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Archive for Friday, January 19, 2007

Leaders show bioscience support

State lawmakers optimistic on chance of $451M defense lab being built in Kansas

January 19, 2007

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— State leaders said Thursday that Kansas is on the right track in trying to lure a $451 million defense lab.

"We think we have a very strong shot at it," Thomas Thornton, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, said of landing the proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius also expressed optimism, noting the state's animal and human research capacity, dedicated bioscience revenues and the influence of U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., in securing federal Homeland Security funds.

"We're not going to have to start from scratch, which is very good," Sebelius said.

The Department of Homeland Security has asked for additional information about 18 sites, including two in Kansas, for the lab.

The Kansas sites are in Leavenworth and Manhattan.

"We essentially have two shots at this," Thornton told the Senate Commerce Committee.

But, he said, competition from other states will be fierce.

"With a half-billion dollars on the table, states will go very far to win this," he said.

He noted Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and Mississippi all have significant political muscle in the bidding.

Federal officials are expected to make site visits starting in March and will announce a group of finalists this summer.

Researchers at the lab will work on ways to protect the nation from diseases that infect animals, such as foot-and-mouth disease in cattle, and diseases that infect humans, such as bird flu, anthrax and mad cow disease.

The Kansas Bioscience Authority plans to spend $250,000 in its effort to bring the laboratory to the state and may seek more funding from the Legislature.

Leading state and federal officials have thrown their support behind the effort.

State Sen. Roger Reitz, R-Manhattan, asked Thornton if there had been any friction between Manhattan and Leavenworth in the process.

Thornton said there was none.

He said both sites offer advantages: Leavenworth's proximity to an urban core, transportation and a federal facility; and Manhattan's research relationships and biosecurity capabilities.

But, generally, Thornton said Kansas must do a better job of drawing federal research and development funds.

The state has dropped nationally from 37th in 2001 to 43rd last year in its share of federal research money, he said.

"The erosion is fairly dramatic, and we need to turn it around," he said.

He said Kansas just hasn't been aggressive enough.

"States that do well here, treat it as a business ... with exceptional focus," he said.

Thornton also said the Bioscience Authority will change its strategy in order to pursue federal research dollars, foster startup companies and develop bioscience centers.

Thornton took the reins of the authority in October after four years as president of the Illinois Technology Development Alliance.

Sen. Karin Brownlee, R-Olathe, and co-chairwoman of the committee, said state institutions "need to work together and not against each other."

Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, praised Thornton's ideas.

"I'm so pleased with what you see that we are capable of doing," Wagle said.

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