The inaugural University of Texas System “FreshAIR” initiative in aid of nurturing successful partnerships between UT System health institutions and the life sciences industry was held at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center in Austin on September 25-26. BioNews Texas was in attendance for the event.
At FreshAIR, faculty from the UT system’s leading health institutions were provided the opportunity to pitch their research projects and innovations directly to corporate executives, influencers, and decision-makers from many of the major pharmaceutical companies. The event reciprocally served to introduce the corporate leaders to innovative research being done in the The University of Texas System’s world-class medical institutions face-to-face with the people doing the science rather than through interlocutors.
Featured speakers at FreshAIR included an extensive slate of first-tier researchers, some of the top names and leaders in the University of Texas System, such as UT System Chancellor and renowned transplant surgeon Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, who observed that “We’re all here to improve the quality of life…. UT is seeking the opportunity to translate the knowledge and skills of it’s people to benefit mankind – we can’t do it alone. We need to collaborate more closely with our industry partners.”
MD Anderson Cancer Center president and internationally recognized cancer researcher Dr. Ronald DePinho, highlighted MD Anderson’s Moon Shots program — an ambitious and comprehensive action plan inspired by America’s drive a generation ago to put a man on the moon, with the objective make a giant leap for patients — to rapidly and dramatically reduce mortality and suffering in several major cancers.
Some 250 industry experts and researchers attended the event. FreshAIR’s mission objective is to help ensure that Texas maintains its strong player status in the science and biotechnology field, and to forge more public-private partnerships as outlined in Chancellor Cigarroa’s 2011 “A Framework for Advancing Excellence.”
“The primary goals are to share with the pharmaceutical and biotechnological industries the innovative science arising from UT health science institutions and to provide a venue for forging collaborative research partnerships,” says Patricia Hurn, vice chancellor for research and innovation at the UT System, in a release. “Ultimately, we hope these collaborations will lead to the development of drugs that could benefit society . . . Science is what will hold us together.”
According to UT System metrics, its network of institutions is one of the nation’s largest academic enterprises, with a $14.6 billion operating budget and $3.1 billion in sponsored research programs. One takeaway point from the FreshAIR event was that, while there is enormous capacity for research within the UT system, due to its size, it can be difficult to conceptualize comprehensively and efficiently. With so many resources invested in the research portion of the organization, the event was designed to help its research reach successful conclusions in the biotech industry.
Chancellor Cigarroa’s “Framework” paper affirms that the “UT System is committed to ensuring that Texas students have access to not only affordable, but also the highest quality undergraduate and graduate education, allowing them to grow and succeed as lifelong learners who adapt to a changing world,” and committed as well to “fueling prosperity through producing degrees of great value, world-class research, patents and partnerships with business and industry, community engagement, and the economic impact of employment. Texas institutions benefit from operating in the context of a unique population that includes a large Hispanic presence in South Texas that is projected to mirror future U.S. population demographics of the United States.
“Texas FreshAIR is a unique initiative that provides Pfizer with potential opportunities to access scientific expertise across all six health science institutions under the UT System umbrella,” Pfizer vice president of strategic research partnerships and external R&D innovation Ron Newbold comments in the UT release. “To engage with top-notch faculty from these highly regarded institutions across Texas at the same time and in the same place is an efficient and novel way to share insights and explore potential collaborations.”
The University of Texas System hosts six of the world’s premier Health Science Centers — institutions in which some 75 percent of UT System research is produced. These renowned medical research institutions include:
- The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center (Houston)
- The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (Dallas)
- The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
- The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
- The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
- The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler
Two more new UT medical schools are currently under construction.
With federal funding for basic, clinical, and translational research becoming a dwindling and increasingly uncertain source of support, development of science-based partnerships between research and industry can offer substantial advantages to both. In his “A Framework for Advancing Excellence” document, Chancellor Cigarroa notes that “Twenty years ago, state funding for higher education accounted for nearly 38 percent of the budget for the UT System academic institutions and nearly 29 percent of the health institutions. Today it represents 20.7 percent and 12.8 percent, respectively.” By working cooperatively academia and industry can jointly address the challenges associated with developing innovative drugs for both parties’ mutual benefit and for the well-being of society in general.
Texas FreshAIR Website:
The University of Texas System Website: