1 year ago

Planned UAB genomics project could make Birmingham the ‘Silicon Valley of Biomedicine’

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is already considered a national leader in precision medicine. Now, the university has proposed a project that could transform the Birmingham metropolitan area — and the entire state — for generations to come. The only catch? A final portion of funding from the State of Alabama is needed to make the project a reality.

First, some background.

Precision medicine focuses on individual patients to understand how their lifestyles, behavior, environment and genetics interact to affect their health. More importantly, precision medicine allows a systematic approach to integrate these key factors into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease — all tailored to each and every individual patient.

Essentially, what UAB does in its world-class precision medicine practice — in partnership with top-notch Alabama entities like HudsonAlpha and Southern Research — is: (1) sequence a patient’s whole genome or a specific tumor’s genome; (2) then evaluate that sequence for a mutation(s); (3) use a massive and continually growing database to determine what effect any given mutation has on a patient; (4) cross-reference that mutation with all known compounds or drugs to (5) determine a treatment plan for the patient’s condition.

This process cures rare diseases on a regular basis. The story of UAB’s own Matt Might, considered a preeminent international leader in the field, epitomizes what precision medicine is all about.

Between May 2016 and April 2019, UAB’s precision medicine practice successfully developed research plans for 90 patients who were each previously believed to have an “undiscoverable” rare disease. Additional patients were also referred directly to an appropriate program or specialist through UAB’s precision medicine process.

Moreover, UAB (through the Alabama Genomic Health Initiative) has repurposed approximately 10 existing medications for treating new disorders through the precision medicine practice. Examples are as simple as over-the-counter medications like Prevacid that UAB has discovered can be repurposed to treat a rare disease.

Impact — ‘Once in a lifetime opportunity’

Simply put, the results have been staggering just in the first few years of UAB’s precision medicine focus.

However, this could be merely the beginning — a prelude to historic things to come.

To really establish itself as the unequivocal global leader in genomic medicine and data sciences, UAB is committed to renovating and outfitting a state-of-the-art genomics facility.

The university has already secured a generous $10 million donation from Lee Styslinger III and the Altec-Styslinger Foundation. As such, UAB plans to name the building the “Altec-Styslinger Genomic Medicine and Data Research Building.”

UAB has further secured $8 million in federal funding.

Yet, to get the facility done, another $50 million is needed. UAB is asking the state for this amount through an Alabama Public School and College Authority bond issue. Governor Kay Ivey chairs the authority.

The university also plans to pursue local government funding from both the City of Birmingham and Jefferson County.

The University of Alabama System, in which UAB is one of three campuses, argues that the payoff on the requested $50 million in funding for the state would be unquestionably worth it in multiple ways.

First, the most tangible way is the estimated economic benefits of the project.

With this facility in place, UAB would recruit 50 researchers and an additional 300 support staff, meaning 350 high to very high paying jobs would be created. The university would spend $75-100 million recruiting this top talent over the next seven or eight years. UAB projects those researchers, when collaborating with the intuition’s existing Hugh Kaul Precision Medicine Institute and Alabama Genomic Health Initiative, can generate $75-85 million in new funding.

Ultimately, leaders within the UA System believe that Birmingham would be set to become the “Silicon Valley of Biomedicine” with the facility operational.

Each rare disease discovered or treatment plan formed could, in itself, become a large spin-off healthcare startup company based in the Magic City. This has already happened once in the first few years of the precision medicine practice in the form of a leukemia drug screening service that identifies the best possible treatment for each individual leukemia patient.

At a meeting of the UA System’s board of trustees Friday at UAB, UA System Chancellor Finis St. John said that the UAB genomics facility could have a transformational impact on the Yellowhammer State similar to the likes of NASA and Redstone Arsenal, Mercedes-Benz and the Port of Mobile. He called the project a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”

St. John said this is an opportunity “to improve the lives of our citizens in a way which may never occur again.”

Watch his powerful remarks:

St. John’s urgency was echoed by each trustee on Friday. Board members made passionate pleas for the state to support this unprecedented effort.

