Saturday, February 27, 2010

Changing the game in vaccine research

In Wednesday's Wall Street Journal
Leaders of the Texas Plant-Expressed Vaccine Consortium today announced a biotherapeutic manufacturing initiative designed to show proof of concept for a landmark new technology that could dramatically increase the nation’s capability to produce vaccines for infectious diseases, including influenza.
We have a Texas Plant-Expressed Vaccine Consortium? Where have they been before now? Vision 1920 wonders if this is a new operation or if it has been around since A&M lost Charles Arntzen's project to express vaccines in bananas to Cornell. Or since A&Ms partnership with ProdiGene ran aground.
Project GreenVax, which utilizes tobacco plants rather than the current egg-based vaccine technology, holds the promise of shortening vaccine production to a fraction of the current time, allowing rapid response to newly emerging viruses not possible with current technology. The majority of funding for the project is provided by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
“Project GreenVax and the NCTM are game-changers. They have the potential to transform not just vaccine production, but the entire biopharmaceutical manufacturing industry,” said Dr. Brett Giroir, vice chancellor for research for the A&M System and executive director of the Institute for Innovative Therapeutics (IIT), the newly established institute representing the partnership between the system’s multiple state-of-the-art research facilities.
Bayer Cropsciences has already taken similar technology to phase 1 clinical trials. G-Con's team had some connection to the Bayer system, but it seems like there was a complex combination of collaboration and competition involved. G-Con's founder was with Large Scale Biology, which didn't lose...they just ran out of time.

Expect the potbangers to quibble about whether Project Greenvax is really game changing. But maybe that's not the game Dr. Giroir, who brings his DARPA connections to A&M, is talking about.

In other vaccine news:
In a move touted as by many experts as questionable at best, PharmAthene has seen millions of dollars added to a 2003 contract without competing for it.

PharmAthene, which held closes ties to the late Congressman John Murtha and current DHS Under Secretary Tara O'Toole, was originally awarded the contract by BARDA. This new influx of money is part of a 2008 HHS request for a proposal for a second-generation anthrax vaccine.

At A&M a regular VP is not good enough for facilities

In Thursday's Eagle:
Texas A&M's top facilities official will work for the A&M System, officials said this week.

Chuck Sippial, vice president for facilities, will transition to special assistant to Vergel Gay, chief facilities planning and construction officer for the 11-university system, said President R. Bowen Loftin. The $238,000-a-year vice president position will be abolished. Sippial's new pay was unclear late Wednesday.

Loftin also said he will create a new position called senior vice president for administration, which will oversee the facilities department.
Vision 1920 thought special assistant is a job title we usually use when we fire football coaches. Good to know that the hiring freeze and budget woes haven't spread to the System level. In Friday's Eagle:
Texas A&M's vice president for research, Jeffrey Seemann, will head a search committee that will look for the senior vice president for administration, officials said Thursday.
Vision 1920 is confident that half a dozen instructors from the English department could do just as good a job of watching our infrastructure crumble.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

About G-Con

Earlier, we wondered about the identity of G-Con, the industry partner that local officials and Texas A&M are planning to work with to "bring a large biomedical research and vaccination manufacturing center to Bryan". At the time, G-con's website looked brand new, and didn't have information about who they are. But Vision 1920 just checked the site again and we see that the about page has been updated:
Dr. Barry Holtz, President of G-Con, is a recognized international expert on design and construction of pharmaceutical facilities. David Haselwood, an experienced life science entrepreneur, investor and operator, heads up business operations for G-Con.
Barry Holtz appears to be the proprietor of Holtz BioPharma Consulting
Dr. Holtz has 30 years of experience in the development of bioproducts and biopharmaceuticals. Serving 15 years as Senior Vice President for Large Scale Biology Corporation, Dr. Holtz was responsible for the product development, clinical development and manufacturing compliance of the company's proprietary therapeutics portfolio. These projects included leading development and manufacturing teams that successfully brought a recombinant, plant-made, patient specific vaccine, for treatment of indolent Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma,from the bench to human clinical trials. Dr. Holtz was also responsible for the design, construction and commissioning of the LSBC biopharmaceutical production facility in Owensboro, Kentucky. Dr. Holtz has also designed and built two other bioproducts facilities for other clients. Recent efforts have included design and construction of cancer vaccine facilities, implementing proteogenomics into vaccine manufacture and international development of biotechnology development in resource challenged countries.

