The Texas Medical Center-SOLD!


Leonard Zwelling

         Joe Martin reports in the September 16 Houston Business Journal that Texas Medical Center CEO Robert
Robbins plans to develop a 30-acre piece of TMC land for a research campus
called TMC3. According to the CEO, this enhancement is the key to finally
getting Houston firmly entrenched in the biotech firmament alongside London,
Shanghai, Boston, San Francisco and Singapore. I guess the lack of a great, big
university as a source of faculty talent, graduate students by the thousands and
the modern technology of the physical sciences and engineering is no longer
important. Who knew?

         Along with the research campus, Dr. Robbins is planning a
new convention center, hotel, retail space and living facilities. The CEO
claims to have the front money for all of this. Philanthropic funds will also
be pursued. I guess he’s planning on the Exxon Hotel, the Schlumberger
Convention Center and the Gallery Furniture Apartments. The research center, by
contrast, will house new collaborative science among long-time collaborators (HA!) UT MD Anderson Cancer
Center, Texas A and M, and Baylor College of Medicine.

         Hmmm…let me see.

         What is so desperately needed in the TMC is more research
space, another attempt at collaborative research structures like the failed
building at Rice, and a convention center served by a single hotel in another
downtown area far from the current convention center and many new hotels. NOT!

         Are these guys kidding? Let me count the ways.

         If the TMC needs any construction, it might need clinical
space although the Baylor Medical School white elephant would suggest
otherwise. MD Anderson has laboratory space that is virtually vacant now and
all it needs is more non-revenue generating space to air condition as a
recurring fixed cost.

         This incessant push for commercialization from the traditionally
academic TMC, a collection of institutions that has historically been devoted
to patient care and the betterment of medicine and mankind, would make Drs.
DeBakey and Clark get ill. They didn’t work all those years to erect a new
lobby in which will be placed a gift shop selling overpriced Go Houston tee
shirts with an attached fitness center containing a bathtub-sized swimming pool
and barbeque pits for graduate students to toast s’mores at keggers while
playing beer pong or drinking games every time Donald Trump says “I” during the
next Republican debate.

         I knew the leadership of MD Anderson is willing to pawn its
good name for money and do clinical trials with drugs from pharmaceutical
companies in which Anderson holds an equity interest, but now the entire TMC is
out for bids. It cannot be long before the Astros have TMC patches on their
uniforms and Dr. Robbins holds court in the Pappas Brothers Skybox high above
NRG Stadium. If the Texans’ mascot, Toro, comes to the next game in a white
coat, that may be a telltale sign.

         I think it is time to say enough is enough. The
commercializer-in-chief of A & M was sent packing. Now if we can get his
buddies at Baylor, MD Anderson and the TMC itself Shanghai’d to Shanghai (where
they will be happy, after all) we all can get back to the business of the
TMC—caring for the sick, doing research, and teaching the next generation of
young physicians and investigators to do both.

         Who needs more tee shirts anyway?

Leonard Zwelling