San Antonio Announces Military Life Science Commercialization Action Plan

By Iris Gonzalez
An image of a gloved hand of a lab worker holdsing a petri dish

The City of San Antonio and the San Antonio Economic Development Corporation (SAEDC) released its San Antonio Military Life Science Commercialization Action Plan Tuesday. The plan maps out ways to create entrepreneurial opportunities by leveraging a new formal alliance among the defense, educational, and private entities in San Antonio. This new alliance will draw upon San Antonio’s significant military medical research industry to create life science companies, jobs, and mutual partnerships.

San Antonio has several leading military medical research missions including the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research (USAISR), the Navy Medical Research Unit San Antonio (NAMRU-SA), and the Air Force’s 59th Medical Wing. Along with experts working in local private medical and academic research institutions such as the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, Southwest Research Institute, BioBridge Global, The University of Texas-San Antonio, and UT Health Science San Antonio, these military centers of excellence provide promising potential for research partnerships and life science commercialization opportunities. With the City’s new plan in place, these institutions will be able to collaborate through a cooperative network to share information and spur new growth in the life science industry.

The San Antonio Economic Development Department (SAEDD) formed a military life science working group of local industry, academic, and military leaders in 2017. The City hired consultant Teresa Evans in January 2018 to develop a strategy and action plan.

The study examined San Antonio’s military life science landscape to discover “pipelines for collaborative innovation, development, and commercialization,” according to the study’s author, consultant Teresa Evans.

The action plan calls for a formal partnership among industry partners, as well as for a full-time employee focused on helping partners navigate the military tech transfer system as well as supporting commercialization of military medical research to increase life science commercialization opportunities and outcomes for local entrepreneurs.

“I can certainly say we are all excited about the community’s initiative to strengthen existing military medical partnerships and to provide new avenues for commercializing the results of our large research and development investments in the City of San Antonio necessary to meet our military medical mission for the Department of Defense,” stated Col. (Dr.) Jerome Buller, Commander of the US Army Institute of Surgical Research in a press release.

Given San Antonio’s significant military population—home to almost one-quarter of the total active duty service members in Texas, according to the study— the military concentration accounts for over $48 billion in economic output for the region. San Antonio’s strategic advantages as the home base for military research, clinical infrastructure, and consistently strong levels of DoD funding positions the City to capitalize on the productive collaboration of military and life sciences cultures.

“This Action Plan is a reflection of this alignment and has already served to further ignite collaboration and increased innovation in San Antonio,” Evans said. “It is through these partnerships that we seek to catalyze innovations to shape the future of the life science industry and support our country’s warfighters.”

The plan recommends implementation in two phases. Phase I will focus on identifying potential near-term commercialization opportunities, establishing partnerships between the military and community medical research entities, aligning key government and community stakeholders, and developing a charter outlining a strategic execution plan. Phase II includes introducing a San Antonio Military Medical Innovation (SAMMI) specialist to implement the charter and coordinate the development of a local alliance that will provide long-term sustainability and funding for the project. The goal is to hire the SAMMI specialist position within one year. The specialist would be embedded within the local military life science infrastructure to promote the exchange of information across the civilian and military life science ecosystem.

In addition to today’s release of the action plan, the SAEDC board also approved initial funding of $50,000 for Evans to implement Phase I of the action plan over the next six months.

“Forming an alliance with our public and private partners, such as UTSA, UT Health San Antonio, Texas Biomed, SwRI, and BioBridge Global, is crucial to the success of the plan’s implementation,” SAEDD director Rene Dominguez stated. “This collaboration will align key stakeholders and build on each partner’s individual strengths and capabilities to ensure the long-term success of this innovative life science initiative.”

The study has a list of actionable recommendations, the first stating the City must “ensure alignment of the Action Plan with the Military Medical Mission to meet the specific needs of our warfighters as this provides unique value to the proposed San Antonio military partnership and increases the potential for commercialization of military relevant innovations.” City leadership has been supportive of the long-term approach to formalizing partnerships between civilian and military life science researchers.

“Playing a key role in our national security effort is foremost, but the significant and growing military medical research missions in San Antonio provide our community an outstanding advantage,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg stated. “We can partner with and leverage these missions to create commercialization opportunities for our local entrepreneurs and to increase the growth of our life science ecosystem.”

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