A lesson from Kansas about courting bioscience


“When you think bioscience, think…(pause for dramatic effect)…Kansas.”

Kansas? Is this some kind of sad joke?

Not even. Despite all our amazing scientific research and development resources in Missouri — the universities with their major health sciences arms, the businesses with aerospace ties, the unique research institutions such as the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center — our neighbor to the west receives accolades for its commitment to bioscience research.

The opening quote above comes from the homepage of the Kansas Bioscience Authority (www.kansasbioauthority.org). Empowered by 2004 legislation, the Authority has as its mission to “build world-class research capacity, foster the formation and growth of bioscience startups, (and) support expansion of the state’s bioscience startups.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Kansas, one of the most staunchly conservative states in the nation, realizes the need to attract biotech business as an economic growth engine for the state.

But Missouri remains a sadly conflicted domain. As in the film Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray is condemned to relive the same day until his moral redemption is effected, Missourians will once again decide whether we choose to leap forward into the world economic future, or fall back into the biotechnological Stone Age.

On the side of progress: State Rep. Rachel Storch, D-District 73, outlined her House Bill 312, the Qualified Research Expenses Credit, at a meeting with Jewish legislative colleagues and community leaders convened by the Jewish Community Relations Council last week. The measure would provide up to $10 million in tax credits for Missouri companies’ investment in “qualified research expenses… incurred in the research and development of agricultural biotechnology, plant genomics products, prescription pharmaceuticals consumed by humans or animals…”

Rep. Storch explained her vision for the bill: “Missouri has so many natural assets, that we are poised to become a national leader in bio-technical research and deveopment. We live in a very competitive world, however, and if we do not make the effort now, we will be passed by.”

H.B. 312, which passed the House last year but received no debate in the Missouri Senate, should be adopted.

On the backward slide stands an initiative petition put forward by opponents of stem cell research. Not content with the people of Missouri speaking their collective mind two years ago to support these scientific efforts, the zealots, lead by a strangely named “Missouri Roundtable for Life,” would gut the ability of Missouri to compete with its sister states in the biotech arena.

We don’t have to rehash here the suggested reasons the opponents of stem cell research posit for reinstating a ban. Their “slippery slope” arguments about cloning are about as persuasive as the National Rifle Association’s steely posture against virtually all gun laws — in other words, not at all.

We wholly accept the argument that adoption of a constitutional anti-stem cell provision will put a freeze on attracting new biotech research to Missouri. You don’t have to believe us; there have been so many quoted institutions, professors and businesses who echo this view that the chilling effect is beyond dispute.

We support the efforts of such organizations as Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures (www.missouricures.com) to educate the public in an honest and straightforward way about cutting-edge medical technology and research.

So the real question is, which Missouri do you want?

We never thought we’d say this, but in this case, we’d like Missouri to look more like Kansas.

We don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore. But in a perverse kind of way, we hope to be, someday soon.