New Precision Therapeutics Partnership to Highlight San Antonio’s Unique Bioscience Capabilities

By Iris Gonzalez
Pipette amidst test tubes in a lab. Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash.

Tuesday’s announcement of a new major collaborative initiative focused on San Antonio’s unique strengths in precision therapeutics will help boost the city’s biomedical capability for innovation in healthcare.

The presidents of San Antonio’s four largest research institutions announced Tuesday they are collectively funding the new nonprofit San Antonio Partnership for Precision Therapeutics or SAPPT with $800,000 from UT Health San Antonio, the Texas Biomedical Research Institute (Texas Biomed), The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), and Southwest Research Institute (SwRI).

This groundbreaking initiative will fund researchers working collaboratively across the four institutions, serving as a model for interdisciplinary development of breakthrough therapies customized for each patient.

The leaders at San Antonio’s major research institutions have forged an agreement to build more cross-institution research teams and attract more talent and funding. The common goal is becoming a highly competitive city of bioscience innovation.

Dr. Larry Schlesinger, president and CEO at Texas Biomedical Research Institute, UTSA president Taylor Eighmy, UT Health San Antonio president Dr. William Henrich, and SwRI CEO Adam Hamilton agreed to not only work more closely with each other and the military bioscience community but to encourage more cross-institution research collaboration and identify different ways to bring more talent to San Antonio.

Scientific collaboration has grown since the 1950s as science has become more specialized, driving the need for bigger research teams. Discoveries in basic sciences in the laboratories increasingly depend upon working across disciplines and institutions, sharing research for increased impact.

The four research institutions together generate over $1 billion in bioscience grants and contracts. They are working together to develop a research pipeline for precision therapeutics that can be used in individualized medicine. The novel personalized approach to treating disease in a patient is based on that person’s genetic signature.

“Precision therapeutics allows us to tailor our treatments from person to person,” Schlesinger said. “What is most exciting is that this program will completely integrate the approach of precision medicine with the discovery of new treatments as well as the reformulation of existing drugs and drug combinations to address the growing drug resistance problem. It’s a game-changing approach to health care that will allow us to more quickly get therapies to market and work for the majority of those who need it most.”

SAPPT efforts will include recruiting top-tier scientists, fostering joint appointments, and funding innovative inter-organizational pilot research projects. The goal is to identify respective missions and strengths and leverage opportunities to work together

While precision medicine generally focuses on personalized interventions that are based on genetics, environment, and diet, precision therapeutics adds those insights to inform drug discovery pathways. The new program’s goal is to create much needed, breakthrough treatments individualized to specific patient populations.

An added benefit for researchers within the SAPPT will be conducting clinical trials in a city that reflects what U.S.-wide demographics will look like by 2045. Of San Antonio’s 1.5 million residents, 65% are Hispanic. The city’s Hispanic population is expected to double by the year 2050, thus currently reflecting the demographics projected for the country in another 30 years.

“The San Antonio Partnership for Precision Therapeutics is an innovative and high-impact initiative that will put the patient first by fundamentally changing the way new treatments are developed for cancer, obesity, diabetes, infectious diseases, and other debilitating conditions,” said Henrich. “Diversity is the key to discovering and developing improved and more effective drug therapies. Due to its diverse population, San Antonio is the exemplar for this groundbreaking partnership.”

What is so unique about San Antonio’s bioscience sector?

Texas Biomed is a world-leader in the science of infectious diseases and is the only place in the world with both a National Primate Research Center and a privately owned animal biosafety level four maximum containment laboratory. 

UTSA’s research portfolio includes biomedical research. Its Center for Innovative Drug Discovery, a joint venture with UT Health San Antonio, provides core facilities and expertise to facilitate the translation of fundamental scientific discoveries into tangible pre-clinical candidate drugs.

UT Health San Antonio is home to the Mays Cancer Center, one of only four National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Centers in Texas, which includes its Institute for Drug Development. UT Health San Antonio also features the Center for Renal Precision Medicine, the Center on Smart and Connected Healthcare Technologies, the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases, and the Sam and Ann Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies. 

SwRI, a leading applied science institution, offers resources for commercialization of drug and formulation technology. Scientists work in micro and nanoencapsulation technologies to solve complex drug delivery problems and accelerate drug discovery and development. SwRI also maintains FDA-inspected and Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP)-certified facilities where it conducts pharmaceutical development and formulation of quality products for preclinical and clinical testing.

Read more: SwRI Shares Pharmaceutical Expertise

“The San Antonio Partnership for Precision Therapeutics is a highly innovative initiative that will uniquely leverage our combined assets and expertise to create a competitive advantage for San Antonio and elevate its biosciences ecosystem to the international stage,” Hamilton said. “With this partnership, San Antonio has the potential to revolutionize the development and delivery of therapeutics in a holistic way. This could be the model that defines health care around the world for generations to come.”

The SAPPT will include collaborative research project teams, overseen by a leadership council and external advisory board. A technical steering committee composed of senior technical leads from all four institutions and pharmaceutical and industry experts will guide the selection of projects and commercialization opportunities.

A call for proposals attracted 12 letters of intent from researchers, with six invited to submit proposals for funding, according to SAPPT interim operations director Liz Tullis. The committee is reviewing those to select one to three proposals for funding. The first funded projects will be announced sometime in mid-December, Tullis said.

“It takes a catalytic moment like this,” Eighmy said. “Things are aligning, and we are at the right time and in the right place.”

Featured image is of a pipette and test tubes in a lab. Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash.

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