The leaders of the Texas Medical Center unveiled plans on Monday for a medical research campus across 30 acres they said would unite four powerhouse research institutions and make Houston an international hub for biomedical innovations.

The project, called TMC³, will be a collaboration between the TMC, Baylor College of Medicine, Texas A&M University Health Science Center, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The project marks the first time the founding institutions would build and share space on this scale in the Medical Center, officials said during an event announcing new details about the ambitious health care and real estate project. TMC leaders said it could open as early as 2022 and touted a multibillion-dollar economic impact. The 3 in TMC³ is to identify Houston as the “Third Coast” for life sciences.

“In the 70 plus years in Texas Medical Center history, this will be one of the most transformational initiatives we’ve ever taken,” TMC President and CEO William McKeon said from a stage he shared with Gov. Greg Abbott, Mayor Sylvester Turner, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and leaders of the institutions that have signed on to the project. “Decades from now, we’re going to look back at this historic event and really understand how much it changed the way in which we behave and compete in the world.”

The project’s centerpiece will be a $246 million multistory building resembling a double helix, a nod to the scientific description of a strand of DNA. The shared facility will include laboratories, plazas, restaurants, shops and other commercial space.
The double helix will span nearly the entire length of the 30 acres between Brays Bayou and Old Spanish Trail. It will be capped with an elevated park with gardens and trails designed by New York’s High Line landscape architect James Corner.

The park will be open to the public. Maureen and Jim Hackett, former CEO of Anadarko Petroleum Corp., plan to launch a $60 million philanthropic campaign to fund the park.
Beneath this park, researchers will pioneer advancements in therapeutics, medical devices, regenerative medicine, genomics and data science, among other areas. Officials said that over time each institution will have its own separate building and that private industry will also set up facilities there.
The Medical Center owns the land, which is now being used for parking. It is providing $40 million for the project. The other four founding institutions each will contribute $36.45 million.
The public launch of the project came despite unanswered questions about its funding and governance.
UT System regents conditionally approved the participation of MD Anderson and UTHealth. Their concerns included that the hiring of an experienced CEO — not currently an employee of any of the parties — to manage the research enterprise, and additional funding from some other entity, such the state of Texas or city of Houston.
McKeon said it will be up to the participating institutions to determine whether they want an independent CEO and Abbott said the only state money for the project is that being contributed by the institutions. The two UT institutions are using money from the Permanent University Fund and A&M is using a combination of PUF money and other revenue streams.
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Nevertheless, UT System Chancellor William McRaven said after the news conference that he is confident the project will meet all of the conditions outlined by the regents.
TMC leaders have been developing plans for a life science research campus since 2014 to help boost the Texas Medical Center’s innovation and commercialization.
The earliest discussions included developing a collaborative institute such as Boston’s Broad Institute, a collaboration between Harvard and MIT, or the New York Genome Center.
Driving discussions was the realization that pharmaceutical and medical device companies are moving their scientists closer to hospital researchers. Yet, the TMC’s decades-old covenants restricting commercial industry limited its growth.
“The world was evolving so quickly that we were at a strategic disadvantage,” McKeon said. “Four of our institutional leaders came to our board of directors and said, ‘We need you to change covenants you’ve had for 70-plus years.'”

The restrictions were lifted on two parcels: the former Nabisco building that houses the TMC Innovation Institute for startups and the 30 acres where TMC³ will be developed.
In addition to the Helix building, Los Angeles-based Majestic Realty will finance and build a 19-story hotel with 410 rooms and 50,000 square feet of conference space.
Gov. Abbott said the TMC³ project will give Houston a more thriving biotechnology sector where new scientific breakthroughs lead to commercialization.
“After the ground is broken on this project, after the construction is completed, after the beginning years of this, TMC³ will for a while be competing with the best of the best around the United States and perhaps globe. And then eventually TMC³ will attain its rightful position of being the number one biotechnology and bioscience innovation center in the entire world,” Abbott said. “We can do it because we are Texas and Texas always achieves the very best.”

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