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Biotech Epicenter

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted February 10, 2006

Dear Wealth Daily Reader,

Wizard of Oz jokes get old quick. Having grown up in Kansas City, and on the Kansas side at that, I've put up with more than my share of mind-numbingly corny stabs at humor centering on the Sunflower State and its few pop culture reference points.

In the past few years, the Kansas State Board of Education has given us Jayhawkers a new, dubious distinction as one of the few states to include reference to Intelligent Design in science teaching standards as an alternative theory to Darwinian evolution.

We've been an international laughing stock.

But that's about to change.

This week, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius and Missouri Governor Matt Blunt signed an agreement to turn Kansas and Missouri into a hub for bioscience, with Kansas City as the pivot point for the initiative.

The governors' agreement, inked at the suburban Kansas City campus of Sprint Nextel, aims not only to erase notions that the Heart of America is inhospitable to natural science - the plan is to turn life sciences into the engine of the local economy.

The KC area already has a thriving animal health science industry, with 40 companies that account for 40 percent of US sales and 26 percent of the global market.

That's a $14.5 billion pie, and this place on the prairie has a huge slice.

The Politics of Science

It's always risky to break ranks with your political peers - unless of course you know that voters will value your dissent and flourish economically because of it.

Matt Blunt is normally very conservative, but he is giving himself leeway when it comes to bioscience and the stimulus it will provide to his state. By supporting a ballot initiative to protect stem cell research in Missouri, he is keeping the Show-Me State in a position to show the world a thing or two about the next generation of medicine and gene-based therapies.

You see, when Dr. Hwang Woo Suk admitted this year that he falsified claims to have extracted stem cells from embryos he cloned, it was like Vespucci and throngs of other explorers learning that Columbus had not yet reached the New World's mainland.

This is the new Age of Exploration, and the maps have still yet to be drawn, with plenty of ships sailing for fortune and glory.

Bioscience will boom again just as it did in the 90s, with non-profit, academic, and public research facilities fueling an innovation explosion that will both make millionaires and make millions of lives better.

This week we saw for the first time the face of Isabelle Dinoir, the French woman who will go down in medical chronicles as the first recipient of a face transplant.

The graft of a donor's face onto Dinoir's shocked many, but it represents a hope for people in similar circumstances who long for the normality of a healthy smile and an expressive frown.

Now imagine if successfully cloned cells from her own body could have been cultured in order to generate her own new face. Like a human starfish, the ability to regenerate using the most basic DNA and blueprints is not far off, and funding increases from public and private sources will kick the new science into high gear.

Sure, some of the next generation of bioscience has sinister potential, but Hollywood plastic surgeons have wrought creations every bit as nightmarish as anything stem cell therapy could apply to.

The Ironman and the Manager

Lance Armstrong, the greatest cyclist ever and a heroic exemplar of cancer recovery, was in Kansas City Thursday to announce the establishment of a new series of mutual funds that will earn a contribution to his cancer research foundation.

Jim Stowers, Jr., founder of American Century Investments, has a vested interest in helping Lance Armstrong. Stowers and his wife are both cancer survivors, and they have built Kansas City's Stowers Institute for Medical Research to an endowment size of $1.6 billion.

That's no small change and no small boost to local biotech.

The infusion of public support from Armstrong, the Reagan family, and others who see the amazing potential in 21st century bioscience will further feed confidence in the industry and its rise in value.

Every city and state, and every country, should be yearning to create a healthy business environment for health sciences. Every investor should keep an eye on these locales for advances in nanomedicine, stem cell research, and remedies for some of mankind's most terrible afflictions.


- Sam Hopkins
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