Sunday, April 20, 2008

Kansas to Cut Life Science Funding

From the Kansas City paper:

Posted on Mon, Apr. 14, 2008
State funding for life sciences could be cut
The Kansas City Star
Missouri’s life sciences community took a step forward last year, but now leaders fear it is about to retreat.
State lawmakers a few years ago agreed to set aside up to tens of millions of dollars annually for life sciences from Missouri’s share of a nationwide settlement with tobacco companies.

Last year Missouri distributed about $13 million to a variety of research projects, including several in the Kansas City area.

The latest word from Jefferson City is that the amount could be cut almost in half this year. The Missouri Senate is to consider, possibly as soon as this week, a budget committee recommendation to provide only $7.6 million for the program, said Kelly Gillespie, executive director of the Missouri Biotechnology Association.

“To get it done in the first place was a fight,” Gillespie said. “Now our fight is about the money. Why would they be cutting life sciences funding after the first year’s program went so well?”

Biotechnology leaders, including dozens of CEOs and leading scientists who visited the statehouse to meet with Missouri General Assembly members last week, were told that a tight state budget was one reason for the possible funding decline, Gillespie said.

Missouri’s perennial conflict over embryonic stem cell research also appears to be playing a role. Missouri Right to Life has been raising questions about whether the program could be “opening the door” to state funding of embryonic stem cell research, which the organization opposes.

When state officials created the Missouri Life Sciences Research Trust Fund, the idea was to expand research and reinforce the state’s status as a hub producing medical advances and scientific breakthroughs.

Devoting the full amount of funding initially proposed would pump more than $30 million into the program.

That falls short of the annual investment coming from other states. In Kansas, nearly $600 million could be pumped into life sciences over a decade.

Although $13 million a year falls short of the investment seen in other states, it is enough to make a notable difference over time, Gillespie said.

“If you add up 10 years of investments, it does get to a substantial amount of money in building the state’s research capacity,” Gillespie said.

The proposed drop to $7.6 million is even more troubling to Missouri biotechnology executives because the House proposed funding the program with $25 million, said Bill Duncan, president of the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute.

“That would allow us to start building infrastructure around the state so we could compete nationally and internationally,” Duncan said.

In the last round of the program, Kansas City received nearly $3 million, which went to projects such as those at the University of Missouri–Kansas City to address livestock diseases, the development of a new cement for fractured bones and a new eye treatment.

Duncan and others are optimistic that state officials eventually will direct the $25 million to the program recommended by the House. The emergence of the much lower $7 million proposal, however, is hindering those trying to persuade executives, scientists and others in the biotechnology industry that Missouri is a good place to pursue their vocation, Duncan said.

“That doesn’t send a strong signal to the life science industry statewide that the state is really serious about this,” Duncan said.

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