Spokane Journal of Business

WSU creates job here to boost biotech activity

Scientist will help others identify possible products, point out right direction

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Washington State University at Spokane has created a new position here thats expected to help researchersboth at Spokane-area colleges and in the health-care industry hereidentify new biomedical technologies and begin the long process of taking those technologies to market.

The position, which WSU researcher and biotech entrepreneur Joanna Ellington already has moved into, was created July 1 and was funded mostly by an appropriation from the 2000 Washington Legislature thats aimed at boosting biomedical research in the Spokane area.

Ellington, known for her research on infertility in both humans and animals, co-founded with WSU research colleague Sylvia Oliver a Spokane company called Advanced Reproduction Technologies Inc. to bring the technologies they have discovered to market. That company recently licensed those technologies to Spokane biotech startup BioGenetic Ventures Inc., creating a university-to-industry relationship that economic boosters here want to replicate.

In the six years since launching her company, Ellington says she and Oliver have stumbled many times as theyve tried to make the transition from being scientists to entrepreneurs, and now she wants to share her hard-knocks knowledge with others.

That assistance, biotech boosters here have said, is one of the pieces of the puzzle needed to develop a thriving biotech and biomedical industry here.

Essentially, Ellingtons job is to work with faculty members at Spokane-area universities and colleges and also with private clinicians to understand their research, help evaluate whether that research might have commercially developable technologies, and start the ball rolling to protect any intellectual property and investigate commercial possibilities.

Unlike the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute, which aims to help new ventures that have inventions in hand take them to market, Ellington will serve mostly to unearth possible new ventures from research and point the inventors in the right direction to take the first steps to develop a product.

Its a matter of helping people realize that they have something; sometimes they dont realize it when they do, she says.

Importantly, Ellington also will help researchers write grant applications that could provide funds for further research, such as from the Washington Technology Center (WTC), which she says has made it clear it wants to send more research money to Eastern Washington. She also will serve as a liaison between Spokanes budding research sector and the rest of the community.

Ellington says that when people comment to her that not much research is being done in Spokane, she lists, to their surprise, a host of projects that are under way at area universities, hospitals, the Heart Institute of Spokane, and even at local clinics and pharmacies. Were still a light under a bushel. We need to help bring that out, she says.

Ellington already is in the process of identifying a handful of candidates for WTC grants, for which shell try to match a local university researcher with a private-sector partner, as WTC requires. Shell then help each team prepare a grant application for the next round of funding, the deadline for which is in October.

Were looking for different companies in town that would be a good fit for our researchers, she says.

Ellington says that within the next 12 months, its her very conservative goal to submit four WTC grant applications and, separately, to help researchers here file at least two invention disclosuresa legal document that precedes a patent processto protect their technologies.

Though Ellington now is spending 80 percent of her time on her new job, she says she will continue to perform research at WSU-Spokane, where she is an associate professor in the College of Pharmacy.

  • Paul Read

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