The Texas Institute for Genomic Medicine — essentially a high-level mouse lab that has been a tangential topic in the race for governor — just won a grant that could quiet its detractors.
Two months ago, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White called for an independent audit of the Texas Enterprise Fund, a business development fund overseen by his opponent, Gov. Rick Perry. Specifically, he wanted answers on $35 million given to the struggling biotech firm Lexicon Genetics.
Lexicon’s millions were part of a $50 million payout — the largest-ever TEF grant — to create TIGM (pronounced tig-um) as a public-private partnership between the company and Texas A&M University. The resulting ups and (primarily) downs were laid out in The Texas Tribune earlier this year.
Now entirely a public enterprise overseen by the Texas A&M University System, TIGM just announced a more than $12 million award from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a division of the U.S. Department of Defense.
Essentially, the award will allow Dr. James Sacchettini and Dr. Deeann Wallis to create what Wallis refers to as “a new platform” to screen their entire stem cell library. This will circumvent the expensive and time consuming process of first growing mice with different genes knocked out, then testing each individual mouse.
They will begin by using the platform to screen for new therapies for a toxin (botulism), a virus (rabies) and a bacteria (brucella). Wallis says they hope to see results in about two years. Ideally, the end result would be a method of quickly screening for ways to counteract any toxic threat or infectious disease — like SARS or H1N1.
Texas A&M System Vice Chancellor for Research Brett Giroir tries not to focus on the politics of TIGM. “What we’re focused on is doing the work,” he says. “We’re not so worried about detractors or supporters, but it’s fair to say that this [$12 million contract] is a major new chapter. It’s a nice beginning, but it’s not the end.”