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Houston is major ‘life sciences destination,’ Medical Center exec tells students

Professor Barbara Evans introduces Shawn W. Cloonan, senior vice president and general counsel of the Texas Medical Center, to members of her Health Law class, including George Castro, left, Matthew Shailer, Leah Robbins Fowler, partially hidden, and Kayleigh Smith.

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April 1, 2014 -- The Texas Medical Center’s new strategic vision is rapidly transforming Houston into a world leader in the life sciences industry, the senior vice president and general counsel of the world’s largest medical complex told Professor Barbara Evans’ evening Health Law students Monday.

The Medical Center long has offered a world-class clinical healthcare experience and world-class biomedical research, Shawn W. Cloonan pointed out, but until recently Houston lacked essential infrastructure for “clinical translation” -- the process of transforming new discoveries into finished products and services ready for doctors to use in treating patients.

The needed infrastructure includes networked health data resources, central “one-stop-shop” structures to streamline regulatory compliance and oversight of clinical research, and entry of new health-industry players such as venture capital firms and pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to help move discoveries through the clinical translation process.

“It’s all about the ecosystem and it’s very promising,” Cloonan said of the rapid strides Houston is making to put the right infrastructure in place to make the city a major “life sciences destination.”

He explained that Robert C. Robbins, M.D., president and chief executive officer of the Texas Medical Center, recently brought the center’s institutions together to develop a shared vision focusing on five areas seen as key to 21st century health care: regenerative medicine, genomics, innovation, clinical research, and health policy -- and data resources are essential to revolutionizing all of them.  Cloonan noted that the medical center is tapping University of Houston experts, including Evans, for the design teams that are working to implement the vision.

In terms of what these developments mean for today’s law students, Cloonan acknowledged that “the challenge in health care is going from law school into the health industry legal workforce” and noted there are many different pathways into health and life sciences law.

An honors graduate of The University of Texas Law School, Cloonan recounted how he was a visiting student for one semester at the University of Houston Law Center where he picked up skills in real estate and project financing that opened doors to his own health industry practice.  He pointed out that Houston’s emergence as a life sciences leader could spell opportunity in technology licensing, privacy compliance issues around Big Data and health data access, oversight of clinical research, and commercialization-related issues like IP law, FDA regulation, and venture capital.

During the Q&A, students noted some of the intricacies of linking health datasets and centralizing clinical research oversight under current federal regulations.  Cloonan laughed and challenged them, “Do you want to help us figure that out?”

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