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San Antonio City Council stands for science, approves federal pandemic funding for Texas Biomed

SAN ANTONIO (February 11, 2022) – The San Antonio City Council took a strong stand for science last week when it voted to dedicate $10 million in federal pandemic emergency funding to campus infrastructure improvements at Texas Biomedical Research Institute.

With a 9-1 vote, councilmembers set an example for the state and the nation about the importance of using scientific evidence to make impactful investments using federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Leaders showed how much science matters to the city of San Antonio – both in words and actions – by supporting the expansion of public health research infrastructure that will ultimately improve lives locally and globally, while also driving groundbreaking discoveries on new therapies and vaccines for COVID-19.

San Antonio City Council

“For the first time in our 80-year history, Texas Biomed sought substantial, direct assistance from the city for our scientific mission – and we aligned our request with the goals of the ARPA,” said Larry S. Schlesinger, MD, President/CEO of Texas Biomed. “I’m proud that a strong majority on City Council voted to keep our region on the forefront of biomedical research with this transformational investment that promises to pay economic and health dividends far into our community’s future.”

Before voting, the mayor and several council members shared their strong sentiments on why they supported Texas Biomed’s funding request:

Mayor Ron Nirenberg

“This is an extremely important institution, not just for the City of San Antonio, but for the world. It is through research like that that has saved countless lives and I will be one of those that follows the science. I know we are sensitive and we are seeking to be as humane in that research as possible, which is also why I support this investment.”

Councilman John Courage (District 9)

“We are in the middle of a big epidemic, and people are still dying, and people are still sick, and people still refuse to take the vaccine and still refuse to wear the masks. And those of us who do understand the seriousness of this, what do we say? We say: ‘We follow the science.’ Well, that’s what Texas Biomed is. They are part of the science that has tried to lead us in the direction of protecting our health and our safety for our families and for one another, and now we’re saying, ‘Well, we’re not going to believe this science?’ Or ‘We’re not going to support this science?’ Well, my mind is made up, I’m for the science.”

Councilman Manny Peláez (District 8)

“Today, because of work Texas Biomed is doing, people are not dying.” Peláez shared how his parents and nephew, along with countless others in the community, are alive today because of lifesaving medicines that are safe and effective. “Those drugs are effective and safe because of testing that is done throughout the country and the testing that is done at [Texas] Biomed.” 

Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havdra (District 6, where Texas Biomed is located)

“The spirit of ARPA is resilience and recovery…This extends to the work that Texas Biomed has done during the pandemic, to help people return to normalcy via COVID-19 vaccines and antibody research.”

Councilman Mario Bravo (District 1)

Bravo emphasized his support for science, noting he volunteered at the city’s first large COVID-19 vaccination drive. “I stand for science and I also care about animal welfare.” Bravo asked for clarification about alternatives to animal research, such as organ on chip technology, and what Texas Biomed is doing advance those options, so society as a whole can move away from needing animals to test medicines in the future.

Professor Deepak Kaushal, who directs the Southwest National Primate Research Center at Texas Biomed, answered by highlighting how several Institute researchers, including Schlesinger, who is also a professor of microbiology and immunology, are actively working to develop alternatives. However, Kaushal noted that those alternatives are not yet advanced enough to mimic how an entire, complex body will respond to a treatment. That is why the FDA requires that most all medications or treatments must first go through preclinical safety and efficacy studies in animal models that recapitulate human health and disease.

“If in 5, or 10, or 15 years, that research is successful, we’ll be the first to admit that wherever possible, we should eliminate animal testing,” Kaushal said. “We are not for generalized animal testing if other alternatives are available.”

Several other council members stated their support for science and Texas Biomed, but advocated that all nonprofits should be required to go through the committee process. Texas Biomed, Morgan’s Wonderland and Educare at Texas A&M San Antonio had been marked in a special Impactful Investments category for an earlier council vote.

City Manager Erik Walsh noted that the process City of San Antonio has gone through to begin allocating ARPA funds has been very transparent, highly engaged with the community, and one of the most deliberative processes among major cities. “This was a very good process, and one I will defend to the public,” he said.

More than 20 people supporting Texas Biomed were in the council chamber for the vote, and the vast support from partners across the city was strongly conveyed through statements and letters representing thousands of citizens who #Stand4Science.

Statements supporting Texas Biomed presented at the meeting came from community leaders such as Dr. Taylor Eighmy, President of the University of Texas at San Antonio; Dr. Bill Henrich, President of UT Health; Adam Hamilton, President/CEO of Southwest Research Institute; Henry Cisneros, former San Antonio Mayor and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary; Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, President of greater:SATX; Dr. Cherise Rohr-Allegrini, CEO of the San Antonio AIDS Foundation; Heather Hanson, President of BioMedSA, and Rene Dominguez, President/COO of the Texas Research & Technology Foundation. Others included Dr. Jamo Rubin, Chairman of the Texas Biomed Board of Trustees, and Jim Newman, Director of Strategic Communications for Americans for Medical Progress.

“We know it is extremely challenging to balance the many needs of the citizens of San Antonio,” Schlesinger said. “We deeply appreciate the city’s continued leadership to prioritize and champion science and public health. The COVID-19 pandemic is not the last widespread public health challenge we will face as a city, nation and globe. Texas Biomed is proud to be in San Antonio, the city of health and science.”

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ABOUT TEXAS BIOMED

Texas Biomed is one of the world’s leading independent biomedical research institutions dedicated to eradicating infection and advancing health worldwide through innovative biomedical research. Texas Biomed partners with researchers and institutions around the world to develop vaccines and therapeutics against viral pathogens causing AIDS, hepatitis, hemorrhagic fever, tuberculosis and parasitic diseases responsible for malaria and schistosomiasis disease. The Institute has programs in host-pathogen interaction, disease intervention and prevention, and population health to understand the links between infectious diseases and other diseases such as aging, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. For more information on Texas Biomed, go to www.TxBiomed.org.