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News Beat May 2018 Feature Story
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Back to May 2018 issue

 

Eastern Washington's Growing Life Science Sector 

 

Eastern Washington’s life science sector reflects a thriving, billion-dollar industry. On track to reach the $2.5 billion mark in ten years, the cluster is gaining a name for itself as well as significantly contributing to Washington’s overall life sciences impact.

 

This undiscovered gem in Washington’s life sciences ecosystem is finally coming into its own. Life Science Washington is looking forward to shining a spotlight on this vibrant ecosystem during its inaugural East West Life Science Summit June 14-15, 2018 in Spokane at the historic Davenport Hotel. Keep reading to learn the many reasons you should attend. 

 

The impetus for impact

Eastern Washington conjures up images of rolling hills and open vistas. It is a region synonymous with agriculture, hydroelectricity and unending highways.

 

It is also home to top-notch universities with highly-regarded life science degree programs (undergrad and grad) and research departments, such as Washington State University (WSU), Gonzaga University (GU), Eastern Washington University (EWU), the University of Washington (UW), Whitworth University, and an incredibly responsive two-community college system, which includes Spokane Community College (SCC) and Spokane Falls Community College (SFCC). These institutions are magnets for, and producers of, emerging life sciences talent. They are also big draws for well-established biotech scientists. These big thinkers come for the education and then stay, making the area home.

 

This trend has resulted in a host of emerging life sciences companies throughout Eastern Washington. For example, GenPrime’s CEO, Buck Somes, is an EWU alum, Gestalt Diagnostics’ staff has ties to WSU and Whitworth University (in Spokane), and Paw Prints Genetics’ team is comprised predominantly of WSU alumni. Spokane is now home to two medical programs — the UW School of Medicine through a Regional Health Partnership with Gonzaga University and the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, coinciding with its College of Pharmacy and College of Nursing.

 

With the fastest growing health sciences campuses in North America on hand, there are a host of impactful life sciences companies in the area drawing from this local talent pool. Companies like Richland-based Isoray, an innovative brachytherapy company, “leverages the expertise in the region” to position itself for success. Iasis Molecular Sciences, situated in Spokane’s University District, is defining a new generation of solutions for complex wound healing and healthcare-associated infections.

 

Another impressive presence is Pacific Northwest National Laboratories (PNNL) in Richland, WA. This is the main campus for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science’s national laboratories. It has a huge impact on the area’s economy and adds to Eastern Washington’s life sciences attraction.

 

Beyond the schools

There is more to Eastern Washington’s life sciences allure than its universities. The agricultural heritage presents abundant opportunities as well. Unlike Seattle and Bothell’s life science community, which leans heavily towards human health solutions, Eastern Washington’s community encompasses plant and animal-based work as well as human health.

 

This penchant for diversity is most obvious at the university level. For instance, WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNR), which fosters ecological, economic systems, and agricultural scientists, and its College of Veterinary Medicine (both in Pullman, WA), encourage life science exploration for crops, seeds, animals, forestry, and ecosystems. These programs garner millions in research funds and contribute significantly to their university’s overall research fundraising.

 

The commercial life sciences sector also exhibits the region’s broad range of life sciences expertise. Companies like Phytelligence and AGPW (both focused on crop development) and Paw Prints Genetics, specializing in animal genetics, tap into the region’s agricultural expertise to explore, test, and develop life sciences products used worldwide.

 

Marcelo Morales, CEO and Founding Partner of A4 Ventures, a Spokane-based venture capital firm, says the Spokane region is growing.

 

Spokane's commercial life science companies have successfully built expertise across infectious disease, cancer, metabolic disorders to name a few. In addition, we have a thriving laboratory testing and genetics business community, a leading contract manufacturing network of companies, and a growing health-IT and machine learning group of companies delivering on innovative solutions in health care delivery.” 

This diverse body of work increases not only the state’s economic vitality and national reputation; it also boosts the local economy and credibility as well.

 

Making connections

As technology evolves, it is easier and faster than ever for life sciences companies and organizations to work together across the Cascades. As David Vachon, CEO, Iasis Molecular Sciences says,

 

“I think it is important to recognize that the Washington life sciences ecosystem will benefit as a whole as we move toward unity. Although there may be a bit of an altruistic component associated with building collaborations in Spokane, there are many talented groups here in Eastern Washington." 

 

There are many innovative, cross-state life science collaborations already underway, including:

 

The Scientific Wellness Program. This partnership between Seattle’s Arivale, WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, and the Institute for Systems Biology is the only partnership of its kind in the United States. Its premise is to prepare upcoming health care providers to navigate the industry’s rapidly changing landscape by having them experience it first-hand.

 

As a newly formed medical school, WSU is poised to take advantage of new developments in biology and medicine. This partnership allows the school to leverage systems medicine, big data and behavioral science to transform medical education and the entire health care landscape.

