Perry announces grant for $80 million biotech center

By: MARK BABINECK, Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press State & Local Wire
May 24, 2004, Monday

The people who will work at the Texas Medical Center's newest neighbor won't make the nation's largest hospital cluster obsolete, but they'll try their best.

Gov. Rick Perry and others announced the pending construction of an $80 million advanced diagnostic imaging research center Monday. Spearheaded by GE Healthcare, scientists there will try to develop ways to pinpoint burgeoning illnesses before they manifest themselves.

"This joint partnership will put Texas at the forefront in the fight against cancer and heart disease and, I might add, bring 2,200 high-skill, high-wage jobs," Perry said, referring to the 10-year timeline of expected job creation.

Nearly 600 jobs are expected to be created once construction is complete in about two years. Groundbreaking is set for later this year.

Perry attended the announcement because a crucial $25 million piece of the project came from the Texas Enterprise Fund. He approved the expenditure after Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick made sure it won legislative approval.

The two University of Texas entities joining the project - the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and the UT Health Science Center - added a combined $25 million and will raise more money. The UT system committed another $5 million.

GE Healthcare said it chose Houston over several other major biotechnology centers around the country because of the collaboration among local researchers and the wealth of resources available at the world's largest medical center. The division of General Electric Co. is providing equipment, technology and expertise.

"Thanks to everyone working together, this one deal alone has the potential to do wonders for both our quality of life and our Texas economy," Dewhurst said.

Scientists will use molecular imaging engineering to develop therapies that can diagnose cancers or other illnesses in their earliest phases - before patients even get sick - and determine proper treatments.

"We will take altered genes and proteins that are functioning abnormally in just a few cells that would cause lethal diseases if left to grow unchecked," said Dr. John Mendelsohn, president at M.D. Anderson. "Within a few days ... we can select the right drug for the right patient at the right time."

Mendelsohn said he and other cancer researchers dream of a day when treatments have started long before telltale tumors or lumps have had time to form.

"Imagine how different it will be to treat a cancer that has only begun its genesis, rather than at an advanced stage, and knowing we are using the right therapy," he said.

The GE center will become the latest tenant of the UT Research Park, which Mendelsohn believes eventually will host as many as a dozen similar projects just south of the Texas Medical Center.

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