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MIT Entrepreneur Program to help turn Kansas City into biologics hub

likarda biologics kcmo.png
Posted at 5:26 AM, May 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-23 07:51:50-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Next month, teams from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology will begin working with groups in and around Kansas City, Missouri, to promote entrepreneurship in the biologics industry.

Leaders predict positive results from the program will trickle down to other industries.

The MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program [REAP] announced earlier in May it had selected the Heartland Civic Collaborative as one of several groups to include in the ninth cohort of its program.

The Heartland Civic Collaborative is an organization representing Kansas City, St. Louis, Des Moines and Omaha. Those involved say creating one unified voice for the four cities allows the region to work together to build momentum and strategize in shared goals for the four-state area of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. One of those goals is to expand the life sciences industry, which includes biologics.

“What is a strong point in St Louis is different than the strengths in Omaha, different than the strengths in Des Moines,” explained Randy Riggs of the Heartland Civic Collaborative. “They all have different areas of life sciences that they are world class experts in.”

Biologics are medications or products which scientists create using aspects of living things like stem cells, RNA, proteins; basically, not something made with chemicals. Biologics are used in some vaccines, and in treatments for cancers and other diseases.

“It [biologics] is the future of personalized medicine. It’s an access point to be able to feed the world, to create ecological-friendly materials and so much more,” said Sonia Hall, president and CEO of BioKansas; an organization that promotes and advocates for biologics in Kansas and the Kansas City metropolitan area.

Hall said over the next two years, MIT’s REAP team will help the region adapt to fit MIT’s proven model of innovation-driven entrepreneurship. MIT has used the program around the world to supercharge entrepreneurship and ultimately improve economies.

Hall said the MIT team will leverage some of the good qualities which currently exist in the four-state regions to support entrepreneurs in this industry. Some of those qualities include a history of success in animal health products throughout the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor.

Being geographically located in the middle of the country means businesses here can get their products to most of the U.S. very quickly. The Midwest has open space to build new facilities. Kansas City has a strong architecture and construction industries to design and build those new facilities. Manufacturing, warehousing and logistics are also strong suits of the region.

“It could make a really big difference in making equitable prosperity in our region,” Hall said, calling this program the opportunity of a lifetime.

Riggs added that the momentum built by the program will "lead to all sorts of new things for our economy.”

Likarda is a company currently working in the biologics field in Kansas City, Mo. It is developing cell therapies to treat diabetes and osteoarthritis, among others.

“Cell therapies have the opportunity to cure disease rather than just treating the symptoms,” Likarda co-founder and CEO Lisa Stehno-Bittel said.

Likarda’s team is preparing to enter clinical trial phases of its products to ultimately gain FDA approval.

Stehno-Bittel welcomes the idea of more entrepreneurs entering the field through MIT REAP’s initiative. She doesn’t see the program as creating competition, but rather lifting the industry as a whole.

“In this field, especially in biologics, we are paving the way, I say we are plowing the field,” Stehno-Bittel said.

The Kauffman Foundation and KC Rising played large roles in helping apply for and secure the region’s acceptance in MIT REAP.