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San Antonio seeking to enlist China in biomed push
April 6, 2012

BioMed SA's Ann Stevens says San Antonio has "distinct advantages" as it moves to become a major player in regenerative medicine. By Erik Reyna, San Antonio Business Journal

By W. Scott Bailey, San Antonio Business Journal

San Antonio's bioscience leaders are working to position the Alamo City as a major center for regenerative-medicine research and development.

Those officials believe collaboration with researchers in China could significantly boost this region's chances of becoming an international leader in the emerging field.

"San Antonio's approach to regenerative medicine is characterized by a number of unique assets, including military medicine, dental applications and non-human primate models," says BioMed SA President Ann Stevens, who is among those who believe that the Alamo City is on the cusp of something special. "As a result, San Antonio may have some distinct advantages when it comes to the development of regenerative medicine therapies."

BioMed SA is finalizing work on a strategic asset initiative in an effort to determine the city's areas of strength in the bioscience arena. It has identified regenerative medicine as one of the top five areas where San Antonio has a unique opportunity to make a significant impact in health care on a national and global stage.

If San Antonio can become a major international player in regenerative medicine, that could have a profound impact on the city's multibillion-dollar health and bioscience industry - and it could attract the attention of other researchers and companies interested in relocating to the region.

Regenerative medicine is a rapidly evolving interdisciplinary field that draws on fundamental knowledge from biology, chemistry and physics to create materials, devices, systems and therapeutic strategies - including cell-based therapies that augment, repair, replace or regenerate organs and tissues. Researchers are exploring, for example, the use of umbilical cord blood to treat neurological disorders.

"Though the regenerative medicine and stem cell arena is relatively new, San Antonio has an unusually broad array of institutions and companies on its cutting edge," says Dr. Steven A. Davis, CEO of StemBioSys LLC, a locally-based company that was launched in November to commercialize next-generation, non-embryonic stem cell technology developed at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Davis says the Alamo City has "one of the greatest" collections of organizations and facilities to support regenerative-medicine research and development. That infrastructure includes the Health Science Center, research institutes, private industry and the U.S. military.

Because of that infrastructure and support, Davis says San Antonio is poised to become a major player in regenerative medicine - at the international level.

Collaboration
In December, Mary Beth Fisk, president and chief operating officer of the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center and GenCure, an entity spawned by the STBTC, chaired a forum on stem cell and tissue engineering at the Fourth Annual Congress of Regenerative Medicine & Stem Cells in Beijing.

"Regenerative medicine is an emerging field not bound by geography," Fisk says. "I certainly think there is a great opportunity for companies in San Antonio like GenCure to have an international role in regenerative medicine."

Last week, experts gathered in San Antonio for a regenerative medicine symposium featuring bioscience leaders from the Alamo City, as well as doctors Yilin Cao and Wei Liu, director and chief scientific officer, respectfully, for the National Tissue Engineering Research Center of China.

San Antonio officials say the symposium offered an opportunity for the city to showcase some of its regenerative medicine strengths to the Chinese.

"The purpose of the San Antonio symposium was to discuss the opportunities for collaboration between San Antonio and China," says the Health Science Center's Dr. Xiao-Dong Chen, who was raised in Shanghai and is an experienced stem cell researcher.

City Councilwoman Elisa Chan, who has worked to forge cultural and economic relations with China, believes those efforts could pay dividends as San Antonio looks to build an international presence in regenerative medicine.

"I think we have many areas where we can collaborate with China," she says.

Chan says one thing that San Antonio can offer China is expertise in hospital management and patient-record technology.

"China really lacks that," she says.

But Chan believes the best opportunity for collaboration will likely be on the research front.

"That's where there is some real potential," she says.

Unique assets
San Antonio's advancements in trauma care are one reason local officials believe the city can become a bigger player in regenerative medicine.

"Being the home of U.S. military medicine and also the National Trauma Institute puts San Antonio in the national spotlight in terms of wound healing and trauma research," BioMed SA's Stevens says. "By actively collaborating with each other, our military and civilian medical communities have an opportunity to accelerate the development of new therapies and raise San Antonio's profile in the process."

Other U.S. cities are seeking to carve out their own niche in the regenerative medicine industry.

StemBioSys' Davis points to Boston and San Diego as examples of regions that have gained serious momentum.

But Davis insists that San Antonio has distinct advantages over other cities.

"Regenerative medicine is a very dynamic, emerging field of medicine with immense promise for treating human disease," Stevens says.
"With its unique assets and collaborative nature, San Antonio has an opportunity to lead the way in developing new therapies."

 

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