Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Governor holds Economic Summit on Life Sciences at KU Medical Center

May 24, 2011
By Cori Ast

More than 150 scientists, government and civic leaders, and others with a stake in future of the life sciences gathered at the University of Kansas Medical Center on Tuesday for the Governor's Economic Summit on Life Sciences. The meeting focused on Kansas' strong foundation for reaching its global potential in the life sciences.

In opening the event, Governor Sam Brownback said Kansas needs to increase life sciences research to improve health care and develop more jobs.

"You have to be a global competitor if you're going to enter the field," said Brownback. "We need to pick where we are going to compete and win at it,"

The value of partnerships and collaboration was underscored by the six speakers and 10 roundtable participants. Building relationships was emphasized as a foundation to success in several key life sciences areas, including National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation, the use of technology to improve public health, drug development, and the future health care workforce.

National Cancer Institute Designation

KU Medical Center Executive Vice Chancellor Barbara Atkinson, MD, pointed to numerous collaborations that have propelled KU's pursuit of NCI designation. Those collaborations include the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, hospital partners in the Midwest Cancer Alliance, the Kansas Bioscience Authority, Johnson County taxpayers and others.

Roy Jensen, MD, director of The University of Kansas Cancer Center, underscored the value of these relationships. "We would not have a chance, we would not be competitive [as a candidate for NCI designation] without the support provided by the legislature and our partners," he said during the roundtable discussion.

Governor Brownback agreed that the focus on achieving NCI designation was a critical economic force for Kansas. He also noted that the efforts to achieve NCI designation had already been a huge economic driver for the regional economy.

Technology Innovation

Another economic engine for the region will be the ability of KU Medical Center and others to tap the possibilities provided by the ultra-fast Google broadband resources in the Kansas City metropolitan area.

Milo Medin, vice president of access services for Google Inc., said the high-speed Internet will bring results not yet even imagined. "We believe speed is critical to innovation and competitiveness. We believe we are in the early stages of a revolution. We want to invent the future with you,"

Google's new profile in the greater Kansas City region was mentioned by a number of people as evidence of how technology can help advance the life sciences. Dr. Atkinson said that the Google technology could enhance home health for chronic disease management, a major contributor to high health care costs for both Medicaid and Medicare.

Pharmaceutical Development

Summit participants also focused on the economic potential of pharmaceutical development in Kansas. Getting drugs from lab bench to bedside quickly would not only result in increased revenue from the development process, but improved economic productivity for the Kansans who need those medications.

Governor Brownback also urged Kansas to pursue drug discovery for neglected diseases and diseases that affect developing nations.

"I don't think anybody goes wrong doing the right thing," he said.

Health Professional Workforce

The need for a well-educated, strong health workforce that's willing to work for Kansas was another topic of discussion at the summit.

"I like to think the asset we exceed the most with here is people," said Pat George, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Commerce.

Scooter Plowman, an MD/PhD student at the KU School of Medicine agreed. "It was the human capital at this school that brought me here," said the Chicago native.

Despite the current strength of Kansas' health professional workforce, participants noted that more infrastructure and more physicians would be needed to adequately provide for Kansans' health needs.

Ed McKechnie, president of the Kansas Board of Regents, said training more doctors for Kansas would require more Kansas residency slots to make sure that the doctors educated in Kansas are retained by Kansas.

Presentations at the summit were made by:

•         KU Medical Center Executive Vice Chancellor Barbara Atkinson, MD;

•         KU Medical Center Interim Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery Paul Camarata, MD;

•         R. Scooter Plowman, KU Medical Center MD/PhD student;

•         Bob Page, President and CEO of The University of Kansas Hospital;

•         Milo Medin, Vice President of Access Services, Google Inc.; and

•         Steven St. Peter, MD, Managing Director of MPM Capital.

A roundtable discussion followed the presentations, moderated by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. Lt. Governor Jeff Colyer, MD.  University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, PhD, provided opening remarks.

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