a transcription factor that encourages tumor development. In short, the active compound in WP1066 both downregulates the STAT3, a long-time Holy Grail in the cancer research world, and directly attacking the tumor, but also quieting T Cells, which allows the body's own immune system to fight the cancer itself. Essentially, it works both as chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

WP1066 is demonstrating drug-like properties in trials at MD Anderson on glioblastoma, the aggressive brain cancer that recently took the life of the hospital's former president, John Mendelsohn, as well as John McCain and Beau Biden. It is also being tested against pancreatic cancer, one of the most virulent killers cancer doctors combat.

Priebe also created Annamycin, named for his oldest daughter, a first-line chemotherapy drug that fights Acute Myeloid Leukemia without the cardiotoxicity that can damage patients' hearts even as they beat their cancer.

WP1122 uses yet another mechanism to fight cancer.

"Most people don't know that morphine is essentially a modified version of heroin," Klemp explains.

The difference between the poppy-based drugs? Heroin can cross the blood-brain barrier. It's described as the dicetyl ester of morphine. WP1122 is the dicetyl ester of 2DG (2-Deoxyglucose), a glycolysis inhibitor, which works by overfilling tumor cells with fake glucose so that they can't consume the real glucose that makes them grow.

"The theory is, we could feed you so full of junk food that eventually you'd starve to death," Klemp elucidates. It can cross the blood-brain barrier and is metabolized slowly, meaning that it can be made into a drug in a way that 2DG cannot.

What's impressive about Moleculin is its diversity of drugs. Most companies have one drug that gets all or most of the attention. Moleculin has strong hopes for all three currently in trials.

"It's essentially multiple shots on the goal," says executive vice president and CFO Jonathan Foster.

Moleculin has 13 total employees, five of whom are based in Houston. An office in the Memorial Park area serves as a landing pad for employees and collaborators from around the world to get their work done when in Space City. The virtual office set-up works for the company because experts can stay in their home cities to get their work done. And that work is on its way to saving scores of lives.