Before KC can become a translational-research hub, a November 5 measure tests sales-tax tolerance 

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Rapid gene sequencing is important for treating newborns and toddlers with genetic disorders. Without a fast method of sequencing their genes, diagnosing a specific disorder is something of a crapshoot.

The Scottish-born researcher came to Kansas City from New Mexico's National Center for Genomic Researchers. Children's Mercy invested more than $10 million to get his team up and running.

Kingsmore says Kansas City had little in the way of a reputation for medical research when he was in New Mexico.

"It was zero. I knew nothing about it," he says. "When people think of powerhouses in medical research and biotech, they think of the East Coast and West Coast — Kansas City was a flyover region when it came to genomics. Now we're recognized as a leader."

Last month, Kingsmore's team received a $5.8 million NIH grant for genomic sequencing for children. Like Bonewald, Kingsmore understands his good fortune. As recently as 2000, he says, grant applications had about a 33 percent success rate. Today, only about 9 percent of applications end up with funding, a decline due largely to federal cutbacks in research.

"If you think about it, you need to put in 11 applications to win one," Kingsmore says. "That's above and beyond what most people are able to do."

A September 24 NIH report indicates that the United States has slashed its scientific research-and-development funding 5 percent this year, thanks to sequestration. At the same time, China's spending went up 15 percent. Germany, Japan and South Korea also have added to their research-and-development outlays.

Sequestration's effects have been noticeable here.

At the University of Kansas Medical Center, researchers received $53 million in NIH grants for fiscal year 2013, down $3.5 million from the year before.

Kingsmore would like to see Jackson County voters approve the sales tax for medical research, for long-term and short-term reasons. His $5.8 million NIH grant was preceded by $1 million in seed funding from the William T. Kemper Foundation. He believes the two are related.

"If you don't have the $1 million, the chance of getting the $6 million is much, much less," Kingsmore says.


Without the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, no one today would be talking about a translational research tax.

The Kansas City research complex was first envisioned in 1994 with a $2 billion endowment from American Century Investments founder Jim Stowers and his wife, Virginia, both cancer survivors.

The thing about the Stowers Institute, however, is that it almost exclusively conducts basic research.

In 2007, the KCALSI's scientific advisory board (made up of top researchers from such places as Harvard University and the University of California–Berkeley) told KCALSI officials that they needed to figure out a way to capitalize on the opportunity presented by the Stowers Institute — namely, finding a way to translate the institute's basic research.

But not much got done that year. Or in 2008. Or in 2009.

"By year 2010, they said, 'Are you guys listening to us?' " Wayne Carter tells The Pitch.

Some members of the local civic community decided upon sales tax as the best way to fund the research after contemplating property tax or establishing a research foundation.

Advocates for the tax say they're not aware of another place in the country that would cull sales taxes for translational medical research, but the idea isn't without precedent.

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