On Monday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Texas A&M University System will be holding simultaneous press conferences — the former in Washington, D.C., and the latter in Austin. HHS and A&M officials were unavailable Friday to comment on what could be a coincidence, but there are compelling reasons to believe it isn't.
An HHS release previews an announcement of "new centers in the United States that can develop and manufacture countermeasures — such as vaccines and medicines used to protect health in emergencies — and can transition quickly and cost effectively between products."
"The centers will aid in bringing new medical countermeasures to the market fast and will help train the biopharmaceutical workforce needed in the future," the release says.
Fewer details were included in an A&M System media advisory, which merely notes that Chancellor John Sharp and Richard Box, the chairman of the A&M board of regents, will be on hand for an "important announcement."
But A&M has been vying for one of these centers for some time. The effort to assemble the necessary components for a thriving biotech corridor in Bryan-College Station has been spearheaded by Dr. Brett Giroir, the system's vice chancellor for strategic initiatives.
Here's an excerpt from a story on A&M's hopes to become a hub of vaccine production that appeared in the Tribune in November 2010:
Giroir says he believes a confluence of factors has primed Bryan and neighboring College Station, where Texas A&M’s flagship campus is located, to be the country’s “third coast” of pharmaceutical manufacturing, with dozens of companies cropping up in the next five to 10 years — a tall order for a highly agricultural area with a population of around 200,000 and an economy driven almost solely by the university...
...From the federal perspective, the developments at Texas A&M are strategically well-timed. In August, in the wake of a frustratingly slow response to the swine flu pandemic, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a report calling for “the nimble, flexible capacity” to produce medical countermeasures like vaccines “in the face of any attack or threat, known or unknown.”
In March 2011, HHS put out a request for proposals for potential new centers for defense against infectious diseases and other biological threats. In May, the A&M System announced that it was throwing its hat in the ring. Here's an excerpt from the Tribune story that ran on the day of that announcement:
The A&M System has assembled a team of more than 20 companies, universities and medical research centers from around the globe that together hope to form a new National Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a request for proposals for such centers, which could receive upwards of $1.2 billion, in March...
...Because this sort of effort is new for Texas, Giroir says the A&M team should be considered underdogs going into this bid. “There are going to be many, many competitive teams from many other states,” he said, noting that North Carolina and New Jersey, in particular, have much longer histories with pharmaceutical manufacturing.
Still, the A&M System team includes some heavyweights, such as European pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals, The Sabin Vaccine Institute of Washington, D.C., and Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine. “If you had to bet on a team for the country, this is the one I’d bet on,” said Giroir.
The project quickly shot to the top of Sharp's priority list when he was appointed chancellor in September 2011.
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