Health Care

Medical research is shot in Wichita's arm

Medical research makes a multimillion-dollar annual impact in Wichita, and even bigger payoffs may be coming down the line.

While no one has an overall total, those involved say research contributes millions of dollars every year that otherwise wouldn't be in the community.

Much of the research under way involves clinical trials for pharmaceutical and other nonlocal medical companies.

The payoff from those trials comes in obvious ways — money that pays for the salaries of those overseeing them, the medications for patients, the stipends for volunteers.

But the money coming into the community has a trickle-down effect, too.

"This is better than the Obama stimulus plan," said oncologist Shaker Dakhil, an investigator for the Wichita Community Clinical Oncology Program and a physician at Cancer Center of Kansas.

How? FedEx is at his office on a frequent basis, he said, to pick up the blood samples that have to be shipped to the studies' overseers. Restaurants provide the meals when physicians from other parts of Kansas come to town to learn about study protocols.

"The need for research fuels a lot of other entities," he said. "It's all a ripple effect."

Research that begins locally might not have as big a direct impact, but the potential payoff is huge as projects such as a new generation of medical devices made from composites are taken to market.

In the meantime, clinical trials are bringing in money that otherwise wouldn't be here and giving hospitals, physicians and participants a chance to be a part of cutting-edge medicine.

Dakhil said the grants that fund the Wichita oncology program average about $2 million a year. That doesn't include the cost of the drugs administered in the studies and provided free to participants. One breast cancer study supplied about $3.5 million worth of medication.

Physician Sheldon Preskorn estimated that the Clinical Research Institute, of which he is CEO, brings an estimated $3 million to $3.5 million to Wichita every year.

"That is new dollars coming in to the city. It's not dollars recirculating in the city," he said.

Most goes for employees' salaries or to volunteers who participate in studies, he said.

The Clinical Research Institute does studies on psychotropic drugs for pharmaceutical companies. Studies involve healthy volunteers as well as those with depression, schizophrenia or Alzheimer's disease, for example.

At Heartland Research Associates, 52 full-time and two part-time employees carry out studies for pharmaceutical and medical device companies. About 20 area physicians are paid for the related exams they provide, said Kathy Stoddard, clinical research director.

In addition, volunteers — such as the 875 who participated in H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccine studies — get $40 to $50 per visit.

More to come

Wichita's future could include an even bigger research payout, with scientists working on a new generation of medical devices and implants made of composites.

The Center of Innovation for Biomaterials in Orthopaedic Research is "very much an economic development" tool, said Mike Good, director of research and business operations at Via Christi Research and a key planner in the composites effort.

CIBOR is affiliated with Via Christi Health and Wichita State University. Good said it is expected to create 2,600 high-paying jobs in its first 10 years, as prototypes are taken to market.

On its own, he said, CIBOR is not a profit center; the money would come as manufacturers produce the devices.

But "it's clearly an area of growth," said Paul Wooley, a scientist who is CIBOR's chief operating officer.

As the population ages, Wooley said, more demands are placed on medicine in general and medical devices in particular. "Therefore, the demand for devices, and better-performing devices, is clearly a growth area."

Jon Rosell, executive director of the Medical Society of Sedgwick County, echoes that assessment of research's potential.

"To me, this is just a ripe area for our community to really grow and develop," he said.

When a Visioneering Wichita group visited Oklahoma City last year, he said, it saw the role medical research played in economic development.

A recent study of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation showed that it had an annual impact of $46 million on the state's economy and created more than 1,000 jobs.

In Wichita, the KU medical school is beefing up its research efforts through the Wichita Center for Graduate Medical Education. The physician training program is to get nearly $6 million over the next three years from the Kansas Bioscience Authority. The money will be used to help hire full-time faculty in three research areas.

Officials have said research needs to be strengthened as part of keeping the program accredited.