Research plans could compliment medical programs already underway

August 16, 2013 

Translational research is aimed at turning scientific discoveries into drugs, procedures or devices that are useful to patients.

It could include chronic diseases such as heart disease, asthma, diabetes, glaucoma and macular degeneration, osteoporosis and addictions.

Establishing the Jackson County Institute for Translational Research and Medicine could further efforts to establish this area as a center for the life sciences, said banker Mark Jorgenson, past chairman of the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City.

Jorgenson said it can fill the gap between hands-on patient care and basic research now being done by organizations such as the Stowers Institute for Medical Research.

Many university and medical center campuses already have translational research programs. They've done it in part because drug companies have largely abandoned research on all but big blockbuster drugs, but also because important discoveries can lead to highly lucrative products.

"This is an opportunity (for Jackson County) to bring in rock star researchers who can develop a product that can be turned into a start-up company, " said Scott Weir, director of KU's Institute for Advancing Medical Innovation and director of translational research for KU's Cancer Center.

Weir, who is not involved in the Jackson County effort, said KU's translational research program has been a success, bringing a dozen drugs to clinical trials on patients over the past five years. For example, after researchers discovered that auranofin, an old, established arthritis drug, could kill leukemia cells in a test tube, they moved quickly to promising tests on patients.

“We literally went from that test tube experiment to patients in 11 months,” Weir said. “Typically, that would take private industry six to 10 years.”

KU's translational research includes support from a $20 million federal grant it received two years ago. Much of the university's translational work is based at the KU Clinical Research Center in Fairway, which was developed with money from the Johnson County Education and Research Triangle tax.

KU already collaborates with Children's Mercy Hospital on translational research, but has had to forego projects with University of Missouri–Kansas City because it lacked the resources, Weir said. That would change if UMKC received additional funding from the proposed sales tax, he said.

“If we can grow that basic research base, it benefits all of us,” Weir said. “I see this as a huge opportunity."

Johnson County voters signed off on something similar in 2008 when they agreed to raise roughly $15 million a year to fund the research triangle.

However, the Jackson County proposal would raise nearly three times as much money and be focused solely on research to improve human health.

UMKC's chancellor, Leo Morton, said the extra $8 million a year the tax would bring his institution would benefit all four of the schools the university operates on Hospital Hill - medical, dental, nursing and pharmacy.

“This is about stepping up the research we do today,” Morton said.

The Kansas City Star provided information in this report.

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