Spokane biotech proponents should push for the development of a health and biomedical sciences campus here to focus on taking the basic research done at Inland Northwest university and federal laboratories and moving it toward commercialization through applied research and clinical study.
Also, a new regional biomedical development organization, perhaps called the Inland Northwest Bioenterprise Initiative, should be formed to steer biotech development here and should be led by the top executives of hospitals, private companies, universities, and government agencies.
Those are two of the findings of a report issued earlier this month by a consortium of entities here that hopes to use the report to develop biotechnology as an economic driver for the Inland Northwest.
You have some of the proto (beginning) elements you need to develop a cluster, said Simon Tripp, lead author of the study, at a biotech forum held here July 10.
Tripps Pittsburgh-based research and consulting firm, Tripp-Umbach & Associates Inc., was hired by the Inland Northwest Technology Education Center, Inland Northwest Health Services, the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce, and Washington State University at Spokane to prepare the report.
The report touts Spokanes strengths as a medical hub and the large amount and sophistication of basic research being done in the region, but says the area has a relatively weak base of commercial biotech activity and that it suffers by not having its research assets all in one city.
The majority of biomedical-related research in the region is in the Pullman-Moscow academic community and within PNNL (Pacific Northwest National Laboratories) in the Tri-Cities, the report says. Yet, Almost all of the high-level clinical practice in the region is located in Spokane, as are the major biomedical commercial sector operations, it says.
The report concludes that for the Inland Northwest to develop a more prominent biotech presence, core biomedical economic development should be proactively steered to Spokane, rather than to other communities in the region, largely because of Spokanes population base, its strong health-care sector, and its developed commercial and transportation infrastructures.
With most of the regions intellectual capital located outside of Spokane, that presents a challenge, though not an insurmountable one, the report says.
It is unreasonable to expect that the core biomedical research-related assets in Pullman, Moscow, and the Tri-Cities will uproot themselves and relocate to Spokane, the report says. This is not going to happen, and it is not necessary. What is necessary, however, is a shift in outlook within the region that removes the entrenched belief that all faculty researchers and future infrastructure need to continuously develop at the main university campuses and the federal lab complex.
Putting more and more scientific assets into Pullman and Moscow makes little sense from a regional development perspective, it goes on. These communities are too remote from the applied cluster in Spokane that must be engaged to bring about better, more applied research results and commercial enterprise formation.
Still, the report recommends that rather than duplicating the basic research done in those university towns and at the federal lab, a Spokane research campus should concentrate on applied research that could take that basic research to the next leveltoward commercialization.
The campus the report recommends developing would house at least 20 biomedical faculty members, who would concentrate on research rather than teaching, and whose job incentives would be based on bringing ideas to trial and commercialization rather than on getting articles published, which is the usual academic imperative.
The campus likely would be done in association with WSUs growing Spokane campus, but achieving the goal of making it a research campus would require shifting state funding policies so that pure researchnot just teachingcould be done at the campus.
Among the key areas of focus of the campus would be such specialties as bioinformatics, biostatistics, biomedical engineering, genetics, molecular biology, and pharmaceutical sciences.
As the campus grew and evolved, potential elements such as a biomedical commercialization incubator and science park, could be co-located with it, the report says. It says that eventually, momentum might be achieved whereby faculty and scientists in Pullman, Moscow, Cheney, and the PNNL who have specific interest in applied science and commercialization will seek to relocate their operations to the Spokane location.
The report recommends that to help guide biotech economic development here and drum up funding and political support for the research campus, an umbrella organization should be created and be driven by the regions most senior leadership.
That entitys job of seeking funding, of course, would be key, speakers at the July 10 forum noted. Spokane, they said, needs to do a better job of getting its share of federal research funding.
Youve got to bring in more money to attract a higher level of research, Tripp said.
One of the reasons Spokane lacks the clout to attract such funds is because it doesnt have a research-oriented medical school, said Paul Sommers, a senior research fellow at the University of Washington who has studied the Inland Northwests biomedical cluster.
That doesnt mean your area is without resources, he told the audience. Spokane, he said, has good nursing education, has a residency program for doctors, and benefits from the research done at WSUs Pullman campus, the University of Idahos Moscow campus, and at the Tri-Cities PNNL.
You need to build on the capacity to collaborate (with those other entities), Sommers said. Youve already established the ability to do that.
George Coleman, who moderated the forum and is president of Biomedex Inc., of Spokane, even suggested considering Spokane as part of a biotech triangle whose three points would be Spokane (including the Palouses Pullman and Moscow areas), the Seattle area (including Washington states only medical school) and Eugene, Ore., home of the University of Oregon. The triangles western lleg would also run through Portland, home of the the regions other medical school, while the souther leg would pass through the Tri-Cities.
We looked at what the region can offer, Coleman told the audience. Why not use the assets of the research hospitals.
Added Tripp, Medical schools lose money hand over fist. Teaching isnt necessary to your economic development. What you need here is research. You can do that without a medical school. Its just a change in attitude.
Thats exactly what the INHS, WSU, and others have been trying to do with their proposal to create a medical research institute here. Theyre seeking federal funding to launch the effort, the first stage of which would focus on diabetes research.
Creating such a center, biomedical proponents say, would help create the critical mass of researchers, clinical patient volumes, and commercial biotech development that they talk about achieving.
If you have the facilities to attract the talent, the talent can find the money, Walter Plosila, vice president of public technology management at Battelle Memorial Institute, in Cleveland, told the forum audience.
Plosila warns, however, that most states now are investing heavily in trying to attract biotechnology development, and competition will be fierce as Spokane tries to elbow its way into the industry. Still, an opportunity exists here because technology in those fields is changing so rapidly that even biotech centers such as San Francisco and Boston havent adapted fully into the newest trends.
Such new technologies as genomics, proteomics, and bioinformatics arent being done significantly by existing cluster markets and represent niches of opportunity, Plosila said. Clusters dont just appear, they develop, and not all clusters are mature.
Subscribe today to our free E-Newsletters!SUBSCRIBE