Texas distiller grants $1 million to Houston COVID-19 research

HOUSTON, Texas -- The science of finding a COVID-19 vaccine is getting a financial boost from the science of distilling vodka and two Texas icons are part of the process.

The philanthropic arm of Tito's Handmade Vodka has made a $1 million grant to the Baylor College of Medicine, according to a statement from the school.

"Our coronavirus vaccine is designed in Texas and tested in Texas with the utmost priority to ensure it is safe and effective," said Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, associate dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor. "To now see that it will be supported by Texas-based Tito's is a testament that our state will be recognized as being at the forefront of this pandemic, making a difference and reaching all populations locally and globally."

The grant will speed up the process in development and manufacturing and allow researchers to move into human trials faster, the statement said.

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"There are dozens of potential vaccines currently in development by scientists across the globe," said Dr. Sarah Everett, director of Global Impact and Research at Tito's. "We applaud the worldwide effort to fund and support vaccines that look promising, because we can never know in advance which ones will be effective."

Bottazzi and Dr. Peter Hotez, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor are directors of the Texas Children's Hospital for Vaccine Development, which has developed drugs to eradicate diseases like MERS and SARS.

Researchers with the team are working to repurpose a SARS vaccine to protect against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

"It's an honor to work with Tito's on this life-saving initiative, which we hope will ultimately lead to a vaccine for America," Hotez said.

Tito's is a brand of vodka made at Texas' first legal distillery and was founded in 1997 in Austin by Tito Beveridge. Beveridge's company, Fifth Generation Inc., booked $1 billion in revenue in 2019, according to Bloomberg's Billionaires Index.

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