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KC’s ’Biomed Valley’ adds $1.1 billion

DATE OF EVENT: Thursday, May 10, 2001

DATE PUBLISHED: Friday, May 11, 2001, in The Kansas City Star

Editor’s note: In one of the largest philanthropic gifts in modern times, Jim and Virginia Stowers gave more than $1 billion to fund a center for biomedical research that they hoped would push Kansas City to the industry’s forefront. The Stowers Institute for Medical Research, which opened in November 2000, currently is working with topics that include human genetics and stem-cell research.

KC’s ’Biomed Valley’ adds $1.1 billion

Stowerses speed up plan for charity

By Julius A. Karash

In one of the largest examples of philanthropy in history, American Century mutual funds founder Jim Stowers Jr. and his wife, Virginia, have given $1.114 billion in securities to the Stowers Institute for Medical Research.

The gift, announced Thursday, accelerates a charitable plan that previously called for the family’s wealth to pass on to the institute upon the Stowerses’ deaths. It provides a huge boost to nascent plans to make Kansas City a leading area for biomedical research.

The Stowers Institute opened in November at 1000 E. 50th St. Built at a cost of $202 million, the institute is studying the genetic basis of human diseases such as dementia, diabetes and cancer, amid a wider effort to turn Kansas City into one of the nation’s top 10 biomedical research centers.

“The recruiting of scientists by Bill Neaves, our president, and Robb Krumlauf, our scientific director, is going so well that we don’t want to run the risk of having to reduce the momentum because of financial constraints,” Jim Stowers said in a statement Thursday.

“Everything we are doing is focused on the goal of making this institute the best of its kind within 25 years,” Stowers continued. “It is the centerpiece of our dream of making the Kansas City area into a ‘Biomed Valley’ that will lead the world in biomedical research.”

The latest gift from the Stowers family probably ranks among the five largest ever given by individuals to a philanthropic cause in the United States, said Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy in Washington, D.C. …

Jim and Virginia Stowers, both cancer survivors, launched their effort to establish the Stowers Institute in 1994. They chose to put their efforts behind basic research rather than clinical research or medical treatment because they believe basic research offers the greatest potential for conquering many diseases.

Four lead scientists currently are working at the Stowers Institute, each one assisted by five to 10 researchers and technicians. Five more scientists are expected to arrive this summer, and two offers for scientist positions are pending, institute spokeswoman Kerry O’Connor said Thursday.

By the summer or fall of 2002, the institute expects to operate 16 laboratories. When fully operational, it will house at least 50 independent research programs. …

“The gift is so magnificent that the only response can be ‘wow’ in capital letters,” said Bob Marcusse, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas City Area Development Council.

Marcusse said the gift “will remove any lingering doubt there might have been that the Stowers Institute will be a world-class player in life science research. Research scientists around the globe will become even more attuned to the opportunities in Kansas City. And the ability to recruit those talented scientists should continue to increase.”

In April, the Stowers Institute’s endowment was reported to be about $600 million, with plans eventually to receive the remainder of Jim and Virginia Stowers’ estate, estimated at $1.5 billion. Last year Stowers ranked 175th in Forbes magazine’s list of the richest people in America.

In Thursday’s announcement, the institute said the Stowers family decided to make their gift now “to provide added financial stability to the institute at a critical time in the recruitment of scientists.” …

Ultimately, the Stowers endowment is expected to exceed $2 billion. By comparison, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation reported assets of $2.4 billion as of June 30, 2000. …

Besides directly funding the institute’s work, the gift should indirectly help attract life science companies to Kansas City and foster the birth of such companies here. …