Jackson County voters could be asked this fall to financially support medical research that advocates say could transform the effectiveness of care in the region.
“We think this is an idea whose time has come,” David Westbrook, senior vice president for strategy and innovation at Children’s Mercy Hospital, said as plans were unveiled Thursday.
The issue is expected to go to the Jackson County Legislature on Monday. The Legislature would have to act by Aug. 27 to get it on the Nov. 5 ballot. The memorandum of understanding among the organizations behind the effort states that County Executive Mike Sanders supports the plan.
The area has “a once-in-a-generation – maybe once-in-a-lifetime – sort of opportunity” to capitalize on the area’s strengths in medical research and attract the best medical researchers – and the companies and jobs they create – said L. Patrick James, senior medical partner, national accounts, at Quest Diagnostics.
“We will be able to recruit the best and the brightest in the field area from around the country,” said Dr. John Spertus, clinical director of outcomes research at Saint Luke’s Health System.
The proposal is this: Jackson County would collect a half-cent sales tax for 20 years. That raises about $40 million a year. That money, all for research, would go in four directions:
• Half to Children’s Mercy.
• 20 percent to the University of Missouri-Kansas City, which has a number of highly regarded medical programs.
• 20 percent to Saint Luke’s Health Systems.
•10 percent to a new entity, the Jackson County Institute for Translational Medicine. That institute would be a creation of Saint Luke’s, Children’s Mercy, the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute and the medical, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing and health studies schools at UMKC.
There’s also a potentially huge benefit Jackson County. In addition to the economic boost that advocates say would amount to hundreds of millions of dollars a year, the county itself would get 20 percent of the revenue from “commercialization of intellectual property” developed by the Institute for Translational Medicine. Over time, advocates say, that could be a vast sum of money.
At the heart of the initiative is what’s known as translational medical research. That’s the area between basic research and drugs and other therapies delivered to patients.
“That’s translational research. There’s a gap here,” James said.
Translational medicine can mean looking at genes and tailoring treatment to the individual. Dr. Michael Artman, pediatrician-in-chief at Children’s Mercy, gave an example. Last year at Children’s Mercy, a young boy had inflammatory bowel disease, which in some cases is fatal.
“And this child was not responding to traditional therapies. … It was clear he was not going to survive,” he said.
Doctors turned to the hospital’s genome center and began tossing around ideas. What if we sequenced his genome, they wondered? There have been huge advances in that. The first one took 10 years. Now it can be done in a couple of days for $3,000 to $5,000.
They did that and found that both of the boy’s parents had a mutation in the particular gene that causes this problem. This also lets them zero in on specific treatments – perhaps crafted for that one person – to attack the problem.
This led them to what is today a straightforward treatment – a bone marrow transplant – but one not previously tried for this condition.
It worked. The boy is fine today.
“So the opportunity here for child-care research is really profound,” Artman said.