For the people, and the future, of Alabama

It should also be noted that it is not just officials associated with UAB or the UA System leading the charge on this project.

Every member of the Jefferson County state legislative delegation (who essentially never unanimously agree on anything) has signed a letter of support for the project, calling for the facility to be funded.

Senators wrote in their respective joint letter in 2019, stating, “The economic impact of this project cannot be overstated.”

This letter was authored by Senate Rules Committee Chairman Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia) and signed by Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper), State Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham), State Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison (D-Birmingham), State Sen. Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville), State Sen. Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook) and State Sen. Priscilla Dunn (D-Bessemer). House members signed onto a separate letter echoing similar sentiments, and U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) backs the project and helped secure the federal funding component.

Here is a snippet from the state senators’ letter:

Waggoner attended the board of trustees meeting on Friday to emphasize his staunch support for the project.

“The State can provide this support (the requested funding), and the State should provide this support because nothing that the State could do [with the funding] would be more important to the future of this state,” St. John said. “This is not a project to benefit UAB. It’s not a project to even benefit the University of Alabama System. It is a project for the future of the citizens of Alabama.”

Because, while the economic impact of the project could be unparalleled, there is a bigger factor in play, the greatest of them all: people’s lives.

Ivey has said that “every life is a sacred gift from God.”

UAB’s genomics facility would undoubtedly save countless lives — and improve the quality of others. That return on investment is quite simply priceless.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 hour ago

Alabama’s May unemployment rate drops to 3.4% — Post-pandemic rate at lows; Record high wages

Alabama’s post-COVID pandemic economic recovery seems to be humming along based on data released Friday by the Alabama Department of Labor.

According to a press release, Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington revealed Alabama’s preliminary, seasonally adjusted May unemployment rate is 3.4%, down from April’s rate of 3.6%.

The 3.4% rate tops the May 2020 number of 7.9%.

“May’s rate represents 75,458 unemployed persons, compared to 79,319 in April and 174,680 in May 2020,” the release said. “May’s unemployed count is the lowest in 2021.”

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“Our record-breaking streak is continuing in May, and we hope that it continues throughout the rest of the year,” Gov. Kay Ivey said in the statement. “Yet again, we’ve dropped our unemployment rate and each month we are getting closer and closer to our pre-pandemic record low unemployment rate of 2.6%. Our economy is adding jobs, and earlier barriers to joining the workforce have been significantly reduced. In fact, there are more job postings than there are people counted as unemployed! Alabama is, once again, open for business.”

Data showed that wage and salary employment grew last month by 4,700.

“Monthly gains were seen in the leisure and hospitality sector (+5,000), the trade, transportation, and utilities sector (+2,500), and the education and health services sector (+1,200), among others. Over the year, wage and salary employment increased 123,000, with gains in the leisure and hospitality sector (+37,100), the professional and business services sector (+23,000), and the manufacturing sector (+22,900), among others,” the release said.

Average weekly earnings for the private sector rose to a new record high of $974.12, up $66.91 over the year, according to the Department of Labor.

“As we continue to see improvement in nearly all sectors of the economy, we’re also seeing record high wages in Alabama,” Washington added. “Once again, our average weekly wages are at new record high, representing an almost $67 per week over-the-year increase. Both the leisure and hospitality and manufacturing sectors are showing record high wages as well, with significant yearly increases. The economy is responding as we expected to labor force fluctuations brought about by the pandemic.”

Broken down by county, Shelby County led the way with a rate of 1.8%, followed by Blount, Marshall, Franklin and DeKalb Counties.

Wilcox County topped the highest in the state with an unemployment rate of 8.8%.

When broken down by municipalities, Alabaster had the lowest rate at 1.7%. Selma had the state’s highest, coming in at 7.0%, followed by Prichard at 6.5% and Bessemer at 5.2%.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

2 hours ago

Shelby warns Biden on defense cuts — ‘Military investments in China and Russia … outpace U.S. investment’

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) fired his own warning shots over what he views as an inadequate defense budget proposal from President Joe Biden.

