2 weeks 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

2 hours ago

ALFA urges Alabamians to vote ‘Yes’ on Amendment One

The Alabama Farmers Federation (ALFA) is urging the citizens of Alabama to vote “Yes” on Amendment One when they go to the polls on March 3.

Amendment One would alter the governing body of Alabama’s public schools. The system Alabama has currently is a board of eight members that are elected by voters. Amendment One would create a board where each member is appointed by the governor and confirmed by the State Senate.

In the eyes of ALFA, “Amendment 1 provides voters a choice of keeping politicians in charge of the State School Board or replacing them with nine new commission members who are term limited.”

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As part of their support for the amendment, ALFA is joining other groups to fund the “Yes for the Best Education” campaign.

(ALFA/Contributed)

“Amendment 1 offers voters an opportunity to take the first step to improving public schools,” said Federation President Jimmy Parnell, who is chairing the campaign.

He added, “Voters recognize that public K-12 schools are undeniably at the bottom of almost every national ranking. At the same time, instability has become the norm at the top of the Alabama State Department of Education, which has seen five state superintendents in the last four years.”

The push to move to an appointed school board was led in the Alabama Senate by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston), with strong support from Governor Kay Ivey and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia).

“Alabama is just one of seven states that still hold elections for State School Board. If Amendment 1 is approved by voters, local school boards will still control their districts and decision-making,” Parnell advised.

Recent polling from ALDailyNews showed Alabama voters are split on whether or not to approve Amendment One, with many still undecided.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

3 hours ago

Mooney for Senate endorsed by 10 state legislators

State Rep. Arnold Mooney’s (R-Indian Springs) campaign for the U.S. Senate has received an endorsement from 10 of his colleagues in the state legislature with less than two weeks to go before the primary election.

The endorsers include many of the most conservative members in the Alabama statehouse, like State Rep. Mike Holmes from the Montgomery area and State Rep. Tommy Hanes from Northeast Alabama.

The state-level endorsements fall in line with the prominent national conservatives who have endorsed Mooney previously. Conservative Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY), along with conservative television host Mark Levin, and Alabama’s own Rep. Mo Brooks (AL-05) are among those who have thrown their support behind Mooney.

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The full list of state legislators, as follows:

  • Rep. Andrew Sorrell (R-Muscle Shoals)
  • Rep. Danny Crawford (R-Athens)
  • Rep. Ritchie Whorton (R-Owens Cross Roads)
  • Rep. Tommy Hanes (R-Bryant)
  • Rep. Mike Holmes (R-Wetumpka)
  • Rep. Rich Wingo (R-Tuscaloosa)
  • Rep. Will Dismukes (R-Prattville)
  • Sen. Larry Stutts (R-Florence)
  • Sen. Dan Roberts (R-Birmingham)
  • Sen. Will Barfoot (R-Pike Road)

In addition to those legislators, Mooney has gotten the personal endorsement of Eunie Smith, the president of the Eagle Forum. The Eagle Forum is a deeply conservative group with a strong presence in Alabama.

Many of Mooney’s coworkers in the state legislature called him a “friend” in their statements. They praised Mooney’s passion for conservative values, his commitment to pro-life policies and Christian values. The group of legislators that endorsed Mooney on Friday is viewed by many as having similarities to members of the Freedom Caucus in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Dan Roberts said in a statement, “Arnold Mooney is a true conservative and has the record to prove it. Over the years, I have witnessed Arnold stand up to the establishment in Montgomery, fight for the life of the unborn, and ensure that the voice of the people he represents are heard. Arnold is a family man, a true conservative, and a strong Christian. Alabama needs him in Washington.”

“Representative Arnold Mooney is a tremendous friend and colleague who is well suited and very capable of representing Alabama as a United States Senator. He is the true conservative in the race and has the record to prove it,” Rep. Andrew Sorrell advised.

Mooney’s supporters will be hoping the endorsements generate enthusiasm for a campaign that has lagged in recent polls.

Yellowhammer reported earlier Friday that Mooney has $350,626 cash on hand for the remainder of the election. Fundraising is one area where the Mooney campaign’s success has surprised many political observers. The candidate has consistently been able to pull in funds at a level that outpaces his relative standing in public polls, seemingly from small grassroots donations.

(FEC) Totals from the entire race up to Feb 12, 2020.

Mooney will compete at the ballot box on March 3 with former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) and former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

4 hours ago

Dale Jackson: Sessions is punching in all directions — that shows the status of the U.S. Senate race

The race for the United States Senate seat from Alabama has gotten pretty contentious this past week. The knives are out, and it’s about time.

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made his presence felt by going after both Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) and former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville.

Sessions joined WVNN on Thursday to highlight his concerns with the other major contenders for his old Senate seat.

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Sessions hit Byrne for abandoning the president only weeks before the general election against Hillary Clinton.

Sessions explained on “The Dale Jackson Show,” “Well it’s a huge mistake. It would have guaranteed the election to Hillary Clinton.”

Sessions wants voters to know that he was on stage with now-President Donald Trump wearing a red MAGA hat while “my own Congressman was saying he was unfit to be president and should resign.”

“That would have split the party and been a disaster of monumental proportions, so it is a big deal, I just have to say,” he added.

The attacks pointed towards Tuberville are far more pointed.

