Life Sciences Fund Granted Reprieve, But “Future Is Precarious”

4/4/14Follow @bromano

The Washington Life Sciences Discovery Fund (LSDF), an important source of early support for applied research and commercialization, will continue its current grant program and plan for others in the coming year thanks to a veto today from Gov. Jay Inslee. But the fund’s long-term future remains in question as it seeks to diversify its funding sources.

Inslee vetoed a portion of the state supplemental budget that would have redirected some $20 million away from the fund, effectively shutting it down after existing grant commitments were met. Supporters came out in force to urge the governor to save the fund, which has committed about $97 million in state tobacco settlement money since 2007 that has helped researchers and young companies attract more than $445 million in additional funding from other sources.

“The LSDF supports early stage scientific proposals that often provide early stage proof-of-concept data,” Stewart Lyman, a bio-pharma industry consultant and grant proposal reviewer for the fund, says via e-mail. “Without this data, the organizations submitting grants would have a difficult time obtaining funding and commercializing their technologies. The tobacco settlement money will create expanded opportunities for researchers in Washington State to bring their discoveries to the market place, which will benefit the citizens of Washington State and beyond.”

The fund was on the chopping block as state lawmakers search for ways to fulfill their constitutional mandate to adequately fund education. After signing the supplemental budget, Inslee took to Twitter to implore lawmakers to do more on education funding.

LSDF executive director John DesRosier and other fund supporters can read the writing on the wall.

“In light of the state’s shortfall in funding basic education, we believe that state funding in the future is precarious,” DesRosier says in an e-mail. “We have been planning already for diversifying our funding, but this last legislative session makes those plans more urgent.”

DesRosier says he knows of no similar funds elsewhere in the country that exist without state financial support. “So we have a challenge ahead of us,” he says.

The fund has faced cuts in the past, but the specter of a total shutdown seems to have galvanized its constituency. Researchers, entrepreneurs, companies, civic leaders, elected officials, and patient advocates around the state and nation voiced support for the effort in recent weeks, DesRosier says. “We are deeply gratified to have such widespread support,” he says.

He hopes that support “can be directed into helping us think through how we’ll survive into the future, and beyond that, how we can all work together to enhance the vibrancy of this sector.”

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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  • All Hat, No Cattle

    I don’t want to reduce our future, I want to invest in a world-beating future. Can we agree that it’s time for a tax system overhaul? I’ll bet Nick Hanauer, Bill Gates Sr, and Paul Allen would support it if our Governor and senators joined the challenge. Objectives: pay for well designed transportation, pay for world-beating education, finance entrepreneurial innovation. Eliminate welfare for the rich (companies and individuals), use Lean principles and financial incentives for innovators to reduce Government cost. Tax wealthy corporations and individuals as they were taxed in our strongest economic years. Who’s with me?