On September 26, the White House announced that a new $2.5 billion biotech hub would be located in Dallas as part of a Biden Administration initiative to accelerate U.S. biomedical and health research.
The physical core of the new Texas biotech center—one of three national “hubs” announced in September, will be Dallas’ Pegasus Park—but Austin, San Antonio, College Station and Houston will also be supporting the effort. The Dallas center, as the ARPA-H proactive “Customer Experience” hub, will be richly funded and will focus on health solutions, clinical trials and equity in health outcomes for all.
The foundation of today’s success was built over the last decade by a Texas state bond fund, voted in years ago, committed to cancer research, which led to the creation of the powerful Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas in 2007. The institute uses its $6 billion in funding to award quarterly grants to Texas universities, scientists and companies in several categories. It still represents the largest state cancer research investment in U.S. history.
CPRIT’s CEO Wayne Roberts acted as a principal evangelist and an important leader of the successful coalition to bring ARPA-H to Texas. Roberts had the enthusiastic support of executives from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and the University of Texas System who had all been beneficiaries of the CPRIT funds in the past.
|This article is featured in O'Dwyer's October '23 Healthcare & Medical PR Magazine
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The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, known as ARPA-H, will have management over the three national hubs: Dallas, Washington D.C. and Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The new ARPA-H is modeled after the U.S. Defense Department’s incredibly successful technology incubator, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA has been instrumental in almost every major defense tech advance since 1958, including the Internet, hardened electronics, drones and stealth technology.
Just over a year old, ARPA-H hopes to accelerate breakthrough technology in medicine and health—advances that can’t readily be accomplished through traditional commercial or research activity.
The success of Texas in winning its share of the ARPA-H award will come as a bit of a surprise to some. Most think of the more likely centers of med-tech and biotech excellence to be Massachusetts on the East Coast, California on the West Coast—with some occasional surprises from mid-country med centers in states like Minnesota where the extraordinary Mayo Clinic continuously pioneers new approaches to care and therapy.
I, for one, wasn’t surprised at the new ARPA-H award for Texas. We were a proud partner this year in the coalition to win the ARPA-H competition. But early in our public relations agency’s history we took on the equally daunting task of organizing and promoting the bid of the entire State of Texas and Texas A&M University System to compete for an improbable $283-million federal biodefense grant, which we roundly won.
That single victory, which came in June 2012, represented the largest federal healthcare grant in our state’s history and further established the foundation of what is today a multi-billion-dollar biodefense and biotech industry in our state.
Leader of that bid was Dr. Brett Giroir, then Vice Chancellor of the Texas A&M University System, who then went on to make more medical history by acting as chief navigator of the nation’s rapid-paced development and delivery of effective COVID-19 vaccines.
Our firm served as “PR agency of record” for the bidding effort from Texas, a statewide initiative that combined and coordinated city governments, hospitals and research centers in the state’s top university systems.
It was a proud moment for us as communicators but more importantly a victory for the real heroes: our too-often unheralded medical teams and research techs across Texas that had been woefully underfunded until that turnaround victory in 2012, men and women of skill and commitment quietly devoting their lives and careers to protecting the health not just of Americans but of humans all over the planet.
Today, bioscience in Texas is booming, which was also a principal attractor to the ARPA-H decision: The Texas Healthcare & Bioscience Institute reported last November that the industry employed more than 116,000 across 7,462 Texas business establishments in 2021, and it continues to grow at a rapid rate. From 2018 through 2021, industry employment grew by 15 percent, outpacing national industry growth.
Some additional numbers, thanks to THBI:
- Texas is now among the top tier of states measured not only in the size of its industry base, but in several additional measures of its innovation ecosystem, including university R&D expenditures which exceeded $4.1 billion in 2020; NIH funding at more than $1.5 billion in 2021; venture capital investments with nearly $4.9 billion from 2018-21; and in bioscience-related patent awards where 5,312 were awarded to state inventors since 2018.
- Texas has the third-highest academic bioscience R&D expenditures and the fourth-highest growth rate—however, at a per capita rate alone, we’re not even in the top 10. That’s an interesting dichotomy and either a good news point or an indicator of a need for increased funding, depending on how you look at it.
Four of the state’s five major bioscience subsectors, according to THBI, contributed to the overall industry job gains.
In the past, major medical advances in Texas history were usually disaster driven. One of the earliest surges came in the immediate wake of the 1920 Black Death plague that left more than a dozen dead in Galveston, which was preceded by more than one outbreak of yellow fever. Galvestonians experienced at least nine yellow fever epidemics between 1839 and 1867 alone, most if not all arriving by sea.
One of the first nationally respected healthcare facilities in the State of Texas, The University of Texas Medical Branch, began in Galveston as the state’s first medical school in 1891. The medical school is still there but UTMB today is also home to the Galveston National Biocontainment Laboratory, one of this century’s leading international centers for the study of exotic disease diagnosis and pandemic containment.
From Galveston on the coast to now Pegasus Park, a 26-acre life science and social impact-focused campus in Dallas in north Texas, the state is now firmly established as the third coast in biosciences and medical research, one that for many years to come will be among the world’s major life sciences centers of excellence.
Thomas Graham is President, CEO and Founder of Crosswind Media & Public Relations in Austin, Texas.