Tuning In to Global Health, Lisa Cohen Hopes to Amplify Seattle as Research Hotspot

1/9/09Follow @xconomy

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was to call for an economic impact study of global health in the state.”

OK, it’s important to take this with a grain of salt, because studies like these are often used as sales material to pump up public support for an expensive, risky use of taxpayer dollars. That said, the study, by University of Washington geography professor William Beyers, dug up some interesting data. More than 3,600 people in the state make a living through global health research and delivery, at an average annual salary of $77,557, based on data from 2005. An estimated $4.1 billion of state business activity is generated by global health, although that number is inflated with a loose definition of “global health” that includes health services to Washington residents of foreign descent or who are members of sovereign Indian tribes.

Still, since billionaire investor Warren Buffett agreed in 2006 to pool his fortune with the Gates Foundation, global health is undeniably a big deal in town and here to stay. Buffett has been giving his fortune in annualinstallments worth more than $1.6 billion a year ever since, and the foundation reported it had $38.8 billion in assets at the end of 2007.

“The need became clear for an organization that could bring these institutions together to strengthen and build the global health community,” says Scott Jackson, PATH’s vice president of external relations, in an e-mail.

So the alliance was born. So far, it’s just Cohen working there full-time, with a part-time assistant, housed at PATH’s offices in Ballard. The organization is getting established by collecting $7,500 executive membership fees, and $3,500 from sponsoring members who are interested in supporting it, but aren’t as closely involved as the mainstays. The group has also gotten $1.25 million from the Gates Foundation, and is vying for another 5-year, multi-million dollar grant from the foundation that would cement its place in the community.

The main goals, Cohen says, start with stimulating more research. The alliance is applying to the Gates Foundation to set up a grantmaking plan, which would enable it to dole out 14 to 16 grants of $75,000 each. The idea would be to get researchers at multiple institutions around the state to pool their brains and resources around big challenges, a little like how the state’s Life Sciences Discovery Fund does it, Cohen says.

She also hopes to bring researchers together at regular events, like one this month on new vaccines in development, hosted at the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute. That event, following one we organized last month, has drawn leading researchers in the region, including Lawrence Corey of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Stefan Kappe of SBRI, to talk about the latest stuff cooking in the lab. At least once a quarter, the alliance gathers many of the same leaders of institutions that met with the Governor, to talk about what they are doing and how they can work together, Cohen says.

Another piece of the plan is marketing and advocacy for Seattle as a global health hotspot. The best example of this will happen this spring, behind closed doors, when Cohen plans to put together a high-profile delegation to make a pitch for federal support at the U.S. Senate’s Democratic Caucus. This invite came last October from Sen. Patty Murray, during a panel discussion Cohen moderated at the Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s regional leadership summit.

While bringing lawmakers up to speed on the issues, the alliance also has its eyes on educating young people in the region. The alliance has gotten a $1 million, 3-year grant from the Gates Foundation to develop a curriculum for 11th graders to get exposed to the sociology, economics, and research career opportunities to focus on health in the developing world.

It’s still the early days for the alliance, since Cohen didn’t even switch to full-time until last September. But judging from the amount of interest in the subject in the community at the Chamber’s conference, it’s going to take on a higher profile in the community in the years to come.

http://depts.washington.edu/pspgh/

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  • http://na Jordan Cohen

    At age 86, with a history of two back surgeries, triple by-pass and a short term in a wheelchair, I am now a “Jack LaLaine”
    from exercise, diet and adhering to my Doctor’s advice. I would like to see all gym clubs in the area (eventually countrywide) open doors at certain hours to those in need without fee to give self esteem,and helping our national health program.Obesity and the health of our children must be erased.Now a
    volunteer at Seattle Childrens Hospital.