COLLEGE STATION, Texas—Tra-ditionally, the Texas A&M University system's health sciences program hasn't exactly been a darling in terms of getting research grants, particularly from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). But the university aims to change that with the founding of the Texas Institute for Genomic Medicine (TIGM).
The establishment of the new non-profit institute is a joint effort between Texas A&M University in College Station, the Texas A&M University System Health Science Center Institute of Biosciences and Technology (IBT) at Texas Medical Center in Houston, and Lexicon Genetics of The Woodlands, Texas. The initial fuel for the effort comes from a $50 million award from the state via the Texas Enterprise Fund.
If the award is the fuel, Lexicon is the engine that will drive the new institute. Lexicon will create a comprehensive knockout mouse embryonic stem cell library for TIGM containing 350,000 cell lines—which is expected to be the largest in the world. One copy of the library will be housed in remodeled facilities at IBT in Houston and another copy will be located at a new research and commercialization facility to be built at Texas A&M in College Station.
In terms of research monies, Texas A&M has been better known for veterinary work than human health sciences in the past, but officials at the university expect that to change soon.
"This is a historic departure for A&M, which hadn't been doing any big life science ventures before," notes Dr. Richard H. Finnell, director of IBT and interim director of TIGM. "But under the leadership of our current research V.P., Rick Ewing, we have been looking for opportunities to do bigger, more national-scale work. There was just a nice confluence of opportunities right now with Lexicon being one of the largest biotech employers in the state and being located near the A&M campus—and our congressional leaders and governor's office having an interest in seeing A&M step forward in the health sciences research world."
"I am proud that Texas is committing $50 million from the Enterprise Fund to help establish the Texas Institute for Genomic Medicine, a groundbreaking genetics research center that will bring 5,000 new jobs to Texas, attract millions of new dollars for medical research and lead to the development of life-saving medical treatments and therapies," says Governor Rick Perry in a prepared statement announcing the funding.
The Enterprise Fund award matches the previous record for most money granted to a single project. The A&M System will receive $15 million to create facilities and infrastructure to house the library and Lexicon Genetics will receive $35 million.
Institute researchers will have certain rights to utilize Lexicon's patented gene targeting technologies. In addition, Lexicon will equip the TIGM with the bioinformatics software required for the management and analysis of data relating its mouse embryonic stem cell library.
Currently 270,000 stem cell lines strong, A&M researchers will have immediate access to the library while the new cell line libraries are being created.
The library that will be constructed using Lexicon's proprietary mouse gene knockout technology will enable researchers to develop mice with specific genes removed so the function of genes from such mice can be studied and comparing against normal mice. Such work is critical, notes A&M Vice President for Research Richard Ewing, with the majority of drugs intended to block certain functions in the body via gene blocking –a promising area for drug discovery.
"If we can identify these genes, we can help build a pharmaceutical industry in this state," Ewing told The Bryan-College Station Eagle newspaper in August. "We think that Texas has the potential and has the infrastructure ready, but it needs something like this."