Written by Wayne O. Carter, DVM, PhD
In 2005, a significant regional strategy was developed and identified the animal health strength which led to the development of the Animal Health Corridor, now recognized around the world as the epicenter for animal health development.The Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute has published “Path to 2025,” a 10-year vision and plan that positions the region at the “…nexus of human and animal health.”*
The Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute (KCALSI) was formed by community leaders in 1999 when they considered how to best grow the regional life sciences after Jim and Virginia Stowers committed funds to build the Stowers Institute for Medical Research. KCALSI has continued this quest for over 15 years and the region has seen unprecedented growth in both human and animal health.
In 2005, a significant regional strategy was developed and identified the animal health strength which led to the development of the Animal Health Corridor, now recognized around the world as the epicenter for animal health development. This subsequently led to the successful bid for the $1.25 billion National Bio and Agro-Defense facility in Manhattan, Kansas, which will focus on emerging and zoonotic diseases. Cancer research and care was another area of focus ten years ago that led to the University of Kansas Cancer Center receiving NCI designation in 2012 under the leadership of Dr. Roy Jensen.
In 2014, the KCALSI board of directors decided it was time to reassess our strategy and compare our region to other life sciences clusters around the world. We used a model referred to as “collective impact” from Stanford University that recognizes a region working cooperatively can achieve far more than the sum of groups working individually. KCALSI retained Deloitte to conduct the regional strategic assessment, and the resulting report was based on interviews with more than 150 area leaders and a survey sent to more than 1,200 people.
According to the Path to 2025 report, the Kansas City region has a number of strengths in the life sciences, notably health information technology (hIT) represented by Cerner Corporation along with many other established and startup hIT companies, entrepreneurial, and infrastructure assets in this sector. Another strength that fits synergistically with hIT is outcomes research. Led by world renowned experts like John Spertus, MD, and David Cohen, MD, at Saint Luke’s Health System,the entire region is capitalizing on PCORI (Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute) grants made available through the Affordable Care Act. We are already recognized for this strength nationally but we appreciate the tremendous opportunity for the region provided we focus on the ecosystem necessary to support this strength.
Animal health will continue to be a regional area of focus and we will specifically look for opportunities at the nexus of human and animal health. There is frequently a naturally occurring disease in animals similar to the human disease. One example of the opportunity resides in research at the University of Missouri that used dogs with a naturally occurring dystrophin muscle dystrophy as a model for Duchenne Muscle Dystrophy. The genetic defect is identical in dogs and humans and University of Missouri scientists have successfully treated affected dogs with gene therapy. Human clinical trials are currently being planned. With our regional strength in animal health, we hope to leverage our expertise in advancing human and animal medicine.
Two other areas of scientific strength were selected by the steering committee comprised of community, academic, and business leaders. Cancer research and care is a continuing strength for the region and will be an emphasis area, especially as the University of Kansas Cancer Center works to get comprehensive cancer center designation. We also hope to expand the utilization of other assets like the University of Missouri research reactor (MURR) that could significantly improve cancer diagnosis and treatment with many radiopharmaceutical applications. As noted above, naturally occurring cancer in our pets is an excellent opportunity for our region to advance cancer research and therapeutics at the nexus of human and animal health. Our region is also noted nationally for strength in neuroscience and this will be the fourth area of focus, specifically in neurodegeneration and neurodevelopmental disorders.
In addition to the scientific areas, the strategic assessment looked at eight drivers of cluster enhancement to help advance our life science ecosystem. Through a SWOT analysis (strength, weakness, opportunity and threat), the Path to 2025 report identified regional weaknesses that threaten future growth. Startup companies often lack access to capital and are at risk for leaving the region to find it. Even taking the size of their economies into account, Kansas, and Missouri get just a small fraction of the venture capital investment of major biotech states like Minnesota, Washington and Massachusetts. Workforce development is another weakness, exemplified by the fact that only 3% and 4% of high school seniors in MO and KS respectively score at least a “3” on the advanced placement calculus exam compared to 7% as a national average.
Two significant cluster strengths for the region include entrepreneurship and collaboration. Because the region is separated by 300 miles between Manhattan, KS and Columbia, MO, collaboration is critical to drive innovation and improve our ability to be globally competitive. Many of us talk about wanting to collaborate more, but collaboration that “sticks” is usually driven by defining a problem and identifying incentives for the solution. We plan to work to find tools to aid collaboration activities and develop programs for their implementation.
The final driver of cluster enhancement is messaging and marketing. If we raise the local and national awareness of the opportunities and discoveries from our region, companies will likely consider moving to the greater Kansas City area.
The vision statement for the region reads, “The Kansas City region is a global leader at the nexus of human and animal health, benefiting all our citizens and the economy.” The nexus of human and animal health is a recognized opportunity as we leverage our strength in each area and look for the many intersections including oncology, neurology, and infectious diseases. There is also a desire of the community-led steering committee that prioritized these opportunities to reduce health care disparities in our region and improve health care for all our citizens. This will be a central tenet as we develop programs throughout the region.
Individual scientific working groups and cross-cutting capability task forces are now meeting to develop objectives, performance metrics, and timelines for all of these areas. We plan to develop a dashboard to monitor our progress at least annually to ensure we are substantially advancing our region and ecosystem to achieve our vision.
The complete report is available online at www.kclifesciences.org/news/path-to-2025/ and includes recommended steps to keep the region globally competitive. Most importantly our success is interdependent on each of us whether it is improving education, investing locally in startup companies or working collaboratively to solve our tough research challenges.
*The “Path to 2025” report of the Kansas City Area Life Sciences is available as a free download.
Wayne O. Carter, DVM, PhD, became President and Chief Executive Officer of the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute (KCALSI) in June 2012.
Prior to joining KCALSI, Wayne was the Vice President of Global Research at Hill’s Pet Nutrition in Topeka, Kansas where he led nutrigenomics research for new product discoveries and commercialization.
Used with permission from Missouri Medicine, Volume 113:1, 2016.