Destination Kansas City
 

 

The vision of the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute:
"To Lead the recognized transformation of the Kansas City region into a nationally-recognized center of excellence in life sciences research, development and commercialization."

Life Sciences "Corridor" Stretches Across Heartland

Kansas City leaders in the last two years have carved a niche for the city in the life sciences. Building on the trademarks that set the city apart from competing communities, civic leaders are shaping and promoting a identity for Kansas City as a premier center for bio-research. The effort is paying off. Kansas City is fast becoming the hub of an evolving regional life sciences economy—one with global significance.

In a speech given to the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute (KCALSI) earlier this year, former Hallmark Cards Inc. CEO Irv Hockaday Jr., now the KCALSI board chairman, envisioned what a unique bio-science sector could mean for the city.

“There is hope that we will have a Super Bowl in Kansas City 10 years from now,” he said. “Fifteen years from now, few would remember where the 2016 Super Bowl was played, who played in it and which team won. There was a Super Bowl in Baltimore once, [but] people remember John Hopkins. . . Having a Super Bowl would be great, being the Super Bowl even greater.”

This lofty ambition of building the “Super Bowl” of life sciences in Kansas City has required cooperation beyond city boundaries, involving the shared vision of CEOs, political leaders, institutes and businesses across Kansas and Missouri.

In late 2004, the city set out to create a roadmap that would take its life science economy in a new direction. An evaluation was done to identify the region’s core strengths in life sciences. It revealed six “hot zones” that distinguish the Kansas City bio-science market. They are:

-  Health care knowledge and personalized medicine

-  Animal health and research

-  New bio-pharma drug discovery pathways

-  Oncology research, discovery and treatment

-  Cardiovascular research and tissue engineering

-  Neuroscience

The region has since been united in the task of building on those strengths, creating a spirit of collaboration in the life sciences community to grow the sector into a more vibrant marketplace.

Sprint Nextel CEO Gary Forsee hosted a bi-state summit heavily attended by area CEOs and civic leaders. It placed the promotion of life sciences as a high priority for the region and resulted in the governors of Kansas and Missouri agreeing to work together to create a life science corridor running from Manhattan, Kan., through Kansas City to Columbia, Mo.

As a result, the collaborative efforts have positioned the Kansas City region as a market with a balance that incorporates human health, plant and animal research.

The Stowers Institute of Medical Research

 

The Animal Health Initiative

In the course of identifying the region’s biggest life science assets, one of its most vibrant and overlooked sectors was rediscovered—animal health and nutrition.

Some 36 animal health and nutrition companies are based in Kansas City area, including such big names as Bayer Animal Health, Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Hill’s Pet Foods, IVX and Nestle Purina. These companies employ more than 5,000 people and more than 500 researchers. The companies account for 40 percent of U.S. sales and 26 percent of global sales of a market worth $14.5 billion.

“Kansas City has always been a center for animal health and research, products and distribution,” Bill Duncan, president of the KCALSI, said of the evaluation. “We rediscovered our roots.”

Civic leaders are now making a big push to boost the profile of research in animal health and nutrition. Recently, the regional “Animal Health and Nutrition Initiative” was launched. And during the Sprint Nextel bi-state summit, the governors of Kansas and Missouri vowed to support efforts to make Kansas City into a global center for animal health.

A $300,000 contribution from Bayer Animal Health is being used in part to lure new companies in the field to Kansas City and to market the region.

“The idea here is collaboration,” said Bob Walker, a spokesman for Bayer Animal Health. “Typically in industries like this you have a high degree of competition. What you’re finding here is the best of both worlds. You can be competitors and still be collaborators in a greater goal for the region.

“Animal health and nutrition is just a piece of the greater life sciences goal,” he said.

 

Plant and Agriculture Potential

An area of growing opportunity is in research for the protection of the nation’s food supply. As the federal government continues to spend billions on bio-defense, the expertise in food safety and agricultural research in Kansas City labs could prove invaluable.

Midwest Research Institute, Bayer and K-State all have experience researching how to better protect the nation’s food supply from agroterrorism. Also, Kansas City leaders have held discussions with the Department of Homeland Security on the possibility of locating a 500,000-square-foot center in the region dedicated to food and agricultural protection research. Midwest Research Institute is currently working with the department on the development of a mobile laboratory used to detect dangerous chemical compounds in the environment.

Although agriculture is a traditional pillar of Kansas City’s regional economy, crop science is a nascent industry compared to the critical mass already in place for animal health. But Bill Duncan, for one, sees a growing interest in the region in bio-fuel production and genetically modified plant research.

In fact, Kansas officials have recently tried to lure a Sacramento-based firm that produces rice with proteins that help children recover from diarrhea. Ventria Bioscience was offered $2.25 million in incentives to locate genetically modified rice field to the area, according to The Sacramento Bee.

Duncan still expects that bio-fuel research and ethanol development will drive the growth of plant research in the Kansas City region.

 

Big Time Assets

One of the biggest advantages of KC’s life science sector is its access to the resources of three state university systems and high-profile research centers.

With a $2 billion endowment, the Stowers Institute for Medical Research is the second largest medical research organization in the world, second only to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

“To put that in perspective, San Diego is often referenced as a ‘hotbed’ of medical research,” said Marie Jennings, a spokesperson for the Stowers Institute. “The combined endowments of San Diego’s five privately endowed medical research organizations (Bernam, Ludwig, Salk, Scripps, and Torrey Mesa) total approximately $1 billion. For Kansas City to have twice that concentrated at a single institute is really something special.”

If the Stower’s endowment isn’t enough to raise a few eyebrows, consider the Institute’s mission. It strives to understand and find ways to treat, and potentially cure, illnesses that are among the most puzzling in medical science, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia. The Institute’s most significant recent findings, for example, are expected to help cancer patients who need bone marrow replacements.

Investments abound in the life sciences at local universities in the region. A new $40-million multi-disciplinary research building was recently dedicated at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. A $56-million biomedical research center at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City and a $54-million biosecurity research institute at K-State in Manhattan are scheduled for completion later this year. And the construction of a new $57-million health sciences building for the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s on Hospital Hill is underway.

Expenditures of the 10 stakeholder of the KCALSI reached $520 million in 2005. Regional capital investment in new life sciences facilities and equipment by KCALSI stakeholders and private sector companies was about $1.1 billion in 2005.

 

Beyond the Lab

Leaders are quite aware that there’s more to building a vibrant life science economy than simply having the infrastructure and endowments to attract talent. While research facilities and investment bolster the fields that distinguish the area, there’s still a need for capital that will turn intellectual property into products that can be sold.

According to the KCALSI, access to capital, especially early stage capital, is needed to facilitate and empower research, innovation and entrepreneurship.

KCALI awards development grants to encourage collaboration across institutions and fund the region’s key areas of research. Each year the organization awards eight grants worth about $25,000 each. There are about 40 applicants for each grant.

Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp. (KTEC) is another organization that is playing a vital role in helping early-stage bio-research companies acquire capital and turn intellectual property into products.

KCALI’s Duncan said that the ability to turn ideas into products is perhaps the most important component of the region’s life sciences economy.

“The real distinguishing feature that we’re focused on that sets us apart is the ability to transfer research findings into products and services that drive economic development,” he said.

For example, the Kansas City firm Enzo Biochem Inc. plans to enter the cyogenetics market with microscopic DNA probes developed at Children’s Mercy Hospital. The technology allows for a more effective diagnosis and treatment of gene-related diseases and some cancers.