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San Antonio has opportunity to be global star in immunotherapy
August 8, 2018

BioMed SA President Ann Stevens said the "stars are aligning" when it comes to the city carving out a greater niche in immunotherapy LYNDSEY JOHNSON

W. Scott Bailey, Senior Reporter, San Antonio Business Journal

The assets San Antonio is amassing in immunotherapy could position the city to become a major player in a quickly evolving space.

San Antonio's opportunity to grab a prominent spotlight on the global bioscience stage may be knocking as the pace of progress in immunotherapy accelerates.

Immunotherapy — the use of the human immune system to fight disease — has become increasingly important in the battle against cancer, and San Antonio researchers have been among its pioneers.

“This is still a relatively new field. But there has been a rapid expansion of approved products. It’s only going to continue to mushroom from here,” said Dr. George Peoples, founder of San Antonio-based clinical research organization Cancer Insight. “This is the hottest area in cancer research. And San Antonio has played an instrumental role in the lead up. We’ve done a lot of foundational work in the immunotherapy space.”

BioMed SA President Ann Stevens is among the city’s biggest believers that immunotherapy is a niche San Antonio can own because of its deep roots in cancer research and drug development, as well as the recruiting strength of industry leaders such as Peoples.

“I believe Dr. People’s reputation in immunotherapy as a pioneer is a draw,” she said. “People want to work with him.”

One of San Antonio’s latest bioscience wins is Pelican Therapeutics, a subsidiary of Durham, North Carolina-based Heat Biologics, which decided to establish a headquarters in the Alamo City — in part because of the collaborative network Peoples and Cancer Insight have helped create here.

“There was an opportunity to work hand in hand with his group,” Pelican CEO Rahul Jasuja said. “That was a major driving factor.”

Peoples said San Antonio will remain attractive because of other pioneers who have had success here, including South Texas Accelerated Research Therapeutics and it’s co-founder, Dr. Anthony Tolcher, who this spring launched a new venture called Next Oncology.

San Antonio is also building more academic muscle in immunotherapy, with institutions such as UT Health San Antonio and its Mays Cancer Center set to play bigger roles moving forward.

The latter, Peoples predicts, is poised to become a “robust center of excellence” that will further deepen San Antonio’s talent pool in immunotherapy.

“The resources are all here. The points of expertise are here,” he said. “It’s an area we can further exploit.”

BioMed SA is working with consulting firm Frost & Sullivan to complete the second phase of its industry action plan, which will focus on three of the city’s core areas of expertise, including cancer. That plan will likely reinforce the opportunities available in immunotherapy.

“The strong academic is there. The commercial is happening,” Stevens said. “The stars are aligning.”

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