During a full Senate Committee on Appropriations review of Biden’s Fiscal Year 2022 Department of Defense budget request, Shelby expressed his concern that the administration’s defense spending plan placed the nation at a disadvantage compared to its adversaries.

“The National Defense Strategy provides a road map for what the Department of Defense needs – at a minimum – to meet the challenges posed by a re-emergence of long-term strategic competition with China and Russia,” explained Shelby. “Anything less jeopardizes readiness, the recapitalization of capital assets, and necessary investments in new and emerging technologies.”

Shelby, who currently serves as vice chairman of the powerful Senate committee, believes that not meeting current national defense demands sends a dangerous message to the rest of the world.

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“This year, the budget proposal signals to the world that this administration is not committed to investing in readiness, training, state of the art equipment, and technological overmatch,” Shelby stated. “With military investments in China and Russia continuing to outpace U.S. investments, I find it hard to believe that the requirements outlined by General Dunford just four years ago are no longer instructive.”

This critical assessment from Alabama’s senior senator comes less than a month after the highest-ranking U.S. military officer described the nation’s relations with China and Russia as “fraying.”

In an address to graduates of the United States Air Force Academy, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said, “Right now we are in a great power competition with China and Russia. And we need to keep it at competition and avoid great power conflict.”

Milley and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

Shelby addressed both officials in his remarks, stating, “The world is a complex and dangerous place and I know that you both understand the magnitude of the challenges we face from our near peer adversaries who seek to undermine the United States’ position as a world leader and dominant military power. China and Russia are formidable adversaries and China, as you have acknowledged Secretary Austin, is proving to be a true pacing threat. China seeks hegemony – militarily, technologically, economically, and geopolitically – and is making unprecedented investments to see that to fruition.”

“Meanwhile, Russia is nearing the end of a massive military modernization program that saw its defense spending increase 30 percent in real dollars over the last 10 years,” he added.

Shelby concluded that he could not support an effective cut in defense spending in 2022.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

3 hours ago

U.S. Rep. Jerry Carl urges Biden to undergo tests for ‘mental impairment’

U.S. Representative Jerry Carl (R-Mobile) joined 13 of his congressional colleagues in urging President Joe Biden to undergo an examination to determine his mental fitness to serve.

The group cited a string of embarrassing verbal gaffes by the president as the basis for their request.

In a letter sent to Biden on Thursday, the Republican members of Congress explained, “We write to you today to express concern with your current cognitive state. We believe that, regardless of gender, age, or political party, all Presidents should follow the precedent set by former President Donald Trump to document and demonstrate sound mental abilities.”

They continued, “Unfortunately, your mental decline and forgetfulness have become more apparent over the past 18 months. In March, you forgot the name of the Pentagon, the Department of Defense, and the Defense Secretary, though you had said ‘Secretary Austin’ just a few minutes prior.”

In addition, the letter cites Biden’s telling of an Amtrak story with an inexplicable timeline, forgetting the first line of the Declaration of Independence and obvious disorientation during a visit to Texas as examples for why they believe Biden is in need of cognitive testing.

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The list of gaffes attributable to his mental acuity seems to be piling up for the 46th president.

During the G7 Summit in England recently, he asked British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to introduce the South African president.

RELATED: Biden lashes out at media member and Alabama native Kaitlan Collins over Putin — ‘You’re in the wrong business’

Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce has questioned whether Biden’s cognitive state is a national security liability.

Biden has received criticism in the early stages of his administration for calling on only a predetermined list of reporters during press conferences. The most recent instance of this occurred while Biden was in Geneva, Switzerland, for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Carl and the other letter signers pushed for transparency with any medical assessments being made, as well.

