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Trauma care has great promise as biotech focus for San Antonio, expert says
August 13, 2010

San Antonio Business Journal - by W. Scott Bailey

Mauli Agrawal, who played a key role in helping to convince serial entrepreneur Mir Imran to expand his InCube Labs biomedical incubator to San Antonio, says the Alamo City must try and differentiate itself from other science-driven hot spots. He says that is crucial if the city hopes to raise the profile of its bioscience industry.

Agrawal, a biomedical engineer and dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Texas at San Antonio, says the Alamo City must identify and focus on a core bioscience strength. And the area of greatest opportunity, he says, is trauma care and research.

"There are areas where we won't be No. 1," Agrawal explains, noting that it is unlikely, for example, that San Antonio can catch up with Houston, home of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, as a leader in cancer research.

"But there is a niche that we must explore," says Agrawal, whom BioMed SA officials say has just been named the recipient of the group's 2010 Julio Palmaz Award for Innovation in Healthcare and the Biosciences.

"That area, that niche is trauma," Agrawal adds. "This is an area where we could do really well."

It's an area of opportunity that has become increasingly important for San Antonio, Agrawal and others are convinced, in part because of the investment the federal government is making to construct a national military medical center at Fort Sam Houston. As a result of that investment, San Antonio will be home to the Department of Defense's only Level I trauma facility and burn center.

"That is something that Houston can never have," says Agrawal.

"Trauma care and wound healing are one of San Antonio's strengths without a doubt, given our historical military/civilian trauma care alliances, the National Trauma Institute's focus on funding trauma research, and companies like KCI, DPT (Laboratories Ltd.), and Vidacare (Corp.)," says BioMed SA President Ann Stevens.

"Identifying our city's biomedical core competencies is one of BioMed SA's strategic initiatives, and we are undertaking an asset inventory of the sector's strengths to address that issue," she adds.

Great potential
Agrawal says he initially became familiar with Imran and InCube through their involvement with the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, a $200 million initiative created by the Texas Legislature in 2005. At the time, Agrawal says Imran was looking to expand InCube to Dallas, rather than San Antonio.

"Mir and I stayed in touch," Agrawal explains.

Then this spring, Agrawal says he was in a meeting with San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro when City Manager Sheryl Sculley shared with him that local leaders were attempting to persuade Imran to invest here and asked if he knew the California entrepreneur.

"I got involved at that point," Agrawal says.

"Agrawal was a key member of the team that initially showcased San Antonio's potential as an expansion site for InCube," Stevens says. "He subsequently played a key role in UTSA becoming a community investor in the incubator. He was integral throughout the process."

Imran says he was intrigued by the opportunity to work with San Antonio's trauma leaders.

"We want to learn from some of the trauma experts in San Antonio the problems they are facing and see if we can develop some solutions," he says.

UTSA is one of the public investors in the San Antonio InCube lab, committing $500,000 to that project. Agrawal says that relationship will raise the profile of the university, which is pursuing Tier I status as a research institution.

"Mir Imran has been highly successful. It's important to be associated with a group like this because it will bring international exposure to us," Agrawal says. "My role will be to make sure that the partnership continues to grow, that Mir and his companies bring their ideas to the university, and to find outlets through Mir for ideas generated at the university."

UTSA President Ricardo Romo describes Agrawal as a "distinguished teacher, scholar, and innovator."

Henry Cisneros, founding chairman of BioMed SA, says Agrawal "perfectly and humbly embodies the qualities of innovation and leadership" and his "passion for building things, whether it be new products, companies, or educational programs ... is helping San Antonio advance to the next level as a City of Science and Health."

Dr. Ronald Stewart, endowed chair for surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and trauma medical director for University Health System, agrees with Agrawal that San Antonio can differentiate itself from other cities if it excels in the trauma arena.

"San Antonio is unique with its civilian/military collaboration in trauma, which extends beyond medical care to research," Stewart says.

Agrawal says San Antonio has at times struggled with an inferiority complex, but he believes it can be a leader in trauma care and research. "This, in my mind, is the niche which could propel us," Agrawal says. "You have to differentiate and you have to excel. And I think we have great potential because of what is available on the ground."

 

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