Development is advancing on a $1.5 billion medical research campus within the Texas Medical Center at a time officials in the health care industry are saying could not be more opportune.

TMC Helix Park will allow Houston scientists and researchers to more efficiently develop new medical innovations, TMC President Bill McKeon said. The key, he said, is putting scientists, venture capital and industry leaders in one place.

“What we already had was the largest collection of clinical care in the world,” McKeon said. “What we didn’t have was ... all of the acceleration tools for support and the infrastructure to help someone with a new idea.”

The key change that allowed Helix Park to proceed was the expiration of land covenants that previously prohibited for-profit use of the land, McKeon said, thereby prohibiting institutions from being able to work alongside scientists and academics. Two buildings opened at the campus in the fall, with tenants such as MD Anderson, Texas A&M University Health Science Center and the University of Texas Health Science Center among those who have signed on.

Other projects underway in the vicinity include a 10-story building for the UTHealth Houston School of Public Health, the Baylor College of Medicine's Lillie and Roy Cullen Tower and MD Anderson's separate South Campus Research Building.

Two-minute impacts

The 37-acre Helix Park is named for the double-helix-shaped green space traveling through the campus center. In October, the Collaborative Building opened, which houses researchers with three Texas universities as well as the Texas Medical Center offices. The Dynamic One North Tower also opened.

Leasing activity has thus far exceeded expectations at the two buildings, McKeon said. The Dynamic One building, which was built on a speculative basis, is now fully leased, he said.

"We expected it to happen over time, but not this fast," he said. "That does not reflect the life sciences ecosystem around the world, which some would say is saturated and slow. We kind of woke the sleeping giant. Without even promoting out to industry, we have far exceeded our expectations on the demand side."

One tenant coming to the Collaborative Building is Portal Innovations, a venture development company TMC officials said they believe will be critical to keeping research breakthroughs in Houston. The Chicago-based Portal was founded as a way to connect medical startups with investors and other resources needed to develop their ideas, said Monique Knighten, executive director of Portal’s Houston location.

The space at Helix Park will feature offices and shared labs, where members and startups Portal has invested in can collaborate on projects. It will also host events allowing startups to pitch their ideas to investors.

“There’s a lot of investor interest in Houston,” Knighten said. “Traditionally it’s been more in the energy sector, ... but Houston has all the elements that—if you are looking to invest in biotech, medtech, diagnostic device companies—this is a great place to be.”

TMC3 Collaborative Building

Opened: October 2023

Size: four stories, 250,000 square feet

Purpose: hub of academic institutions focused on medical innovations, featuring a 7,000-square-foot atrium for lectures and other events

Key tenants:
  • University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • Texas A&M University Health Science Center
  • The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
  • Texas Medical Center
  • Portal Innovations
Dynamic One

Opened: North tower opened November 2023

Size: 12 stories, 350,000 square feet

Purpose: research site that will bridge commercial and institutional research while also hosting retail and restaurant space

Key tenants:
  • Baylor College of Medicine
  • Houston Methodist
The details

Although the Portal offices won’t open at Helix Park until August, the company has already hosted pitch days, the most recent of which allowed 16 Houston startups to pitch their ideas to investors brought in by Portal, Knighten said.

Portal itself has also invested in five Houston startups already, she said, including those dealing with small molecule drug research and cell therapy.

“It’s actually nice to have companies within an environment that are working on adjacent technologies,” Knighten said. “That’s where collaboration can really happen, instead of all the companies doing very similar things.”

Knighten said she has been surprised by the number of startups from outside of Houston contacting her with interest in moving. Upon completion, Helix Park is expected to add more than 26,000 jobs and generate an additional $5.4 billion in economic activity each year, officials estimate.

Zooming in

Grant awards from the U.S. National Institute of Health made to five congressional districts in the Houston area—districts 2, 7, 9, 18 and 38—have increased each year since 2019.

Officials with the Texas Medical Center said they expect this trend to continue, especially with regards to grants targeting life sciences research.
What's next

In addition to the Collaborative Building and Dynamic One North Tower, the Helix Park park space also opened in October. The park offers cafes, retail shops and other public spaces. Individual gardens are used to host outdoor receptions, concerts, graduations and events, TMC officials said.

When complete, the 37-acre Helix Park campus will also include:
  • Six future industry and institutional research buildings
  • A hotel
  • A residential tower
  • A mixed-use building with retail
2024: Additional restaurant, retail opens

2025-26: Hotel, Dynamic One South Tower, member institution building open

TBD: Additional industry sites open