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In Our View/Life Sciences Discovery Fund

Fix budget’s sin of omission

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In an act of sublime vapidity, the state Senate has whacked funding for the Life Sciences Discovery Fund (and not simply future funding, but smack-in-the-middle, fire-your-researchers current funding.) This not only is inconsistent with the public interest, but nonsensical given the fund’s seven-fold return on investment.
In 2005, the Legislature established the LSDF — originally seeded with tobacco settlement funds until legislators got grabby — to spur economic growth, invest in research and development, and improve health and health care. Even during the Great Recession, LSDF grantees sparked development of new diagnostics and treatments for heart disease, lupus and influenza, and helped 32 start-up companies cross the “Valley of Death” to become productive economic engines from Spokane to Seattle. This includes more than 3,000 direct and indirect jobs along with dozens of commercialization and project grants that have elevated the life-sciences sector.
The original vision was to underwrite the LSDF with the tobacco settlement’s strategic contribution or bonus payments over 10 years. Were it only so. After 2009, funding was diverted to the general fund despite the LSDF meeting its legislative charge. One liability is the incubation period for research and marketing new health care technologies. Often program grants take more than an election cycle to bear results, cooling political bragging rights.
LSDF grants have led to $1 billion in economic activity, not just for the Puget Sound region, but for all of Washington, $450 million in “follow-on” funding into the state, and $67 million in direct health care cost savings.
“Our state is an innovation leader because we’ve had the foresight to invest in cutting-edge research,” said Sen. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds. “The Life Science Discovery Fund has made a difference in researching treatments to the two great villains of our time: cancer and diabetes.”
The blank in the Senate's proposed 2014 Supplemental Operating Budget is especially puzzling because the Majority Caucus Coalition’s agenda revolves around jobs and economic development.
Snohomish County is a LSDF beneficiary, home to Bothell’s EKOS Corporation, which is developing a promising device to treat stroke victims. The list goes on, with $11 million in UW research now dammed mid-stream.
The House and governor’s budget keep research alive, with LSDF scheduled to fold in 2017. As House and Senate leaders reconcile their budgets, restoring LSDF funding must be a top priority.

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