Spokane Journal of Business

$10 million in health sciences research grants planned here

First application deadline is early this month; money to be given over decade

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After an extensive strategic planning process, the Health Sciences and Services Authority of Spokane County plans to invest up to $10 million in health sciences research during the next decade.

The organization has issued requests for proposals in three areas: research recruitment; research commercialization and job growth; and health delivery research.

HSSA chairwoman Nancy Isserlis says in a press release, "The presence of a strong research community will provide a foundation that is critical to discovery, innovation, and clinical care—and for business attraction."

In the area of researcher recruitment, the organization said in its RFP that it plans to give $4.5 million in grants to colleges and universities in Spokane County with active health science research programs, with the aim of establishing new, active research programs.

Project budgets can be up to $500,000 per year for two years, and the first round of initial proposals is due Dec. 5. Thereafter, the organization will have deadlines for proposals twice yearly, once in early May and once in early December.

To be eligible for the research recruitment grants, faculty must come to work in Spokane County and devote a minimum of 65 percent of their time to scientific research, the RFP says. That can be clinical, basic, applied, or translational scientific research.

A maximum of 35 percent of its time should be spent teaching and handling other academic endeavors.

In addition, eligible candidates must bring to the table up to $1.5 million in active research funding, providing one-to-one matching funds for the HSSA grant.

For research commercialization and job growth, the organization also plans to award up to $4.5 million during the next 10 years.

In that arena, HSSA plans to match grant requests from what are known in research circles as established proof of concept funders. Examples include the U.S. Health and Human Services's Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer funding, National Institutes of Health, Innovate Washington, Gates Foundation, and Life Science Discovery Fund, among others.

Matching grants will be made for up to $500,000, the RFP says.

Research commercialization grants will be available for both businesses and nonprofit organizations that meet the federal definition of a small business, which varies depending upon industry and other factors. Also, the RFP says, to be eligible for an HSSA grant, the small concern must located within Spokane County or be willing to move to the greater Spokane area.

The deadline for the first round of research commercialization grant proposals is Feb. 5. After that, proposal deadlines will fall in early February and early June each year.

The third grant area involves research that "advances Spokane as a national leader in health delivery research," the RFP says.

With the health delivery research, HSSA anticipates awarding up to $1 million. The organization will consider matching grant requests of up to $100,000 annually for three years, provided the funds it's matching come from a proof-of-concept funder.

Academic and health provider organizations with active health sciences research programs are eligible for a health delivery research grant. The RFP says organizations that are establishing such research programs in Spokane County also are eligible.

In this case, HSSA will match at a ratio of two-to-one, meaning the organization will give $2 for every dollar a proof-of-concept funder contributes. Applicants, however, must demonstrate economic benefit for the region. Ways that might be accomplished include reducing the cost of health care, reducing hospital visits or patients' use of emergency care, or other economic development benefits.

There isn't a stated deadline for the health-delivery research grants.

The three research areas in which grants will be given out were determined through a joint strategic planning effort that HSSA undertook with the Empire Health Foundation. After several months of planning, the two organizations produced a document titled Health Sciences Research Strategic Investment Plan.

Like the grants themselves, the plan is intended to increase the amount of health sciences research activity and funding in the Spokane area.

The two organizations say the long-term goal is to increase the level of health sciences research funding in Spokane County from the National Institutes of Health and other federal and private funders from a level of about $12 million in 2011 to $70 million by 2030.

The Empire Health Foundation has made an initial commitment of $850,000 toward the strategic plan.

To accomplish the organizations' objectives, the strategic plan says, the organizations will try to target their resources for maximum impact, build on the region's research approach, leverage community expertise, and adopt a flexible investing approach.

"Sustainable, ongoing health sciences research will contribute to economic development and the resulting job growth in the region—and over time will improve health outcomes," says Isserlis, who is a principal at Winston & Cashatt Lawyers, of Spokane.

The Washington state Legislature established HSSA in 2007 to promote bioscience-based economic development. The organization began operations two years later.

Its board is comprised of a mix of Spokane-area health care executives, academic administrators, physicians, and executives at biosciences companies formed in Spokane.

Its mission is to advance new therapies and procedures to combat disease and to promote public health.

For more information on HSSA grants, go the www.hssaspokane.org.

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