A Look Ahead for Washington State’s Life Sciences Cluster

11/16/11

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recovered, and that lack of economic recovery spills down to companies in both the public and private sectors—impacting their ability to obtain the funding they need to advance their technology and product development efforts. The huge cuts in NIH and other federal funding sources have removed a much-needed vehicle for financing basic and early-stage scientific research, which often leads to some of the most important scientific breakthroughs directly benefitting our understanding of the way in which we might treat or address a particular human disease or condition. Locally, federal research dollars are one of the big drivers of economic development and job creation. Organizations such as the University of Washington, Washington State University, PATH, the Institute for Systems Biology, Seattle BioMed, Seattle Children’s Research Institute, Benaroya Research Institute, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and others, rely to a large degree on federal research funds to advance their discoveries—funds which help create jobs.

Yet despite these challenges, the WBBA has continued to grow. Today, we represent more than 450 member organizations and we span a broad range of companies and institutions, from the biopharmaceutical sector, to medical devices, to IT-based life sciences companies, to global health organizations, to research institutions, and a host of other entities that impact health care both in the creation of healthcare products and healthcare delivery here in the state. Our members further include those top-notch firms supporting our life sciences ecosystem, from law firms, to accounting firms, to suppliers, to builders, to architects and more. It’s imperative that WBBA continue to develop ways to help this sector to continue to grow, even in this challenging economic environment.

How can we do this? First, we will maintain and expand opportunities for our companies and research institutions to showcase their work and innovation. We will work hard to attract investors and companies (both public and private) to review and help increase the likelihood that our member organizations might receive the funding necessary to continue their research and product development efforts. As an example, our Venture Investment and Partnering (VIP) Forums are one way that we are doing this now. In 2011, more than 45 one-on-one meetings between local organizations and visiting VIPS took place. We plan to significantly build on this program (and will develop others) so that we can further assist our members.

We will strive to work with our colleagues on the legislative side advancing and advocating policies to help our member organizations advance their research and product development efforts forward in a positive way—both at the state the federal levels. The Washington state Legislature has begun this work by investing in two important programs supporting the life sciences.

In 2005, Governor Gregoire signed into law a bill establishing the Life Sciences Discovery Fund (LSDF), committing Washington to an economic development strategy with health and science at its core. LSDF investments are paying off and are being leveraged with further follow-on investment and support. First awards made in late 2007 have received more than $278 million in follow-on funding or commitments to date. And LSDF investments are already improving healthcare delivery and saving money: for example, nearly every hospital in Washington is participating in the SCOAP program funded by the LSDF, which is reducing surgical complications and readmissions. Over a three-year period, the program has generated at least $67 million in savings. LSDF grantees today are collaborating with more than 40 Washington companies to support product development and jobs.

In 2010, the state legislature established the Washington Global Health Fund to help accelerate the commercialization of global health technologies and to create jobs here in Washington State. This effort has already resulted in grants that will create local jobs and help several organizations to develop innovative global health products.

For us to succeed, it is important for us to foster an environment of collaboration, openness, and support for our life sciences industry. We must be creative about what we do, who we collaborate with, and what our priorities are to really figure out ways that we can grow the number of opportunities, companies, and technologies. I look forward to working closely with our members to support their efforts in translating innovation to realization, from breakthrough discoveries to better health solutions.

Thong Q. Le is a Managing Director at WRF Capital, the venture capital investment arm of Washington Research Foundation. Follow @

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