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New vaccine research effort launched

By Don Finley
San Antonio Express-News
Updated 10:50 p.m., Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Four of the city’s large research institutions announced Wednesday they have formed a partnership to develop new vaccines.

All four already have vaccine research under way. The new partnership, called the San Antonio Vaccine Development Center, could have almost $1 million in new funds to spur scientists in new directions, said Kenneth Trevett, president of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute.

“In this city, we are not a collection of medieval fiefdoms, but a network of organizations seeking common ground against illness,” Trevett said at a news conference at City Hall.

The partnership has been in the works for about a year, Trevett said. In addition to Texas Biomed, members include the University of Texas Health Science Center, University of Texas at San Antonio and the Southwest Research Institute.

The group has raised $600,000 in private donations — including a corporate gift from USAA and a personal donation from NuStar Energy LP Chairman Bill Greehey. With that, they’ve applied another $300,000 from the Texas Research Incentive Program, a state fund that provides a 50 percent match for private gifts of up to $1 million to emerging research universities such as UTSA. Trevett said additional grant funds will follow.

Initially, four $50,000 grants will be awarded to researchers from among the four partners, with priority given to collaborations between two or more of the institutions.

“The center leverages and builds on core scientific resources, expertise and talent at the four institutions in San Antonio,” said Bernard Arulanandam, associate dean for research at UTSA, whose own work includes development of an experimental chlamydia vaccine in collaboration with scientists at the health science center.

Other research at the four institutions includes vaccines against tularemia and Lassa virus, both potential bioterror threats, under development at Texas Biomed; and vaccine delivery systems at Southwest Research.

The group will also host an annual symposium on vaccine research each year. The first one is scheduled for November.

Ann Stevens, president of BioMed SA, said infectious disease research “is one of five areas we have identified where San Antonio has recognized strengths of national or international caliber. So clearly this is an area where San Antonio can leverage its expertise, both for regional economic benefit, and also to protect human health around the world.”

City Manager Sheryl Sculley said the partnership could lead to new jobs.

“This partnership concentrates a lot of this city’s brainpower on common initiatives, which drives more innovation and creativity,” Scully said. “This innovation in turn can create health solutions and products that can be commercialized, and result in the formation of new bioscience companies as well as more jobs in San Antonio.”