“We encourage you to follow the example set by President Trump by undergoing a cognitive test as soon as possible and immediately making the results available for the American people,” they concluded.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

4 hours ago

ALGOP chair John Wahl: AEA resurgence ‘a concern’; Reminds GOP candidates ‘not a good idea’ accept their campaign contributions

For the first time in nearly a decade, the Alabama Education Association (AEA) seemingly flexed its muscle at the end of the 2021 legislative session by successfully pushing through a two-year delay to the Literacy Act, which mandates children be able to read at a third grade level before proceeding to the fourth grade.

Gov. Kay Ivey vetoed the delay, but it left political watchers wondering if this was just the beginning of the AEA’s return to the forefront of Alabama politics.

During an appearance on FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show” on Thursday, Alabama Republican Party chairman John Wahl said it was indeed a concern for the party.

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“[I]t’s funny you bring that up because at one point in the past, there was actually a resolution passed by the state party, I believe, that was saying Republican candidates should not take money from the AEA because of their influence and the concern they would have over direct policy,” he stated. “So, of course, that’s a concern. That type of influence from anybody pushing to regulate themselves is never — you don’t want a group regulating themselves. That’s not good for policy.”

While there was a resolution in place that pertained to AEA campaign contributions to Republican candidates, Wahl said it was not an outright ban but a “strong recommendation” not to accept their money.

“I need to go back and look at the resolution in-depth,” Wahl said. “But I believe it was a resolution, so it’s not a direct ban. There’s no teeth to it. But it was a very strong recommendation to candidates — that it is not a good idea to take that money.”

“[T]here were jokes about how the AEA controlled the state and had a vast amount of control over policy and what would happen with the Governor’s office, the state legislature,” he explained. “So much of that has gotten better since Republicans have taken control. But you’re right — we’re seeing a resurgence, at least of their involvement. Hopefully not their influence.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

4 hours ago

Ainsworth scores Tuberville endorsement

U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) has thrown his support to Will Ainsworth as the first-term lieutenant governor ramps up his reelection bid. Ainsworth announced Tuberville’s backing in a release from his campaign on Thursday.

The former college football coach offered that his endorsement of Ainsworth was an easy play call for him.

“I’ve spent most of my life recruiting,” Tuberville explained. “When you run across leadership it stands out, and I’ve seen firsthand that’s especially true in the political arena. Alabama is a gritty, hardworking,
conservative state that puts God and family first.”

He continued, “I’m proud to endorse Will Ainsworth for Lt. Governor as the leader that reflects the work ethic and values of the great state of Alabama!”

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After announcing in front of 3,000 people during the first week in June that he would seek reelection, Ainsworth has now picked up the endorsement of the Alabama Forestry Association in addition to that of Tuberville.

Ainsworth welcomed the support from Alabama’s newest U.S. Senator.

“I am proud to have Senator Tuberville’s endorsement as I seek a second term as lieutenant governor to continue building a 21st century Alabama in which our people can earn a good living at a high-paying job and raise their families in safe, strong communities,” he remarked. “I’m focused on taking our Christian conservative values to Montgomery every day, ensuring we preserve and better the Alabama we all know and love for future generations to enjoy.”

Ainsworth’s first term has been marked by his heavy involvement in the state’s economic issues.

He has overseen the Alabama Small Business Commission, a panel tasked with recommending policies and legislation benefiting small businesses operating across the state.

During last year’s COVID-19 crisis, Ainsworth formed an emergency task force within the commission to focus on the reopening of Alabama’s economy. Most of the task force’s plan was implemented by the state during the reopening process.

Ainsworth has also served as chairman of the Aerospace States Association, a national group whose mission is to support and promote the interests of the aerospace industry in Alabama and across the nation.

Ainsworth has outlined that his focus moving forward would be to preserve Alabama values while improving opportunities for future generations.

“The main reason I’m running is for my kids, your kids, your grandkids’ future,” he stated. “It is a huge time commitment, but I want to say this: I want our kids, your kids, everybody in here to always be proud to call Alabama home. I don’t want our kids to have to move to Atlanta or Nashville or Austin or another state. I want them to be able to live right here in Alabama and have the same opportunities as any kids in the world. We’re going to do that.”

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia