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Medical foundation commits $1 million to spur collaborations
April 14, 2015

By Peggy O'Hare, San Antonio Express-News

Competition will increase when the University of Texas opens two new medical schools in Austin and the Rio Grande Valley next year, prompting a greater need for San Antonio's medical research and health care institutions to work more closely together, local medical foundation officials said Monday.

The San Antonio Medical Foundation, which oversees the South Texas Medical Center, announced it will commit up to $1 million to kickstart collaborative efforts among the city's bioscience institutions.

Greater unity will help San Antonio maintain its competitive edge in the biomedical field, foundation officials told the San Antonio Express-News' editorial board.

The funding is intended to stimulate collaborations between medical research institutions, universities, health care systems and major players in the life sciences sector. It will be awarded much like grants and will provide a source of "seed money" or startup funding for qualified projects selected by the foundation, said San Antonio Medical Foundation President Jim Reed. Disbursement of the funds will be limited to endeavors in
Bexar County.

San Antonio currently has the upper hand in the biomedical and health care sectors. The industry remains the city's largest, employing one-sixth of San Antonio residents and generating a local economic impact of more than $24.5 billion annually, the medical foundation said. But local institutions must act swiftly to make sure their research grants, faculty and patients don't leave the area for Austin or the Valley, foundation officials said.
"This is not just a medical center issue - it's a citywide issue," Reed said.

For instance, San Antonio lost 1,000 inpatient admissions and 194,000 outpatient visits in 2012 after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs opened its VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System in Harlingen, Reed said.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine also recruited a group of diabetes and genetics specialists away from the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, said San Antonio Medical Foundation board member Jim Dublin. Those scientists collectively are backed by a $25-million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study diabetes, he said.

"We've got something of a lead right now in our reputation and image in the biomedical area," Dublin said. "You can't afford to give that away, because that's how you attract the best and brightest people."

San Antonio has already established "centers of excellence" in neurosciences and aging; wound care and military medicine; brain, breast and prostate cancers and diabetes, the medical foundation said.

The city has other strengths. It is the only place in South Texas that has two top-level trauma centers. More clinical trials for cancer drugs are conducted here than anywhere else in the nation. The city has ideal demographics for clinical research focused on diabetes and obesity. And the medical foundation still has 280 acres of undeveloped land it could use to entice researchers to the area.

But San Antonio can't take those assets for granted, said Joe Krier, who co-chairs the medical foundation's strategic planning committee.

 

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