Sessions hammered him on his Florida residency, pointing out that Tuberville claimed his homestead exemption in Florida and has never voted in Alabama. He also pointed out that Tuberville did not donate a cent to the Trump campaign, while millions of average Americans did.

“He filed for homestead in Florida in 2018, and he hasn’t voted in Alabama. He voted in Florida in 2018, it appears. I’m not sure he even voted for President Trump, I’m not sure, he certainly didn’t give a contribution to the Trump campaign, he never once spoke out in favor of the Trump campaign. So, now he waltzes in tourist-like, I think it’s a fair word, to say now I want to be Alabama’s senator, and go up there and defend Alabama’s values.”

Sessions in the interview also hit Tuberville on immigration, vets and trade.

My takeaway:

These are all fair arguments. Tuberville filed his homestead exemption, which you file on your primary residence in Florida in 2018. He paid his taxes there. He lived there and admitted to me that he moved here to run for U.S. Senate because he knew his name ID in the state would work.

Tuberville did talk about amnesty for illegals.

Tuberville did say he was blaming Trump for veterans’ health care.

Tuberville did say Trump was putting a noose around the neck of farmers.

The attacks show that Sessions knows he is in a dogfight for his former seat. He is not walking away with this like many thought he would. Polls indicate he is in first or second, so as this race continues to heat up, look for more attacks on his opponents’ records from Jeff Sessions.

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.

6 hours ago

Mo Brooks, colleagues introduce bill to protect travelers with firearms

Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05), along with 13 original cosponsors, introduced the Lawful Interstate Transportation of Firearms Act on Friday.

According to a press release, the Lawful Interstate Transportation of Firearms Act would “expand the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act (FOPA) ‘transport’ definition to include ‘staying in temporary lodging, stopping for food, fuel, vehicle maintenance, an emergency, medical treatment, or any other activity incidental to the transport.'”

In addition, the bill clarifies that the ability to transport a firearm also applies to  ammunition and  detachable magazines, which are essential to the function and purpose of a firearm.

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“‘The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed’ means that Americans do not relinquish their Second Amendment Rights by simply traveling across state lines,” Brooks said. “All Americans have the constitutional right to self-defense whether they are at home or traveling.”

He added, “My bill, the Lawful Interstate Transportation of Firearms Act, would bar freedom-hating, anti-Second Amendment states and localities from prosecuting firearm-transporting travelers who are passing through on the way to their destination who engage in travel-related activities.”

The press release also noted that FOPA currently prohibits state prosecution of “persons traveling from one place to another for any state firearms offense if the traveler is merely passing through on the way to their destination as long as the firearm is transported in a locked container other than the vehicle glove compartment or console.”

“Despite FOPA protections, a disturbing trend has emerged wherein anti-Second Amendment states and localities increasingly seek to criminalize the possession of a firearm or ammunition,” the release stated. ” These freedom-hating jurisdictions continue to seek ways to prosecute travelers merely for the possession of an otherwise lawful firearm. This bill seeks to safeguard otherwise law-abiding gun owners traveling the country from overcriminalization by anti-Second Amendment states and localities.”

“Malicious state laws  unconstitutionally  criminalize  what would otherwise be considered  law-abiding activity  for the explicit purposes of making gun ownership, possession, and transportation more difficult,” said Aidan Johnston, GOA’s director of Federal Affairs. “The Lawful Interstate Transportation of Firearms Act complements the Second Amendment in its mission to protect Americans from governmental infringement on the right to keep and bear arms.”

Johnston added, “I hope every member of Congress supports this simple legislation that protects gun owners while they travel.”

Original cosponsors of the bill include Congressman Brian Babin (TX-36), Congressman Steve Watkins (KS-02), Congressman Steve King (IA-04), Congressman Matt Gaetz (FL-01), Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01), Congressman Greg Gianforte (MT-AL), Congressman Jeff Duncan (SC-03), Congressman Ted Yoho (FL-03), Congressman Paul Gosar (AZ-04), Congressman Doug Lamborn (CO-05), Congressman Jody Hice (GA-10), Congressman Ralph Norman (SC-05) and Congressman Doug LaMalfa (CA-01).

Follow Kyle on Twitter @RealKyleMorris and Facebook.

6 hours ago

Auburn University announces A-Day kickoff time, ticket sales

Auburn University announced Thursday that its popular A-Day game, presented by Golden Flake, will kick-off at 1:00 p.m. CST at Jordan-Hare Stadium on April 11.

Tickets for the annual spring football game are on sale now through the Auburn Ticket Office for $5 to the general public and free for AU students who have an Auburn Ignited Card.

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Tickets for the event can be purchased here or in-person at the Auburn Ticket Office located at Auburn Arena from 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

A press release for the event said a pre-game “Auburn Legends” flag football game will be held in Jordan-Hare Stadium with participating players being announced at a later date. A post-game autograph session will also be held after A-Day. Fans will be limited to one item per person.

A-Day Weekend will also feature the softball and men’s tennis teams competing at home. The softball team will host Ole Miss at Jane B. Moore Field on Friday, April 10 at 5:00 p.m. and on Saturday, April 11 at 4:00 p.m. In addition to the other events occurring, the Auburn men’s tennis team will host Arkansas on Friday, April 10 at 2:00 p.m. at the Yarbrough Tennis Center.

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @RealKyleMorris.