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Rice Consortium Helped Spark Biotech Researchers’ Inner Entrepreneur

Xconomy Texas — 

Operations at the Houston Area Translational Research Consortium, or HATRC, are winding down for closure in June, but, in its two years of existence, the biotech initiative helped to overcome a roadblock in life sciences commercialization that lingered for decades.

So says Cindy Farach-Carson, vice president of translational bioscience at Rice University and scientific director of the university’s BioScience Research Collaborative, which housed HATRC.

“The idea of transforming the community here has gained so much momentum,” she says. “We now have Enventure, OwlSpark, TMCx. We absolutely inspired those groups. HATRC told them someone was listening when they were saying that there was this need in the community.”

HATRC was formed in 2012 with a mission of operating a “pre-commercialization” center that would connect researchers from Rice and other Texas Medical Center institution entrepreneurs with funding and management expertise. To lead the effort, Rice brought in David Schubert, a biotech veteran and a venture partner with Accelerator in Seattle, as its executive director.

From a life sciences perspective, Houston was unchartered territory, he says. “There was something there that I felt other people hadn’t captured,” Schubert says. “With the massive amounts of federal research dollars … the fact that Lynda Chin, Jim Allison, and others were coming there, it was very attractive.”

In addition to the medical center, the advent of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, a $3-billion, taxpayer-funded enterprise dedicated to finding cancer cures, helped lure star researchers like Chin, who chairs the department of genomic medicine at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and Allison, who is the institution’s chair of immunology.

But HATRC quickly found itself mired in controversy related to CPRIT, a state agency that had awarded HATRC a $20 million grant. HATRC was to be working with Anderson’s Institute for Applied Cancer Science, or IACS, but when questions arose as to whether IACS had improperly receiving the commercialization money, the award was pulled.

In response, Schubert says, Rice stepped up to support HATRC, helping the organization find and bring to market a few notable technologies. One of them is Molecular Match, founded by MD Anderson researcher James Welsh, which last week went live with its web portal to more efficiently connect patients with clinical trials. Another startup, Decisio Healthcare, developed software that aggregates data from a number of different health monitoring machines present in both critical care settings—like the ER and ICU—as well as in patient rooms. The software collects the information and displays it onto one screen, flagging care … Next Page »

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