Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Farewell to the future

Stowers’ stem-cell funding goes east:
Controversy over stem-cell research in Missouri has caused the state’s leading biotechnology philanthropists to back scientists at Harvard University with $6 million.

Jim Stowers Jr., the founder of American Century Cos., and his wife, Virginia, have established an offshoot of the Kansas City-based Stowers Institute for Medical Research.

Kevin Eggan, a principal faculty member of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, and several members of his lab are the first employees of the new organization called the Stowers Medical Institute.

Eggan and his team will remain in Cambridge, Mass., a fact that is sending ripples of concern among those who aspire to make the Kansas City area into a life sciences hub.
This is not the least bit surprising. Massachusetts has been supportive of stem cell research, Harvard offers an enticing academic environment, and most people would rank Boston over Kansas City on objective criteria. (Preemptive comment, Kansas City is lovely, this isn't an attack, just an expression of how top researchers from around the world will see this issue. The KC Stowers Institute managed to attract researchers from Argentina and other countries, not just committed Midwesterners, and can only succeed by keeping and attracting that level of staff.)

If Kansas City (or Kansas) wants to compete with Harvard, or California, or Illinois, or New Jersey, it has to offer something more. It cannot offer the cultural amenities of Chicago, Boston, New York, LA, or San Francisco. it can offer a dollar that stretches further. But scientists don't always chase the top dollar, they also chase their research interests, and that's where the attacks on stem cells come in.

Like it or not, those are the future of biotechnology. If you want to develop a robust biotech industry, you need to leave that door open. Kansas and Missouri are crippling their biotech dreams by squabbling over technicalities.

Try to be big in biotech or don't. That's a policy debate that's not that interesting to me. But once you take that path, don't cut yourself off at the knees.