Keeping KC relevant in medical research
The Kansas City Star
The decision by pharmaceutical giant Hoechst Marion Roussel to pull its North American headquarters and 900 jobs out of Kansas City in 2000 raised worries of a scientific brain drain and decline of the region’s longtime presence in the development of medical drugs and devices.
Thankfully, that has not come to pass. Much of the talent stayed put and created a vibrant cluster of smaller research firms and companies dedicated to moving medical advances from the lab to the market.
A recent analysis by Tufts University’s Center for the Study of Drug Development listed Kansas City as one of 15 regions in the United States with the highest concentrations of contract research and development service companies.
That distinction means Kansas City benefits from a critical mass of science and research oriented firms, paying good salaries and attracting smart people. With health care projected to be the fastest-growing job sector for some time to come, prospects for further growth are excellent.
Buoyed by the Tufts research, area companies in the contract sector recently founded BioResearch Central, a collaboration involving more than 90 firms. In total, they account for about 9,000 jobs.
What’s taking place in Kansas City reflects global changes in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries. Whereas major drug manufacturers once employed the resources to take a product from the lab to the market, they increasingly are contracting out functions such as formulation (preparing the drugs in a consumable form), toxicology (assessing adverse reactions to chemicals) and clinical trials.
The world’s 16 largest drug firms have all contracted with businesses in this region.
The growth of BioResearch Central has been aided by a strong support structure. The Kansas Bioscience Authority, which uses taxes from bioscience companies to assist the industry, has been essential. Missouri still needs to come up with a workable model to promote biosciences.
A knowledgeable workforce is crucial. Fortunately, the University of Kansas, University of Missouri, University of Missouri-Kansas City and other schools in the region have been strengthening science and medical programs. Political leaders need to support those efforts.
BioResearch Central and its members have quietly emerged as a major and welcome economic development force — an opportunity to be nourished.