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Governments Pay for Research, Jobs in San Antonio Tech and Science

Xconomy Texas — 

San Antonio — Finding funding for tech and life science ventures is no easy endeavor, be it an academic setting or in the corporate world. Government groups in Texas announced this week that they’re providing money to both sectors in San Antonio to boost research and job growth.

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), a state-run program that funds early stage cancer research, is giving $4.6 million to a research center that aims to develop potential new small molecule drug candidates for a variety of conditions, including cancer. Called the Center for Innovative Drug Discovery, the research group was founded in 2012 as a joint venture between the University of Texas at San Antonio and the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Meanwhile, the city of San Antonio has awarded a $100,000 grant to Dialpad, a San Francisco-based tech company that provides cloud-based communication services such as voice and video chats, messaging, and other communication services for businesses. For taking the grant, Dialpad, formerly known as Switch.co, is on the line to bring a total of 50 jobs to the city. The Bexar County government is also considering providing $75,000, and plans to vote on the funding Aug. 23. Dialpad already employs six people in San Antonio.

For the drug discovery center, the money from CPRIT is expected to help it expand the amount of cancer research it can do. The center, which goes by CIDD, plans to add to the number of compounds it can screen potential targets against, as well as potentially to make new hires and buy more research tools, according to Matt Hart, the director of the Health Science Center’s division of the program.

The Health Science Center operates a high through-put screening facility that can analyze and assess a potential target for cancer treatment—such as a target on a particular protein on a cancer cell—and match it against the database of potential chemical compounds, Hart says. When the group finds a potential match, it will send the candidate to the University of Texas at San Antonio, which operates a medical chemistry facility. There, they try to improve the properties of a small molecule candidate to make it more effective against the cancer it targets, says Stanton McHardy, the director of the UTSA chemistry division of the venture and a former Pfizer chemist.

CIDD currently has about 60 potential drug candidates it is working with, and about 50 of them target cancer, McHardy says. The furthest developed is targeting breast cancer, though it also has potential targets in ovarian and brain cancer. While the funding is focused on cancer, CIDD also develops targets for infectious diseases, neuroscience conditions, and metabolic diseases.

“It’s going to allow us to not only bolster our existing cancer projects, but also start brand new ones,” McHardy says. Hart said the group may use some of the funding to expand the number of molecules on file from 72,000 to upwards of 150,000.

For the tech funding of Dialpad, it could mean that Dialpad will open its own offices in San Antonio, while keeping its headquarters in San Francisco. The company currently has an office in Geekdom, the downtown San Antonio co-working space.

Dialpad received a $35 million Series C funding in May 2015, having raised about $53 million total. The company’s investors include Amasia Capital, Felicis Ventures, Softbank, Work-Bench, Google Ventures, and Andreessen Horowitz.

Dialpad is the second company that the city and county have provided funding to as an incentive to bring more jobs to San Antonio. Earlier this month, the local governments offered Easyexpunctions.com a combined $150,000 to create some 42 jobs in San Antonio. The company, founded last year, offers expunction and non-disclosure services for people in Texas, Ohio, Illinois, and Maryland. It is relocating from Austin to the Alamo City.