Prior to Large Scale Biology, Dr. Holtz was the founder and President of Holtz Bio-Engineering. Over its' nine year history, the company was involved in the development of bioreactor based processes for the biotechnology sector and developed a proprietary line of bioreactors and distributed logic control systems for cell culture. Holtz Bio-Engineering was merged into Large Scale Biology in 1989.

Dr. Holtz has held research management positions at Foremost-Mckesson and was on the faculty of Ohio State University. He received his Ph.D. at Pennsylvania State University and was an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Dr. Holtz has been awarded 22 US patents and has published over 50 scientific papers. Dr. Holtz was awarded the Pennsylvania State University, Outstanding Alumni Award in 2003.
Pubmed finds some papers that could be from Holtz's graduate and postdoctoral work. More relevant to the NCTM is this paper from Large Scale Biology Corporation describing production of anticancer vaccines using Tobacco Mosaic Virus vectors in plants. This has been used by Bayer, in collaboration with Icon Genetics (a competitor of LSBC?), which is also listed under the projects page at G-Con.

Large Scale Biology Corporation appears to have published the paper a couple of years after going bankrupt.

David Haselwood is a 2004 Berkeley MPH/MBA who has also been with Gradalis since 2008. From 2004-2006, he worked at Burrill & Company, a venture capital firm focusing on biotech.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Faculty and Staff Appreciation Night

Tonight's women's basketball game was Faculty and Staff Appreciation night. Vision 1920 hopes these people are feeling appreciated.
Jimmie Killingsworth has had easier Mondays.

It's not every day the head of the English department at Texas A&M has to call an 8 a.m. meeting and tell about 30 people that it would be wise to look for other jobs.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Don't ask, tell

A tidbit from the story about Don Cloud's unhappiness with changes at TAMU:
In a lengthier interview Friday with The Eagle, the day he was officially confirmed as president, Loftin was asked whether a regent had asked him to make the change.

"No," he said.

He immediately was asked whether a regent had told him to make the change.

Loftin stared at the table for about five seconds without saying a word and glanced at his spokesman, Jason Cook, who jumped in.

I wandered lonely as a Cloud

Yesterday's Eagle
Texas A&M donor Don Cloud said he'd been stewing since the January resignation of Lt. Gen. John Van Alstyne, commandant over the Corps of Cadets.

So the class of 1959 Aggie graduate typed up an e-mail last week, carried around a rough draft in his shirt pocket for a day, and then fired away to Lt. Gen. Joe Weber, Texas A&M's vice president for student affairs.

"My wife and I hereby notify you of our resignation from the Aggie Spirit Development Council and wish to have no further association with you whatsoever," wrote Cloud, student commander of the Corps of Cadets in the 1950s.
Don Cloud gained national attention in the 1958 game against SMU in the Cotton Bowl
Texas Record is established as a boy and girl meet at half time in the middle of the Cotton Bowl and, in front of 53,000 patient fans, kiss for one minute and 45.8 seconds. The stalwart lad is Texas A&M ROTC Commander Don Cloud; the stalwart lass is Aggie Sweetheart Millie Rowland. The big smooch is a traditional ceremony, and the ceremony has become more everlasting every year. This time the kiss was so protracted the 240-piece A&M military band marched off the field leaving the couple as lonesome as a pair of lonesome ends.
The Aggies lost that day, 33-0. Cloud has been a donor to the Corps endowed scholarships.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hutchison's vision vs. Vision 1920

The Eagle met with Senator Hutchison, who blasted our incumbent Governor over Texas A&M
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison chastised Gov. Rick Perry in an interview Wednesday for what she called his "egregious" micromanaging at Texas A&M University and pledged to strive to elevate the school to one of the elite public colleges in the United States, if elected.

