Kansas has created a national buzz with its new commitment to building a biosciences industry, a federal official said Saturday.
Dr. Elias Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health, praised the state's efforts at the Regional Biosciences Collaborative Summit, a gathering of more than 60 researchers, politicians and entrepreneurs at the Dole Institute of Politics at Kansas University.
Biosciences will be a $3 trillion industry in 10 years, Zerhouni said. Even a small chunk of that could have a big economic impact on the state.
"Success comes from attracting and retaining the best possible talent you can find," Zerhouni, saying that bioscience efforts at KU and in Kansas City had attracted 50 "top-notch" researchers in recent years.
"You've created a buzz here," Zerhouni said. "The question is, how do you exploit that?"
Dr. Roy Jensen, director of KU's Kansas Masonic Cancer Research Institute, offered a possible answer, describing the collaboration between KU, the Stowers Institute for Medical Research and area companies to create a "seamless pipeline" to develop and market cancer-treatment drugs.
"We want to become the unchallenged powerhouse" in developing such drugs, Jensen said.
Saturday's event focused on turning university research into startup companies, which will be key to the success of the Kansas Economic Growth Act approved by this year's Legislature. The act uses growth in the life sciences industry to fund research at state universities and business development. It is expected to generate $500 million in the next 10 years.
U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., attended the summit, along with U.S. Reps. Dennis Moore, D-Kan., and Jim Ryun, R-Kan. So did state Sen. Nick Jordan, R-Shawnee, and state Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, who co-sponsored the economic growth act.
The (economic growth act) initiative is a truly visionary piece of legislation," Jensen said. "It's going to be up to the people in this room to step up with a vision equal to that."
Judith Ramaley, assistant director of the National Science Foundation -- and a former vice chancellor at KU -- also praised the state's efforts to develop industry instead of luring companies from elsewhere.
"What you're doing with this model is shifting away from a 'chase-the-smokestacks' model to a 'grow-your-own' model," she said, "which is essential for Kansas."
She urged officials to develop support structures for the new industry -- and not to forget older businesses in the state.
"The aviation industry is one-tenth of your current economy, so for heaven's sake don't forget it," she said.
Local officials said the summit provided researchers here the opportunity to make an impression on Zerhouni, whose $27 billion agency provides funding for research efforts nationwide.
And, some said, the summit may prove to be a spark that helps turn the state's bioscience dream into reality.
"There's a lot more than rhetoric now," said Dan Flynn, co-founder of Lawrence-based Deciphera Pharmaceuticals. "This is soul-searching and due diligence."