Texas A&M/GlaxoSmithKline Flu Vaccine Partnership, Greatbatch Relocation To Frisco Are Signs That Biotech In Texas Is Filling Out

Texas A&M/GlaxoSmithKline Flu Vaccine Partnership, Greatbatch Relocation To Frisco Are Signs That Biotech In Texas Is Filling Out

Greatbatch’s Move To Frisco, Texas, and Texas A&M’s recent billion-dollar federal grant to become a vaccine hub is helping to flesh out the biotech industry in Texas.

An insightful blog article published tester by Eric Berger of the Houston Chronicle highlights how Texas A&M — and more specifically, its Governor Perry-backed multibillion-dollar federal grant to become the TAMUS vaccine research hub — is playing a major role in the expansion of the Texas biotech sector by meeting a major need. He explains that “[w]hile Texas in general, and Houston in particular, has excellent medical care and biomedical research facilities, they lack the in-between: drug development and pharmaceutical manufacturing.” The creation of the new Texas A&M facility to develop vaccines is a major step in bolstering drug development and pharmaceutical manufacturing throughout the state.

The reason why this is so significant, as Berger points out, is that the new initiative at Texas A&M led to a recent partnering with GlaxoSmithKline, who is working with the university in development of a new flu vaccine for next season. He goes on to note that:

Under the terms of the deal, GSK will work with A&M and other regional partners to develop its next generation of seasonal influenza vaccine, which is grown in cells rather than chicken eggs, in College Station.

Then, by the end of this decade, 12 to 15 million doses of flu vaccine probably will be made right here in Texas.

That, of course, is a huge boon for the Texas biotech sector — especially if the flu comes raging back next season as it did this year; epidemic flu cases for the 2012-2013 winter season will undoubtedly drive up demand next year, and Texas will be well-positioned to benefit from manufacturing the vaccine for it.

Eric Berger’s blog post (which includes links to some important, exclusive articles about the Texas A&M deal that are worth checking out) seemed to connect well with a blog post idea of my own that had been sitting in draft form on the BioNews Texas back-end for a day or so about Greatbatch, the leading medical device manufacturer that moved their headquarters from upstate New York to Frisco, Texas.

BioNews Texas staff writer Ayesha Khan recently reported on how Greatbatch has quickly evolved its business model to become a comprehensive player in the medical device field, which appears to be paying dividends to the burgeoning biotech company. In a sense, Texas was doubly lucky to pick up Greatbatch just as they began to arc upward. Even more interesting were some of Greatbatch CEO Thomas Hook’s recent comments on why the company chose Frisco, Texas of all places to move to:

“One of the drivers of the move to Texas was more geographic centricity. The second was in the move to be a medical device company, we sought medical dubs hubs and Dallas is one of those. It was necessary to be in one of those areas to be more effective in running toward this business objective.”

To be sure, Dallas indeed has a well-established medical device sector, and Greatbatch was looking to tap into it. However, such a high-profile move to Texas from a significant player in the industry brings a national focus to that particular segment of the Texas biotech sphere.

Like pharmaceuticals, medical devices are the “effect” in the cause-effect relationship between top-notch research and the means to turn that research into a deliverable — a finished product that can actually impact people’s heath and lives. While Texas has certainly led in the former, developing the latter is a key consideration for the sector going forward. There’s no doubt that the Texas A&M/GlaxoSmithKline partnership as well as the Greatbatch move all indicate a trend in the direction of converting Texas research into Texas-produced health products.

Post-Script: CPRIT

Something to keep an eye on related to this issue is the ongoing CPRIT story, which at present remains in limbo as Texas legislators try to hammer out new reforms for the embattled cancer research grant funding institution. We recently reported on how new proposed changes to CPRIT put forward by its new oversight committee appears to strip out the commercialization arm of the organization, which was designed to both fund Texas biotech startups as well as to encourage small, start-up biotech companies with an emphasis on cancer research to relocate to Texas via grants and incentives. A follow-up to our original piece, which offered some exclusive commentary from a CPRIT spokesperson, raised even more questions about the future of CPRIT’s efforts to commercialize research and continue to grow the cancer segment of the Texas biotech sector. If the CPRIT reforms go as far to limit this type of activity, the impressive growth of the sector could come to an abrupt halt.

Texas lawmakers will undoubtedly have to find a functional balance between reform and the flexibility needed to keep positive additions like Texas A&M and Greatbatch flowing into the state.


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