"My vision for the university is that it be one of the top 10 public universities in the nation, and we have the resources to do it," she said. "And I have so much support among Aggies who are devastated by the heavy-handedness and micromanaging of Texas A&M that Gov. Perry has done."
Why waste resources catering to the rankings of academic elitists when we all know there's nothing wrong with Texas A&M that bringing back Bonfire wouldn't fix? We need a Governor who understands the goals of Vision 1920.

If not Perry, who?

Earlier, Vision1920 wondered whether Eastern Illinois president Bill Perry was the other candidate for the TAMU presidency. We now hear through our grapevine that sources are denying that it was him, which leads to the question: Were we seriously considering someone from Eastern Illinois who was not even the sitting president?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

G-Con game?

In today's Eagle
The Texas A&M University System and local government leaders are working to firm up plans to bring a large biomedical research and vaccination manufacturing center to Bryan, officials said Tuesday.

The proposal hasn't been finalized, but officials said they hope the biomanufacturing company G-Con, LLC will build a 100,000-square-foot facility near the system's new Health Science Center that's under construction.
Vision 1920 is excited! Not that we know much about G-Con LLC. They do have a website, though.

We can tell that there's serious science going on at G-Con by looking at those two people pipetting dry ice vapor out of that bottle. Clearly, the G-Con folks scoff at pansies who think they should be using safety glasses or do this in a hood. They'll fit right in here at A&M.
Officials, who said word on funding may come within three weeks, expect the project to bring almost 150 jobs to the area with an average salary of $75,000 a year.

The project is likely to spur more development in the biomedical industry around the Health Science Center and the Institute for Innovative Therapeutics, helping develop a "biotechnology corridor" on the periphery of A&M's campus near Texas 47.
G-Con's website doesn't describe them (whoever they are) as vaccine manufacturers who will use NCTM's next generation facilities to make their vaccines. They describe themselves this way:
G-Con’s mission is to revolutionize the biomanufacturing industry by providing its clients with a comprehensive GMP manufacturing solution that is cheaper to build, flexible, cheaper to maintain and easier to operate than any existing solution on the market.

G-Con provides its partners with comprehensive biomanufacturing services including (as appropriate) facility design, facility construction, module design and module maintenance.
...which sounds like they're planning on selling these services to the NCTM, not buying from the NCTM. Interestingly, the collective resume of G-Con team members includes:
National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing, Texas A & M University

Members of the design team
Unlike some of our prior industrial partners, G-Con is clearly going to be able to sell their products. We can guarantee it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Consensus builder

Austin American Statesman calls Loftin a consensus builder. Vision 1920 notes that the reporter does not go far enough. He should tell us what that consensus is in the areas mentioned in the article.
He pledged strong support for shared governance, the practice of consulting with faculty members, students and other stakeholders before making major decisions. It's a touchy subject at A&M: Faculty members voted to express no confidence in McKinney shortly after Murano's resignation, citing the chancellor's assertion that he takes his marching orders from the regents.
Where does Loftin stand with respect to confidence in the Chancellor
Loftin said he knows that he must stay in close touch with faculty members and students, "not just by listening but by telling what I know. I also have got to have a strong working relationship with the chancellor, which I've had for a long time," Loftin said. "Within a week of his becoming chancellor (in 2006), he was down in Galveston for a visit, and we got acquainted then. We've been able to work together pretty effectively ever since."
This might not seem like consensus to an outsider. But that would be wrong.
Faculty members seem satisfied with the regents' choice for president, said Robert Bednarz , speaker of the Faculty Senate and a member of the search committee that recommended Loftin and one other candidate, whose identity has not been disclosed.
Qui tacet consentire videtur.