 

Biomarker Discovery Initiative. Fred Hutch and PNNL are longtime collaborators. Their current partnership focuses on plasma proteome changes due to tumor presence and how those changes can be used for biomarker discovery. By sharing the work and the discoveries, the task of finding a reliable solution to this portion of cancer research is more effective and efficient.

 

EWU Microsoft Initiative. Launched in August 2017, this EWU and Microsoft  partnership is a direct response to the current shortage of professionals with deep analytical skills. EWU is currently the only university in the nation combining Microsoft Professional Program (MPP) in Data Science courses with its own university classes to create a Bachelor of Science in Data Analytics degree. Graduates of this unique program will have mastered how to utilize big data to make effective decisions. This collaboration allows EWU to train students for a career in data analytics, one of the fastest-growing and highest-demand professions in the world. The Initiative is a prime example of a powerful cross-state collaboration.

 

The University of Washington School of Medicine – Gonzaga University Regional Health Partnership. This is an exciting partnership on two fronts. First, it connects two of the state’s prestigious schools benefiting each student body and community.

 

Second, it makes Gonzaga the first private university to join the UW School of Medicine WWAMI program as a full partner. The WWAMI program unites medical schools in Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho creating an unparalleled regional medical education system.

 

Bridging the gap

How do we encourage and foster even more cross-state collaborations in the life sciences to improve human, animal and environmental health and strengthen state and regional economies? And how can we accelerate the pace of life sciences development throughout Eastern Washington?

 

Fortunately, there are strong organizations in Eastern and Western Washington committed to these goals. 

 

Spokane, in particular, has made life sciences economic development a high priority. Greater Spokane, Incorporated (GSI) has implemented Life Sciences Spokane - VISION 2030, an economic development strategy designed to create robust healthcare and life sciences industry growth with an annual economic impact of more than $1.7 billion annually. The plan also includes creating over 9,000 high paying jobs in the region by 2030. GSI recognizes this as the greatest economic development opportunity in the region and are committed to ensuring its success.

 

Spokane is also home to the Health Sciences & Services Authority (HSSA) of Spokane County, an organization dedicated to promoting “bioscience-based economic development in Spokane County.” Their focus is on funding health sciences matching research grants to both the public and private sectors to promote a growing research industry in the region.

 

Ignite Northwest is a Spokane-based business focused on helping “Pacific Northwest companies grow to create sustained economic impact.” They are the only accelerator in Eastern Washington and therefore serve a wide-range of tech-related enterprises, including life sciences. They offer everything from business classes, to mentoring, to funding opportunities. They too, are experts at knowing what is happening in the Eastern Washington sector and where to find strong partnerships.

 

Recognizing Eastern Washington entrepreneurs needed help funding early-stage enterprises, StartUp Spokane and local businesses collaborated to create: Mind to Market LLC, a pre-seed investment fund, and the Mind to Market Initiative, an early stage accelerator focused on commercializing viable, scalable ideas. These are helping the region nurture an environment of growth and expansion as well as providing entrepreneurs a reason to stay in Washington.

 

Life Science Washington’s primary mission is to foster, strengthen, and support Washington’s life sciences community statewide. Our events – conferences, social events, development classes, and more – are conduits for connection. We understand the impact our life sciences community can have on the State and the world. We want to see it reach its full potential. This makes fostering cross-state work imperative, and we strive to help make that happen. Life Science Washington Institute, the associated 501(c)(3) arm, focuses on helping life science researchers, entrepreneurs, and companies bridge the gap between discovery and commercialization and are an additional resource for connections and partnerships.

 

A Growing Life Science Sector

Eastern Washington is the largest healthcare, health sciences and medical education hub from Seattle to Minneapolis, and Calgary to Salt Lake City. It provides services to a population of approximately 1.2 million people. Its research and development activities in infectious disease, neuroscience, cancer, cardiovascular, diabetes, behavioral science and addiction, aging, and speech and hearing make it a force.

 

Life sciences community leader, Dr. Francisco Velázquez, says the Eastern Washington region is poised to capitalize on the many investments made in medical education and health sciences, and notes a lot of effort has been made by the VISION 2030 initiative to identify a path forward. He continues,

 

“Much progress has been made in great part because of the collaborative nature of the region, and the support from many, particularly Life Science Washington, at a statewide level. There is no question that with these efforts not only the region, but also the State of Washington will be successful in retaining, attracting and growing a healthy life sciences ecosystem to the benefit of all.”

 

We are excited to host the Inaugural East West Life Sciences Summit June 14 & 15 in Spokane at the Historic Davenport Hotel. Come prepared to learn more about the organizations featured here, as well as network with peers and colleagues and discover partnership possibilities. To learn more and to register, visit our website. We look forward to seeing you in Spokane!

 

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