COVID-fighting Heat Biologics wins deal to expand in San Antonio

Waylon Cunningham

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With the encouragement of tax incentives, a new kind of COVID-19 vaccine could be among the drugs manufactured at a facility coming to San Antonio from Heat Biologics, a North Carolina-based bioscience company.

The 20,000-square-foot facility, which will be located within the Merchants Ice complex on East Houston Street, will aid the company’s research through its clinical trials, which largely focus on cancer treatments, in addition to manufacturing drugs.

Bexar County commissioners approved an incentive package at their meeting Tuesday, creating a 75% tax abatement on improvements made to the property over the next 10 years – tax relief estimated at slightly more than $500,000.

The City of San Antonio is also in talks for its own potential incentive package, according to the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, subject to approval by City Council.

By state law, abatements can only apply to new investments made on a property and do not cover its existing value.

The company plans to invest more than $24 million into the Eastside facility, which Heat Biologics said will create at least 41 jobs with a minimum annual salary of $50,000 within three years.

The facility is set to open in the first quarter of 2022.

In addition to analyzing samples from clinical trials for cancer treatments, Heat Biologics CEO Jeff Wolf said the company also is working on a coronavirus vaccine that focuses on an immune response, rather than the antibodies relied on by the more well-known Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. “It’s a whole different way to approach protection against COVID-19,” he said.

Wolf said the company chose San Antonio over competing sites because of its available skilled workforce. “The city has been extremely accommodating to us in helping us facilitate its development,” he said.

The Merchants Ice complex has been in the process of being redeveloped in recent years – with the help of local incentives – to become a hub for bioscience. The Texas Research & Technology Foundation owns the complex, where the foundation houses its startup incubator VelocityTX.

The venture from Heat Biologics, conducted through a subsidiary named Scorpion Biological Services, has garnered praise from local leaders who have been eager to see the city attract more jobs in the bioscience industry.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said in a prepared statement, “Our region is uniquely positioned to grow its bioscience ecosystem into a world-class hub and we are proud to welcome Scorpion to San Antonio.”

Stated San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg: “Our diverse medical and bioscience community has come together to form an ecosystem that’s cooperative and supportive – one that drives innovation to improve lives – and that’s attractive to startups, established corporations, and talent. We are committed to supporting Scorpion as they plan to grow their operations in our community.”

The development marks Heat Biologics’ second expansion into San Antonio. The first came in 2017 with the arrival of another of its subsidiaries, Pelican Therapeutics, which focuses on drugs for the immune system. In 2016, Pelican won a $15 million grant from the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas.


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